Saturday, September 03, 2005

A new approach on the horizon?

If you've been paying attention to the progress of the New York Islanders - and I know that's not many of us, but hey, I have a strange facination with Mike Milbury - then you'd know that they've been in the midst of negotiations to keep perceived franchise goalie Rick DiPietro, the former first overall draft pick, in the fold.

By all accounts, said negotiations have not been going well, and I would think Isles fans, assuming there are even any left at this point, aren't too thrilled about it, having already seen much of their best players go elsewhere over the last month.

Well according to Alan Hahn of Newsday, those negotiations took an interesting turn recently.

Basically, DiPietro said he wanted to remain an Islander for the rest of his career, and in response, the team offered the 23-year-old a 15-year contract believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $67.5 million, or $4.5 million a year.

Naturally, the contract was taken off the table quickly, apparently because of insurance issues: the NHL only insures deals of up to five years, the rest is the burden of the player.

Though I would've doubted that we'd see contracts of that length any time soon, will this option become more viable down the line for both teams and players? The players get long-term security, the team gets a player of value for many years.

The downside is obvious: if the player underperforms, the team is stuck with the deal. And conversely, if the player overperforms, he's forced to honor a contract that underpays him based on his believed market value.

As Hahn mentions in his article, it was the same organization that gave Alexei Yashin a 10-year $90 million contract four years ago. Obviously, we all know how that's worked out for them (the story also says Mike Peca was offered a contract of the same length but turned it down).

In this salary cap era, where teams will do anything to get an edge, maybe things like this have to be at the very least explored. The issue, of course, is who to offer such deals to. Though there are no absolute "sure things" in pro hockey, certain players, whether it's Rick Nash in Columbus or Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta, have proven themselves to be pretty close to it. Are they the guys you give such contracts to? Or do you offer those kind of deals to players who are paid less? Not quite as valuable as those franchise players, but still important pieces of the pie, and maybe team spokesmen types who are active in the community.

More specifically, if you're a franchise like the New York Rangers or the Washington Capitals (or a month ago, when they still had cap space, the Chicago Blackhawks) and you need to do something to lure a major star to your city to ensure your fanbase doesn't absolutely disappear come October, do you offer these kind of deals to the high profile restricted free agents, like a Kovalchuk, knowing that most other deals would not match the deal? Is that a risk worth taking or does it have disaster written all over it?

This past offseason, we saw contract lengths that, frankly, surprised me. Oft-injured perennial second-liner Rob Niedermayer, 30, got four years from Anaheim. Alexei Zhamnov, who'll be 35 in a month, got four years from the Bruins, at $4 million a year no less. Mike Modano, franchise posterboy notwithstanding, got a five-year deal at 35, even though he's coming off the worst season of his career and has looked awful in the international games he's played since. 32-year-old Martin Lapointe got four years at over $2 million per from the Blackhawks. Derian Hatcher, like Modano, is coming off one of his worst seasons ever, having had a serious knee injury and looking lost when coming back from it, and due to his size, has to be considered near the end at 33, yet Philadelphia locked him up for four years. The aforementioned Islanders, reeling from losing much of their D, signed Alexei Zhtinik, 32, to a four year contract. Martin St. Louis has had two excellent years, playing with fantastic players, but is he worth a six-year committment from the Lightning, even with their cap perdicament considered?

Hell, right here in Ottawa, before the lockout, last spring, Daniel Alfredsson, then 32, got a five-year contract from the Senators.

It was thought that, entering an era of somewhat uncertainty, and with GMs having to play by a whole new book of rules, contract terms would consist of short-term agreements so that teams, still getting used to the new salary cap structure, wouldn't be too financially tied down. Are they having a hard time breaking old habits?

Maybe a 15-year contract isn't that far fetched after all.


At 5:34 PM, Blogger PJ Swenson said...

Wow, 15 years? That is 1 and a half cba lockouts from now.

At 9:23 PM, Anonymous pete said...

I love Mike Milbury.

I think every league needs a manager like that - someone who for some odd reason is desired because of his "experience" except that nobody seems to notice his "experience" is in losing. Sort of like Keenan.

Or Lenny Wilkens in the NBA. He's the NBA's all-time winningest coach, but he's also the NBA's losingest coach. Hang around coaching for 30+ years and that will tend to happen.

Mike Milbury is one day going to have the record for most number of playoff appearances with different franchises. Seriously. He'll be around until like 2025. Making loopy deals until his dying day.

Plus, in this new CBA, GMs are going to need loophole ways to dump overpriced veterans. You should know, Chris: Mike Milbury is that loophole...

At 11:32 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Pete, I don't think you can chalk it up simply as another wacky Mike Milbury proposition. After all, he was opposed to the 10 year contract they gave to Yashin. Ownership pushed him on that. Perhaps they did so on this too.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger just'cuz said...

Does the Islanders ownership know anything about hockey contracts?

Di Pietro hasn't proven that he deserves a $3 million contract and they're looking at giving him $4.5 million per for 15 years!

I think a 5-year deal is a good length for any contract - locks up the player and the team won't be burdened after five years, if the player hasn't lived up to expectations...or the contract can be extended.


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