Swedish Contract Fallout

When the NHL lost its season in 2004-05 due to a lockout, the result was supposed to produce a league with greater parody across the board. With the implementation of a salary cap, all teams had to reinvent how they worked salaries to fit under the cap. The most common of practices became the “lifetime deals,” where players were given contracts for spans of 15 to 20 years, lessening the impact of the annual cap hit. For roughly two years, this practice went on without a hitch, until today.

In 2009, the Red Wings by some miracle were able to sign both Henrik Zetterberg (12 years, $72 million) and Johan Franzen (11 years, $43 million) to essentially finish their careers in a Red Wings uniform. When league officials were asked about these long-term deals, the usual response was one of indifference and disgust. With these deals, players can essentially make all of their money up front, with relatively little impact on the team. The two Swedes combine to a salary cap hit of under $10 million/year which is unheard of with two high caliber players like #s 40 and 93. Franzen and Zetterberg joined players like Marian Hossa and Rick DiPietro in receiving contracts that deserved at least a second look.

Ilya Kovalchuk, however, will forever be known as the individual who made the difference in the way that NHL teams sign their athletes. The New Jersey Devils forward on Tuesday signed a 17-year, $102 million contract and the league had finally seen enough of the contract horse play. Within minutes, the NHL voided the contract and sent the league into a quandary, wondering if any of the past deals will still stand. While the Franzen and Zetterberg deals will likely not be impacted, it seems that all future deals will have to make more sense than a top NHL player making $500,000 when they’re 44.