Professional athletes, at least in the four major sports in North America, make a lot of money. Most fans cannot relate to them fully because most of those athletes make more in a year than fans will make in a lifetime of hard labour. So for many, there will always be a bit of jealousy or envy when seeing their favourite entertainers make what they consider to be way too much. And that will affect, directly or subconsciously, their views on not only the contracts that they sign, but about the players themselves. And guess what? It’s natural.
Take hockey for example. Actually, let’s narrow it down even more by looking at the Montreal Canadiens only. Remember Scott Gomez? Back in 2006-07, while with the New Jersey Devils, he was making $5 million per season. He finished that season with 60 points in 72 games in the regular season, followed by a performance of 14 points in 11 playoffs’ games that year. The previous season, he managed 84 points in 82 games. The following July, the New York Rangers signed him to a whooping 7-year, $51.5 million contract ($7.357M cap hit). He had one season of 70 points and never reached the 60 points plateau after. Worse, Bob Gainey traded for Gomez, giving Chris Higgins, Pavel Valentenko, Ryan McDonagh, and Doug Janik in return. Gomez could never live up to his hefty salary in Montreal and was bought out by Marc Bergevin.
Paul Byron was picked off waivers from the Calgary Flames during the 2015-16 season and he has been a key piece to the Canadiens. It was all fine and dandy when he scored, or was on pace for 20 goals or more in three consecutive seasons making merely $1.17 million. But when he was rewarded with a 4-year, $13.6 million contract ($3.4 million cap hit), fans started turning on him. It only got worse when his offensive numbers started dipping, in spite of being solid defensively. Now we find out that he’s been skating with a bad him for a few seasons. Fans turned with a higher contract.
Now look at what the fans’ reactions are relatively speaking in relation to players’ salary. Brendan Gallagher has played 10 years for the Montreal Canadiens and he’s been a fan favourite since day one. His “never give up” attitude, his hard work on every shift, made of him the team’s heart and soul according to most. He scored or was on pace for at least 30 goals in each of the last four seasons at a mere salary of $3.75 million. All was good for fans. Now that he’s signed at $6.5 million, many fans are turning their backs on him like he’s chopped liver. Not seeing that the entire team is down the drain this year, they look at his four goals in 30 games and make him a scapegoat, even wanting him traded. His salary has turned the fans on him.
What about Carey Price? Remember him? The franchise player, arguably the best goaltender in the world, who has won every piece of hardware available to a goalie except the Stanley Cup. The face of the Montreal Canadiens, the ultimate leader, the number one choice for Team Canada in international events. Most, if not all Habs’ fans were drooling when he was making $6.5 million per year, a deal for the best in the world. But as soon as he signed an 8-year, $84 million deal ($10.5 million) to stay in Montreal long term, many fans turned on him. Yet, his performances were the same. Money changed those fans’ mindset, not his on-ice or dressing room attributes.
Lastly, we have Jeff Petry. How many people have we heard or read, claiming that Petry was the true team’s number one defenseman, ahead of Shea Weber? Four consecutive seasons of at least 40 points, on pace for 63 points last season. To stay in Montreal, he left a lot of money on the table with a 4-year, $25 million contract ($6.25 million cap hit). You don’t believe it? Look at Mattias Eklhom ($5.25M), Jake Muzzin ($5.625M), Tyler Myers ($6M), Alex Edler ($6M), Kevin Shattenkirk ($6.65M), Justin Faulk ($6.5M) and Jonas Brodin ($6M), to name a few. PK Subban ($9M), Dougie Hamilton ($9M), Alex Pietrangelo ($8.8M), Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($8.25M), Jacob Trouba ($8M), Jared Spurgeon ($7.575M), Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($7M). It easy to acknowledge that he’s playing poorly this season. But money changed people’s mind… again.
I’ll give you one example outside the Canadiens’ organisation of a French Canadian player who regretted his contract: Roberto Luongo, while playing for the Vancouver Canucks. About his 12-year, $64 million deal ($5.33 million cap hit), he even once said, back in 2013:
“My contract sucks. I’d scrap it if I could right now.”
Players get paid. They get paid a lot. And rightfully so or not, justified or not, the amount a player makes adds pressure to perform at a higher level. Even when the level doesn’t dip, fans subconsciously seem to be expecting more. In a way, while they may be right to get their pay day, even when well deserved, fans can rapidly turn on the players simply based on the contract that they sign. Jealousy? Envy? It’s hard to tell but there are plenty of examples of that behaviour across the NHL… whether it’s justified or not.
Expectations, Season of Misery And Slice of Life by Marc-André Breault