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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.