Two of the most notable potential 2011 unrestricted free agents might receive contract extensions way before July ’11. As I discussed before, the San Jose Sharks began talks to extend their leading points scorer Joe Thornton while Craig Custance also reported that the Boston Bruins started discussing a deal with big captain Zdeno Chara.
It’s natural to wonder if those teams will follow the nauseating trend of signing top-end players to “lifetime” contracts. Joe Thornton would only be 32 in October 2011 while Zdeno Chara will narrowly avoid 35+ contract status because he’ll only be 34 once the 11-12 season begins, so there would be incentive to make one of those clandestine “retire when you stop getting paid” deals. Still, as older players already receiving – and doing everything to earn – big money (both garner $7 million+ annual cap hits), they might not be as concerned with up front money or extra years.
While Chara’s agent says that the discussions are “just preliminary talks,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson gives some telling quotes that indicate he won’t be pulling a Kovalchuk-type deal with Jumbo Joe.
While Wilson won’t publicly comment on negotiations with Thornton, he made one thing clear: He won’t be doing any Kovalchuk-like deal with his franchise center, even if an extended long-term deal would help drive down the salary cap hit.
“We don’t have any contracts longer than four years,” Wilson said. “We are a player payroll team. We operate the way we operate. Under the CBA, people have options and choices. We have our own structure.”
Whether you critique Thornton for supposed playoff shortcomings or wonder if the Bruins can afford a cap hit like Chara’s, there’s no doubt (in my mind) that both players are truly among the NHL’s elite. It will be interesting to see if their contract discussions follow previous patterns or set new precedents under the far-more-watchful eyes of league executives.