Four reasons why owners have been willing to sign players to long contracts

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The New York Post’s Larry Brooks took the NHL to task today, slamming the likes of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and Jets owner Mark Chipman for signing players to six-year contracts right before the old CBA expired, then having the gall to demand five-year limits during current negotiations.

It wasn’t the first time the owners have been accused of hypocrisy, and the players are justifiably upset with the NHL’s demands. Nobody wants their employment freedoms restricted.

That said, there are good reasons owners have been willing to sign off on long-term deals.

Here are the four main ones:

1. Because the players are young. Tyler Seguin (six-year deal) is only 20. So is Taylor Hall (seven years). Evander Kane (six years) is 21 and Jordan Eberle (six years) is 22. All four are franchise players that will still be in their 20s when their contracts expire. For that reason, the NHL may be willing to soften its position on term limits for restricted free agents. Maybe it’s a six-year max, maybe it’s eight.

2. To reduce the cap hit. It’s the back-diving type of contract the NHL won’t allow to exist in a new CBA. The league should have addressed this loophole before it signed the last CBA, but there’s no point crying over spilled milk. Currently there are 16 players with contract lengths of 10 years or longer. Of those 16, only a handful signed with the expectation they’ll still be playing when their deals expire. Take Roberto Luongo’s 12-year, $64 million contract that’s set to expire when he’s 43. In reality, it’s only a nine-year deal; the last three years are for minimal salary. In hindsight, the Canucks probably shouldn’t have agreed to it, given they’re now trying to trade him and his contract is the biggest impediment to a deal. But looking back, without Luongo’s artificially lowered cap hit, they likely wouldn’t have been able to acquire Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre at the trade deadline prior to their run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011. Both players were key additions that year.

3. To get the player. You can argue all day about the wisdom of Wild owner Craig Leipold for committing a combined $196 million to sign unrestricted free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to identical 13-year deals this summer. But that was the market and it was the only way he could win the bidding war for their services. Again, you can question the wisdom of the deal, but Leipold felt he needed to make the investment to invigorate a fan-base that had grown tired of losing. Given there weren’t many Wild fans complaining, it’s hard to argue he failed in that regard.

4. To keep the player. See: Shea Weber, who forced Nashville’s hand when he inked a 14-year, $110 million ($58 million) offer sheet with the Flyers. The Predators had already lost Suter to free agency; they felt they couldn’t lose their other franchise defenseman. Was it smart? Guess we’ll find out. But like Suter and Parise, Weber was going to get big dollars and term wherever he ended up. For Nashville, it was either buck up or start rebuilding again. Suffice to say, Preds fans were glad ownership chose the first option.

For the NHL, demanding term limits on contracts is no different than demanding a salary cap. It’s being done to level the playing field and protect owners from themselves.