Those 'lifetime' contracts aren't as fool-proof as they seem

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dipietro.jpgWho can forget the howls of derision from just about every corner of the hockey globe when people got wind of the 15-year, $67.5 million contract the New York Islanders handed to then-franchise goalie Rick Dipietro? Surely, much of that mockery came because of their history of dumb deals (just look at Alexei Yashin’s still-ridiculous buyout) and the fact that – while he helped the team limp its way into the playoffs – Dipietro fell short of the upper crust of NHL goalies. Even at that moment of time.

Still, it’s clear to me that GM Garth Snow was a trailblazer that day. While he might not have “invented” the lifetime deal, his signing has become the template for many deals since that time. From Nicklas Backstrom to the rumored 17-year, $100 million deal some are saying the Devils signed Kovalchuk for, the common loophole is to fudge cap hits with unrealistically long contract terms.

Have we not learned anything from the disaster that was Vince McMahon’s 20-year contract with Brett “The Hitman” Hart? (Note: referencing professional wrestling is always appropriate in big picture discussions, especially on subjects of metaphysics, the meaning of life and the figure-four leglock.)

Anyway, all joking aside, these lifetime deals aren’t quite as fool-proof as they might seem. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to reduce the cap impact of a star player – after all, a lower cap hit means that you can improve their chances of success by surrounding them with more talent.

The problem lies in two areas, one tangible and one that’s difficult to measure.

When you sign a guy for that many years, injuries are an enormous risk. Even if you consider moderate loopholes like the injured reserve and the fact that retirement can help a team avoid a cap hit (if the player didn’t sign a contract at 35 or older), not all injuries are severe enough to force a quick retirement decision. Perhaps a knee injury might not keep a guy off the ice, but instead slow him and bump that player out of “elite” status. Old age and concussions can also greatly reduce a player’s effectiveness. Case in point: Dipietro

Health isn’t the only worry, though. I’m a big believer in the natural inspirational effects of a contract year and a 10+ year contract is the antithesis of that mojo. You can’t even really beat up a player for slowing down ever-so-slowly without that monetary carrot dangling. After all, it’s human nature; you’re much less likely to put your body on the line when you won’t see one extra zero in your pay check either way. Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe not, but there are only a handful of players who were successful once they signed big deals. Case in point: Roberto Luongo’s first year as the Canucks captain, Albert Haynesworth in the NFL, every Khabibulin/Huet/Theodore season that wasn’t a contract year.

Now, it’s far from official that Kovalchuk signed a 17-year deal. It is, after all, a rumor. Still, it wouldn’t be that surprising; it’s obvious that NHL general managers are milking that cap hit loophole for all its worth.

My question is: will they end up looking smart 10 years into such deals? I have some serious doubts about that.

One of the two? Sens will interview Boudreau on Friday

Bruce Boudreau
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Ottawa’s search for a new head coach is moving along quickly.

Just one day after owner Eugene Melnyk said the Sens would be down to a two-person shortlist by Friday, the Ottawa Sun reported that Bruce Boudreau would interview for the bench boss gig tomorrow.

Tomorrow… which is Friday.

Boudreau’s the latest in a long line of coaching prospects brought in GM Pierre Dorion. Others include Mike Yeo, Marc Crawford, Guy Boucher, Randy Carlyle and Kevin Dineen.

Boudreau, fired by the Ducks last week, is in hot demand. Bleacher Report’s Adrian Dater reported Calgary has already made an offer, and it’s believed the Minnesota Wild have also reached out, though GM Chuck Fletcher remains unclear what he plans to do with interim bench boss John Torchetti.

As for the Senators, there could be one more coach in the running to crack said shortlist:

Bob Hartley.

Dismissed by Calgary earlier this week, Hartley is seen as a good fit for the Sens gig. He speaks French, which is a bonus for a bi-lingual city like Ottawa, and has ties to player development coach Shean Donovan (Hartley coached Donovan in both Colorado and Atlanta)

Hartley’s also liked by former GM and current special advisor Bryan Murray, who nearly hired Hartley back in 2008 — but instead opted for Craig Hartsburg.

From the Globe:

[Murray] narrowed his search to Hartsburg, former Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup championship coach Bob Hartley and highly regarded junior coach Peter DeBoer of the Kitchener Rangers. DeBoer beat Hartsburg in the OHL Western Conference final this season, 4-1. They emerged as the two finalists for the job.

Both met earlier this week with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who said he wanted to become familiar with both as well as “have a couple of beers and pizza.” The final decision was up to Murray, and Hartsburg became the man.

“I was impressed with all of them,” Murray said. “[Hartley’s]presentation was excellent and I can see why he’s had success.

Other candidates believed to be in the running for the Ottawa job are Kings assistant John Stevens, and Blues assistant Brad Shaw.

If the Stars don’t get some better goaltending, their GM will have some explaining to do

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Kari Lehtonen was reportedly the first Stars goalie off the ice this morning, meaning he’s your likely starter tonight in St. Louis.

The decision by coach Lindy Ruff to go back to Lehtonen is no surprise after Antti Niemi started Game 3 and didn’t even last half of it. This is the way the Stars have rolled all season — back and forth between their two veteran netminders.

Yesterday, Ruff reiterated his frustration at having to constantly explain the two-goalie system.

“I’m just trying to stay consistent with what we have done all year,” Ruff told reporters. “I know that’s hard for you guys to buy into, because this two-goalie thing is new to you guys and you’d rather just ask me about one goalie, but we’ve had two goalies that have played really well that have got us to where we are.”

Ruff’s frustration is understandable, but then, so are the constant questions from reporters. Because if the Stars don’t get some better goaltending soon, they’ll be out of the playoffs and GM Jim Nill will be left to justify the $10.4 million in cap space he’s got tied up in Lehtonen and Niemi through 2017-18.

No other team has that much cap space allocated to a pair of goalies.

Now, was it all Niemi’s fault that the Stars lost Game 3? Of course it wasn’t. The Blues were the better team.

But the fact remains, Lehtonen and Niemi have combined to give Dallas an .892 save percentage in the playoffs, and that’s not even close to good enough.

Nill said going into the season that the Stars had “two No. 1 goalies.”

Right now, they don’t even have one.

If they did, he’d be playing all the time, and the coach wouldn’t have to explain a thing.

Miller wants to get another contract in Detroit

DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 24:  Drew Miller #20 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on the Dallas Stars on February 24, 2011 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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When healthy, Drew Miller is an effective checking forward and solid penalty killer.

When healthy, that is.

Miller struggled through a nightmarish campaign in ’15-16, missing extensive time with a broken jaw and torn ACL. The result? Just 28 games played, and only two points scored.

Set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the 32-year-old Miller wants to re-up in Detroit, get healthy, and return to form next season.

“Right now, for me it’s just getting myself healthy and giving myself an opportunity to get another contract,” Miller said, per MLive. “Everything is on the right path. The knee is feeling a lot better every time.”

Scooped off waivers from Tampa Bay seven years ago, Miller has really flourished during his time with the Red Wings and, not unlike a fine wine, got better with age.

He didn’t miss a single game from 2013-15, appearing in 82 contests each season while racking up 15 and 13 points, respectively. Miller was also one of the Red Wings’ best shot-blocking forwards and a staple of the penalty kill.

There are some questions about his future in Detroit, however.

The knee has to be a concern. Miller said the ligament had been partially torn for the better part of a decade but, since it didn’t bother him that much, he never had it addressed. Yet there has to be pause from GM Ken Holland about investing in a guy, on the wrong side of 30, coming off major surgery.

There’s also the potential for Detroit to continue with its youth movement up front. Young guys like Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Martin Frk and Evgeny Svechnikov could be pushing for full-time NHL gigs next year, which could make Miller expendable.

Of course, the whole thing could simply come down to dollars. Miller’s last contract was a three-year, $4.05 million deal that paid $1.35M annually, and it’s hard to say if he’d score a similar payday if he sticks in Detroit.

Testing free agent waters could ultimately be the play.

The ‘style of play’ difference that Treliving cited ‘was news’ to Hartley

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 5, 2016. The Flames won 4-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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When Bob Hartley was fired as head coach of the Calgary Flames, GM Brad Treliving left the impression that there was a difference between the “style of play” that Hartley coached and the style that Treliving wanted.

Yesterday, on a conference call with reporters, Hartley called that “news to me.”

“I felt that Brad and I always talked,” Hartley said, per the Calgary Sun, “and I always thought that we were on the same page.”

Now, for the record, Treliving did not say that he and Hartley were constantly butting heads, or that their working relationship had gone completely off the rails. In fact, the GM made a point to say, “I don’t want to characterize this as I’m standing in one end of the corner and Bob’s at the other end, and one’s talking chess and the other’s talking checkers.”

But that’s sort of how it came off — that Hartley had his philosophy, Treliving had his philosophy, and the two were incompatible.

Hence, the coach’s surprise.

“Brad Treliving was a great help to the coaching staff, was very supportive of us, so at no point was there a difference of opinion and everything,” said Hartley.

“So yesterday that was news to me.”

Related: Travis Green thinks he’s ready to coach in the NHL