Wouldn’t it be nice to be an NHL free agent at this time of year? No matter how good or bad your performance was the previous year, you are inevitably due for a raise.
Just ask Michael Ryder and Wade Redden.
After dropping down to a career-low 14 goals last season and being reduced to a fourth line player for the Canadiens, Ryder was “rewarded” with $12M over three years from the Boston Bruins. If he equals his goal total from a season ago, Boston will be paying him $285,714 for every one he scores.
Redden had a trying season in Ottawa that saw him heavily criticized for the misfortunes of his team, and the once legitimate Team Canada candidate has seen his stock drop big time over the last two seasons. That didn’t stop the New York Rangers from throwing $39M at him over a six year term.
Doesn’t seem like either team would be getting the best bang for their buck now, does it?
I can’t help but think of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice theme song at this time of year… “Money, money, money . . . money!”
Unfortunately, in the NHL they can’t fire them if their production sucks, or if they do, they’ll still be on the hook for the outlandish contract.
But that just seems to be the nature of the beast every summer in the new NHL, where league general managers outbid each other for the limited number of available players, hoping to make their teams better and prolong their job tenures at the same time.
Jeff Finger was handed $3.5M per season on a four-year deal with the Maple Leafs, after his first full season in the league at the ripe old age of 28. If his one decent season was an anomaly, the Leafs could be paying a lot of dough for a guy to patrol the Marlies blue line in the AHL.
It’s probably going to be a tough year for the guy. In the fish bowl that is being a pro hockey player in Toronto, every shift he takes people will be judging him on whether he is worth that big dollar amount.
I think it’s safe to say Leafs’ intern GM Cliff Fletcher got fingered, though.
Finger wasn’t the only fringe player who struck gold on July 1. Mike Commodore, a third pairing defenceman at best, hauled in 18.75M over a five year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ron Hainsey picked up 22.5M over five years from the Atlanta Thrashers, and Sean Avery was given $15.5M over four years to run his mouth in the Lone Star State.
Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke blames the big contracts on the wheeling and dealing of the Edmonton Oilers last summer, when they threw money at restricted free agents Thomas Vanek and Dustin Penner.
“You go right now from entry-level to what used to be the third contract, thanks to two offer sheets from Kevin Lowe,” Burke told the Associated Press. “Most [general] managers don’t like starting fights with any other managers. Thanks to the Edmonton Oilers, the second contract has disappeared. They’re all being re-signed at inflated prices. Everything I said a year ago has come true. Every single word.”
Thomas Vanek’s front loaded deal the Oilers offered him meant a cool $10M in 2007-08, and the Buffalo Sabres were forced to match to keep one of their best assets. The deal worked out to a solid $7,241 per minute on the ice last season for a player who produced 64 points in 82 games. That works out to a pretty good hourly wage.
Jaromir Jagr earned $278,666 for each one of his 30 goals last season. Not bad.
Martin Gerber made $60,655 for each of his 61 starts including playoffs last year, though he wasn’t even the most overpaid goalie on his team. Ray Emery pulled in $102,151 per start (31 starts) while also compiling a goals against average over 3.00 and a save percentage under .900.
The free agent market likens to the real estate market in big Canadian cities, with people selling their homes for much more than their original asking price because five or more different bidders create a war amongst themselves, driving up the value.
Part of the problem, too, is that Canadian teams are under pressure to do things at this time of year just to appease their strong fan bases. And unlike prior to the lockout, they have the money to do so now. The dollar is at par and Canadian teams sell out with huge merchandise sales every year.
That said, despite tabling offers to Jagr and Marian Hossa, reportedly at huge dollar amounts, Edmonton couldn’t attract either forward to the team. Hossa took a “discount” at $7.4M to join the defending champion Red Wings, and Jagr went to Russia.
Part of the problem for Canadian teams is the constant media scrutiny that follows the players everywhere they go. Maybe guys are hesitant to sign for huge money in a Canadian city, simply because they fear they’ll be run out of town if they don’t live up to the terms of the contract. You can’t hide as a hockey player up here. In the U.S., you can.
As long as the salary cap continues to rise, the league will recover from the crazy money that was thrown around this past week. But if the dollar loses its momentum or corporate America falters, causing the cap to plateau, this could be viewed as a disastrous week for a handful of NHL teams.