By JD Lagrange – Most NHL players are thrilled when they sign a big, long term contract. Who can blame them? After all, they’ve been “struggling” at around the league minimum wage of $750,000 to $1 million for a few seasons, right? Okay, wrong approach. It’s hard for us, common mortals, to relate to people who make more in a year or two than we will in a lifetime. But still, for some, it comes a point where they feel like if they could go back in time, they would sign a different contract, leaving term and/or money on the table.
One of the most popular example was the case of Roberto Luongo, who ended up coming out publicly in April 2013, saying that he regretted signing a 12-year contract extension worth $64 million in 2009 with the Vancouver Canucks. A few days shy of his 34th birthday, Luongo spoke openly to the media about his regrets after a Canucks’ practice.
“My contract sucks,” Luongo said. “I’d scrap it if I could right now.”
To put things into context, seeing that young Cory Schneider was playing well, then Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis came out publicly a few months earlier stating that he would be trading Luongo. That in itself was a faux-pas, and Gillis certainly didn’t realize how difficult it would be to trade a soon to be 34 year-old goaltender who still had 9 years remaining to his deal, with a cap hit of $5.3 million per season. Luongo’s comments were made when he wasn’t traded by trade deadline.
There are two major factors that can make players regret signing a contract: the cap average and the term (length) of the said contract. In addition to getting value back in a trade, those are the two major hurdles today’s General Managers find difficult to get around when trying to trade players in a world of hard salary cap. There is also the trade clauses – whether it is no-trade or no-movement – affecting tradability, but that’s more on the GM than on the player, as the later can always voluntarily accommodate the team if he really wants out.
But why do players end up regretting? There are a few reasons and, for each player, it’s different.
- When a player signs a big contract and becomes one of the team’s highest paid players, it comes with the added pressure of performing and living up to that contract. Fans, medias, management, coaches and even teammates look at the player in a different light. You MUST perform to expectations and sometimes, the expectations are higher than ever. And if you don’t, you will hear about it, rest assured, and facilitating a trade will become very difficult.
- At the moment of signing, the player usually likes the team, the coach, even the GM, and the direction that the team is taking. Over the course of a long-term contract however, the GM can get fired, as can the coach. Then players aren’t re-signed, others are traded, and your level of happiness with the new system, teammates and organization as a whole can change in a heartbeat. Having a contract difficult to trade can turn into a ball and chain… on the player’s own ankle.
- Teams often trade high-priced players due to the need for a few changes, needing to clear cap space, as a business decision more than hockey decisions. Young players are pushing and need to be re-signed, and as bridge contracts seem to be more and more a thing of the past, veterans on bigger contracts, even if they are still productive, are often sacrificed in order to accommodate younger players. In some cases, if they didn’t make quite as much, perhaps they could have stayed with the team that they signed with.
As we’ve touched on in a recent article, most teams are currently either tight against the salary cap or are already dipping into their LTIR. This will, for sure, complicate things for this year’s trade deadline, both for teams trying to unload pending UFAs, but also for those wanting reinforcement for a playoffs’ run.
In fact, so many teams are tight against the cap, that it leaves fewer teams than ever who could benefit from becoming third party brokers, taking on salary at the cost of young assets, to accommodate contenders.
Rest assured that there are a few players who have, since Luongo, felt like “their contract sucks”, with more who will realize it within the next couple of weeks, as trade deadline approaches. We, as fans, have to realize that these guys’ window of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup is often more limited as pending UFAs. Missing a chance or two during their career is huge to them.
The Montreal Canadiens are no different than any other teams in the NHL when it comes to bad contracts. Often times, it’s the team that regrets signing players to long-term, high dollars deals and it is likely the case in Montreal. New management coming in, the philosophy changes and while they would like to make changes, their hands are tied by contracts.
Brendan Gallagher: The 34 year-old has four more seasons (after this one) to his contract, carrying a cap hit of $6.5 million per season. However, Gally’s production has been horrible the past two seasons. Knowing what we know of him, being a heart and soul type of player, the 2021 playoffs’ run has probably taking its toll on him, as it has done to Shea Weber, Carey Price, Paul Byron and, to a lesser point, Joel Edmundson. But he’s playing through it… because that’s in his DNA. If he doesn’t end up on the LTIR like Weber and Price, he may end up regretting that contract.
Jonathan Drouin and Evgenii Dadonov: Two guys who simply have not lived up to their contract with the Canadiens. Thankfully, both are pending UFAs and their time in Montreal is limited to the end of this season at the latest, if Kent Hughes can’t find takers for them at trade deadline.
Joel Armia: With two more years at $3.4 million per season after this one, he would be difficult to trade by trade deadline or in the off-season if the Canadiens decided to do so. With that being said, I’m not sure that he would regret having signed that contract. It would be more the case of the team regretting it.
Mike Hoffman: If Hoffman didn’t have a year left to his contract ($4.5 million cap hit), he would likely be lumped with Drouin and Dadonov. But that extra year is weighing heavy on the possibility of seeing him traded by the March 3rd trade deadline, or even in the off-season. Like Armia though, I don’t get the feeling that the player minds having signed that deal.
As hard as it might be for us to related to those high-priced athletes and their “issues”, the fact remains that the challenges that they are living are real to them. Players know that, and some have learned from the Roberto Luongo experience of speaking up publicly. He took some heat for it by some Canucks (and NHL) fans for it, so those unhappy with their fat contracts keep their mouth shut.
Players try not to complain loudly, in front of cameras, but rest assured that there are a few players out there who feel like their contract… sucks.