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Do lengthy contracts show commitment or cap creativity?

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Get used to this for the next 17 years, assuming there's no apocalypse.
Get used to this for the next 17 years, assuming there's no apocalypse.

With the breaking of Ilya Kovalchuk's ridiculously long new contract yesterday, I got to thinking about some of the effects of the deal. Would it drive the NHL towards another lockout because of the need for a new CBA? Did he really just sign for the equivalent of 77% of my life so far? Will anyone ever actually serve out the full duration of their deal?

But mainly the question I thought of was this: are the lengthier contracts to avoid cap problems or are they a throw back to the olden days of pre-free agency NHL where players stuck with a team for a long time?

With Kovalchuk signed, there are now 11 players in the league with contract lengths at 10 years or more and it seems like this trend is going to continue as a route to keeping players for cheap in the long run. Of the 11 players, 7 of those players have signed their deals within the last calendar year (give or take) so it definitely smells a bit like salary cap influenced negotiations as some of the effects from the post-lockout CBA are starting to roll in.

These new long term contracts have longterm effects on nearly every aspect of the team.

As a player, by signing a contract like any of those, you do three things. First, you guarantee yourself a spot in the league over the next decade while earning a hefty paycheck. Second, you also limit your income because for all anyone knows, the league could take off financially and player salaries increase drastically. Third, you back yourself into a corner in terms of a trade. For example, a team could spiral downward three or five years after the contract is signed and a player finds himself in a no win situation because potential buyers would be hesitant to take on a contract that rich and lengthy.

As a general manager, you keep a high quality player in town for a long, long time while being able to keep costs down over the long haul and capitalize on building a team around a certain player as the years progress. Also, you give opposing teams something to worry about in the long run. You think Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York (X2) are enjoying the thought of facing Ilya Kovalchuk for the next 17 seasons?

As an owner, you now give the fans the "go-ahead" to buy that player's jersey or t-shirt, to commit to the "marriage" between player and team. Hell, most of these contracts last longer than the average real marriages actually do.

John Fischer of In Lou We Trust speaks a bit on the Kovalchuk deal in relation to the CBA:

Some people aren't happy about the supposed front-loaded contract, but all I have to say is: don't hate the player, hate the game. The CBA assigns cap hits by average value and doesn't have term limits on contracts. The Devils aren't going around the salary cap ceiling or floor, so I don't see how this would be a circumvention. Other teams have done this (e.g. Chicago with Marian Hossa), and if anyone is clever enough to exploit the CBA, it's Lou Lamoriello. Clearly, Jeff Vanderbeek is willing to drop the coin, Lou's confident in the committment, and Kovalchuk and his people support the deal by signing it. It's win-win-win for all involved, so what others think is essentially pointless. Get a GM who's willing to be creative with the CBA instead of following a meaningless "spirit of the rule."

This certainly could be the case with Kovalchuk's new contract and likely it was not an effort to circumvent the cap. As John states, sometimes these scenarios are just an all around win for all parties involved. The matter now just rather concerns the level of dedication the franchise will show to him (and vice versa) over the course of the contract.

With two of the aforementioned 11 long-term deals on their roster, the Red Wings have made major commitments to Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg. As a fan you get to experience the thought firsthand that these players are Red Wings for life, a theme that used to be prevalent in the pre-free agency era. So as seemingly more and more players sign deals to stick with a team (3 teams have a pair of the 11 mentioned) does the sense of being a "lifer" come into play or is it just the way the business is run these days?

I believe it's a little bit of both. Obviously, you want to keep your good players and you want to keep them for a long time to prevent them from hurting you as an opponent down the road. In addition, you want to do so in a smart financial manner that allows you wiggle room down the road by diminishing the value of the contract over time. However, as an owner/GM, you show your commitment to a player and create that sense of family by bringing him in for such a long period of time. You create the chance for that player to become a legend in that city and an icon of the franchise, for better or worse.

Will Kovalchuk become a legend in New Jersey? Far too early to tell. But the ownership has presented him the opportunity to do so with such a contract.

Your turn. Do lengthy contracts show a trend in getting around the salary cap or are teams rewarding players for their commitment to the organization?