The NHL has come a long way to make it a more equitable league, which has created a lot of parity. While some of it is just a smoke show (like the loser point), the much needed hard salary cap, the implementation of an cap on the Entry Level Contracts (ELC) and revamped revenue sharing amongst owners have allowed smaller market teams to at least compete a little bit better with the richer franchises. With perhaps the exception of the NFL, the NHL likely has the best deal for all teams involved.
This, however, doesn’t mean it’s perfect. When the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to an offer-sheet, the team had knowledge that Carolina Hurricanes’ owner Tom Dundon would be challenged to match a contract offer where the player would be paid $21 million in the first year or so of his contract, through signing bonuses.
Now news out of Florida come out that most of Alexander Barkov’s contract ($70 million of the $80 million total) will be paid through signing bonuses as well. Some teams can afford to pay in advance, others, not so much. The fact is that most businesses rely on the revenue generated at the gates to pay their players, whether it be tickets sales, concession sales, parking, souvenirs, etc.
The NHL (and NHLPA) must come together and agree to at least limit the percentage of contracts that can be paid through signing bonuses. Players should get paid for the games they play, no ifs or buts about it.
Then, there’s the issue of second contracts. In a league with a hard cap, teams rely on bridge deals to be competitive. While it was never a rule, most players were signed to a bridge deal (after their ELC) for 2-3 seasons, then hit the jackpot when contracts included years where players could become UFAs. So for good players, you would have three tiers: the ELC of about $950,000, a bridge deal in and around $4-5 million, then the big money contract after that.
Today, young players hold out for the big money immediately coming out of their ELC. Just this year, the list of players holding out had names like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Kirill Kaprizov and Brady Tkachuk (amongst others).
Here are a few examples:
- In Dallas, Miro Hiskanen (22) carries a cap hit of $8.45 million on a multi-year deal. In the past, he would be half that money on a bridge deal.
- In Vancouver, Elias Pettersson (22) has a cap hit of $7.35 million while teammate Quinn Hughes (21) ties up $7.85 million.
- In Minnesota, Kirill Kaprizov (24) signed his second contract worth $9 million per season, highest paid on the team.
- In Ottawa, Brady Tkachuk (22) apparently declined a $64 million deal over eight years ($8 million per season).
The money given to those young players takes away millions of dollars teams could spend on other quality players to help make those teams more competitive. Obviously, players go for the money and it doesn’t matter how many millions they get, they want more. So it’s up to the league to step up and help teams out to allow them to better differ the big payments. The ELC helps but it’s not enough.
What if the NHL instated a bridge contract cap? Make it two or three years. Make it maximum say, $5 million or a percentage equivalent in relation to the total salary cap. For example, with a total cap of $81.5 million, a $5 million salary represents just over 6%. Make the bridge deal worth maximum 6% of the total cap (at the time of signing) over two years.
Of course, that’s not perfect. What about the McDavids and other stars in this league? Fine. Perhaps each team would be allowed to have one player (at a time) as an exception. Say the Oilers have McDavid as an exception, they cannot have another exemption on a second year contract until Connor’s contract is done. He signs an eight year deal? The Oilers would be eight years signing bridge deals as second contracts! It would suck to be Draisaitl, but it makes it more equitable all around in the league… and the Oilers could be more competitive.
This would make the experience for fans that much better, as their team could very well be more competitive. Think about it. The NHL did not hesitate to make front-loaded contracts illegal. Why allow signing bonuses and ridiculously high second contracts? Time to put your pants on once again, NHL, and do what’s right for the good of the game.