NHL Last Minute Signings: Hypocrisy or Smart Business?


As the clock clicks down towards an NHL lockout, we have seen a number of big money last minute NHL signings and contract extensions.  NHL Owners have thrown around money like its going out of style, and with given the owner’s offers in these CBA negotiations perhaps they are.

We’ve heard Gary Bettman say over and over again how the NHL owners need the players to take less money.  He has repeatedly said that the league is paying out too much in salary, and that we are headed for this lockout because we need a reset.  The financial instability of small market teams, and the overpayment of players has been his repeated talking points.

Big money contracts are being handed out to players all over the league.  Alex Semin got 7 million per season from the Carolina Hurricanes.  John Carlson, Kari Lehtonen, Milan Lucic, and Alex Burrows all signed long term big money deals in just the last two days.  Even depth players like Carlo Coliacovo, and Justin Abdelkader are getting paid.  Heck, Greg Jamieson has still not officially bought the Phoenix Coyotes, they are owned by the league as of today, and yet yesterday we saw them hand a 4 year, $21.2 million contract to Shane Doan.   Overall we’ve seen close to a billion dollars in salary commitments made to NHL players this summer.

Bettman and the owners have also harped on long term contracts, and have stated that they would like a five year contract limit on future deals.  Yet since July 1st eleven teams, or over one-third of the league, have signed 16 players to contracts or contract extensions of 6 or more years.  And its not just big market clubs, we see small market owners like Craig Leipold in Minnesota (Zach Parise, Ryan Suter) giving out crazy contracts; we have seen the Nashville Predators match an offer sheet to Shea Weber, we have seen the Carolina Hurricanes give long term deals to Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal.  Even the owners who are known as “hawks” and are the most visible and most vocal in their desire to break the union and reduce player salaries have gotten involved.  Traditional hardliners like Ed Snider of the Philadelphia Flyers (Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell) and Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins (Tyler Seguin) have handed out multiple 6 year deals in recent weeks.

Another target of NHL owners has been the three year Entry Level Contract system.  And yet we’ve seen the great majority of first round draft picks from the 2012 draft sign their ELCs this summer.  Teams easily could have had their prospects wait and sign ELCs under the new CBA and the new system, whatever that will be.  This is one area where surely the owners will be able to restrict players rights, and ELCs will be more favorable to teams.  Its always the way in labour negotiations, whether it be the last NHL lockout, the MLB negotiation, the NBA’s recent lockout and the NFL’s recent lockout, the rules for signing newly drafted players are almost always restricted.  Its one rule change that can benefit owners and that doesn’t effect any voting members of the Players Association, and so it is easy for the players to give it up in order to get concessions from the owners in other areas.  Yet despite the fact that we will surely see more favorable ELC rules in the new CBA, teams are signing their prospects now.

I guess the question has to be asked, if this system is so bad for the owners.  If this system is broken and contracts under it are causing the owners to lose so much money why are the same owners (including the small market owners, the hawks, and the league itself) so quick to keep signing up these players under this same CBA.  Why not wait a few months for the new system?  Is this a sign of owner dissension? Is it a sign of owner hypocrisy?  Or is it just good business to get these contracts done now while they still can?

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  1. Forbes has the team with the 14th highest revenue in the National Hockey League. Not exactly New York, Montreal, Toronto, or even Philly, Boston or elsewhere.

    In other news an undisputable small market in Winnipeg became the 12th team to give out a 6 year deal after this article was published.