Are ultra long-term contracts a blessing or curse for the teams that issue them?

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Since the salary cap era started, teams have been becoming more and more open to signing players to extremely long-term (basically lifetime) contracts in an effort to provide themselves with cost certainty. It also allows them to give players the type of money they want now, while keeping the overall cap hit low by frontloading the deal. In turn, players get the security that a long-term deal provides.

It seems like a win-win scenario, but of course it’s not that simple.

The NHL owner’s initial CBA proposal sought to limit contracts to five-years in length, but even if these types of ultra long-term deals are still an option next season, should GMs be interested in signing players to them?

To get a better idea of the potential pros and cons, let’s take a look at the five longest active deals that have been in effect for at least three full seasons.

Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders – 15 years, $67,500,000) — Obviously, this deal perfectly sums up the risks involved. The deal began in the 2006-07 campaign and at this point a $4.5 million cap hit is pretty low for an all-star caliber goaltender.

The problem, of course, is that DiPietro is not an all-star caliber goaltender. He’s been plagued by injuries over the last four seasons and hasn’t even been that good during the brief periods where he’s been healthy.

At this point, he’s the Islanders backup goaltender and someone who probably wouldn’t be able to find a one-way contract as an unrestricted free agent. All the same, the Islanders have made a commitment to him that lasts through the 2020-21 campaign.

Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals – 13 years, $124,000,000) — Going into this deal, Ovechkin looked like about as safe a bet as you could get. Sure, his $9,538,462 cap hit was excessive for the time and is still the biggest in the NHL, but could you blame Washington for locking up a man that promised to be one of the greatest goal scorers of his generation?

To an extent, yes. It doesn’t matter who the player is, assuming that he’ll be among the league’s elite for the next 13 years is a big gamble. It hasn’t exactly blown up in Washington’s face, but Ovechkin’s 38-goal, 65-point 2011-12 campaign certainly leaves something to be desired given his contract. Still, Ovechkin is young and over the span of his career, last season might prove to be the low point.

Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit Red Wings – 12 years, $73,000,000) — Zetterberg’s deal has fared better than most. His $6,083,333 cap hit is looking increasingly favorable given how much the market have risen in recent years. His offensive output did decline a bit in 2011-12, but he remained the team’s point scoring leader.

Mike Richards (Philadelphia Flyers/Los Angeles Kings – 12 years, $69,000,000) — This one is a bit harder to judge. The Philadelphia Flyers eventually decided to go in a different direction, but, in part due to his reasonable $5,750,000 annual cap hit, they were able to trade away his contract for a pretty nice haul.

He then went on to record just 44 points in 74 games in his first season with the Los Angeles Kings, but he stepped up in the playoffs and helped them win the Stanley Cup. His deal certainly can’t be called a failure, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to build off of his strong playoff run and have a more productive all-around season in 2012-13.

Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks – 12 years, $63,300,000) — For the most part, this contract has worked out fine so far. Hossa helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup and it’s hard to argue with that. His $5,275,000 cap hit is also pretty friendly and has made the deal justifiable even though he’s missed a decent amount of playing time due to injuries.

With Hossa, even after three seasons under the deal, the jury is still out. He’s already 33 and he’s signed through 2020-21. It might not be too long before his contract starts to look like a drag on the team.

In a way, Hossa’s deal encompasses the risks that we still can’t fully explore. Seeing as these types of deals gained popularity with the new (soon to be old) CBA, we haven’t gotten to see these deals play out through to their conclusion. However, we can already clearly see examples of the big risks these contracts come with.

SPHL gets creative, adopts ‘pick your opponent’ playoff format

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When discussion about the NHL’s playoff format comes up, there is a section of fans who would like to see the league allow for an even greater reward for top teams other than home-ice advantage.

That idea has become a reality thanks to the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The 10-team SPHL announced on Monday that they are overhauling their opening round and turning it into what’s being dubbed the “Challenge Round.” The top three teams will get to choose their first-round opponent during a “Challenge Round Selection” event which will be broadcast to fans on Sunday, April 8, the day after the regular season concludes. After the top three seeds select their opponents, the No. 4 team will be matched against the leftover side.

Every playoff series, including the President’s Cup Final, will remain best-of-three with re-seeding taking place for the second round.

The idea for this change came to SPHL commissioner Jim Combs over dinner in June with Axel Bammer, Chief Operating Officer of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga. When Combs heard that the league’s top teams get to pick their opening round opponent, he could imagine the buzz and interest it would generate. (Sweden’s Elitserien did this in the past as well.)

A week after meeting with Bammer, Combs met with the league’s owners and received zero pushback about the idea. The new playoff format was widely embraced as the group felt this was the future of the hockey.

Feedback has been mixed on the change. But Mike Campos, who covers the SPHL for The Sin Bin, sees it being a big plus for the league.

One of the benefits of being at the bottom rung of the professional hockey ladder (second-lowest, if you consider the FHL a pro league) is there is flexibility to implement radically new ideas other leagues can not. If the “Pick Your Opponent” format change generates buzz among fans and rivalries between teams resulting in a spirited postseason, the decision could be a winner for the SPHL.

As Campos notes, lower levels of hockey allow for plenty of onnovation while not straying far from the fundamentals of running a hockey league. This new format will certainly make the end of the regular season much more interesting and provide bulletin board material for teams and storylines heading into the playoffs. It’s an idea worth exploring, and the SPHL is no stranger to implementing ideas that catch on elsewhere.

It was the SPHL where 3-on-3 hockey began over a decade ago. It was deemed a silly gimmick at first, but now that we’ve seen it at the NHL level for two seasons, it’s clearly a welcomed change — one that’s made overtime hockey must-see television.

Combs said the league will see how it this playoff format idea plays out in April before deciding whether to keep or tweak it in the future.

So what do you think? Would you want to see the NHL go in this direction for the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Stick-tap Scotty Wazz

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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With Perreault out four weeks, Jets call on prospect Kyle Connor

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Kyle Connor has been a scorer just about everywhere he has played — the USHL, the University of Michigan, and the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.

He’s only had a brief taste of life in the NHL, playing 20 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season, scoring two goals and five points.

The 2015 first-round pick hasn’t yet experienced the same success at the NHL level, although he’s about to get another opportunity with the Jets after getting recalled on Monday. The move comes after Winnipeg placed Mathieu Perreault on injured reserve. He’s expected to miss up to four weeks.

Perreault has yet to play a full 82-game schedule with the Jets because of injuries, but he’s been an important player when available, with consistent production and strong possession numbers. That said, the 20-year-old Connor is a promising prospect with the potential for significant upside, especially considering the role he should find himself in.

Per NHL.com on Monday, Connor skated on the wing with Bryan Little and sophomore scorer Patrik Laine. That, it would appear, is Winnipeg’s second line, which gives them a difficult top-six group of forwards — the top line consisting of the red-hot Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler — for the opposition to face.

“Speed. That’s the big piece that he can add to that line,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “Patrik’s such a great shooter. Bryan’s a really quick player. What Perreault did well was he got in and he got on it. He was quick enough to get in there to create some offensive zone time and allow those guys to do the things they do well and Kyle should be able to add that.”

The Jets have won three in a row, with Connor Hellebuyck giving them a trio of impressive performances in net. They host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, although according to Sara Orlesky of TSN, Steve Mason is expected to get the start.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Eddie Olczyk to return to broadcast booth for Blackhawks-Blues Rivalry Night showdown

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The Chicago Blackhawks visit the St. Louis Blues for Wednesday’s Rivalry Night contest on NBCSN, and there will be a familiar voice on the broadcast.

Eddie Olczyk will return to the broadcast booth for this contest — the first meeting of the season between these two Central Division rivals — just over two months after it was publicly revealed that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and was undergoing treatment following surgery to remove a tumor.

“We have some dates that we have highlighted and hopefully I will be strong to do the job,” Olczyk told USA Today. “If I am not feeling good, I just have to be honest with everyone and tell them I can’t do it.”

Read more: Blackhawks announcer Pat Foley gives shout out to Eddie Olczyk at Wrigley Field

Olczyk played 1,031 NHL games for six teams, including the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, L.A. Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins, from 1984 to 2000, scoring 342 goals and 794 points.

After coaching the Penguins during the 2003-04 and 2005-06 seasons, Olczyk moved to the broadcast booth as an analyst for NBC Sports’ coverage of the NHL and also Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago.

In a statement in August, Olczyk vowed to return to broadcasting after his treatment.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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‘Something didn’t feel right’ — Parise leaves practice early after suffering setback

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The beginning of a new week for the Minnesota Wild started with Zach Parise taking part in practice.

Shortly after, however, the 33-year-old forward, who hasn’t played a game this season because of an undisclosed injury, left the ice and didn’t return, per multiple reports.  

Parise has previously insisted the injury isn’t with his back.

“I talked briefly with Chuck, but he said it was a setback. I don’t know how much of a setback or anything,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Wild website.

“I know I talked to him before practice and he felt great. That’s why he was in a red color and was ready to go. The next thing I know, somebody told me he went off. I don’t know why he went off. Obviously, something didn’t feel right.”

All part of what’s been a disastrous few days for the Wild in terms of injuries to begin the year.

General manager Chuck Fletcher seemed hopeful this latest occurrence would only be a short-term thing, although there doesn’t appear to be a timetable for when their veteran forward, who scored 19 goals and 42 points last season, may return. The Wild last played on Saturday, and don’t play again until Friday when they visit the Winnipeg Jets.

The news surrounding Mikael Granlund, out the last three games with a groin injury, seemed far more promising at this stage in the week.

The 25-year-old Granlund enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2016-17 with career highs in goals (26), assists (43) and points (69), and eventually cashed in with a three-year, $17.25 million contract extension to avoid salary arbitration.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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