July 14, 2008

Megadeal mania

by Dan Bilicki In: Ice Hockey

Well, the Tampa Bay Lightning might have made an Isiah Thomas-like blunder, but you can’t really blame them seeing how their owners just bought the team. Was signing Vincent Lecavalier to an 11-year contract extension a good idea? Sure, if you think he’s still going to be good when he’s 40. Vinny, who is 28 right now, still has a year left on his current contract, meaning this shiny, new 11-year, $85-million deal doesn’t even start until next July. So, up until July 1, 2020, Vincent Lecavalier won’t have to worry about his income, the Bolts, on the other hand, may have to worry about how to continue paying seeing how their franchise seems to have been in financial trouble for a while now. I hope Vinny will like it in Kansas City or Winnipeg, or wherever they move in a few years.

Not that I have anything against signing a guy that will ultimately help your team for the long term but some of these teams signing guys to ridiculously long terms and for big money in some cases, are putting themselves at serious risk and at a disadvantage.

Firstly, sure, you have a guy locked up, but where’s his true incentive to improve when he already has something like $85 million guaranteed. I’m not saying a player would ever go out and NOT give it his all but we do know it has happened before. Also, who’s to know whether a guy will be as good as he is now when the tail end of his contract comes around. There’s no guarantee that these guys won’t tail off or see a dramatic drop in production. It happens all the time and the first thing that happens is the GM who signed the now overpaid guy, heres about it and he and the player can’t live it down.

Then there’s the serious risk that could come with injury. In contact sports, like hockey and football especially, there is an astounding amount of risk that comes with playing with physicality at a high level. Here’s a good example of a potential scenario:

Do you remember a guy named Eric Lindros? Of course you do, if not for how great of a player he was in his prime, but for his injury proneness or, more specifically, his concussion proneness. Now, if you remember correctly, Lindros was slated to be the next big thing in the NHL — a player with no ceiling and the potential to a cross of Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, but even tougher. For the first five or so years of his career everything looked on track for the Big E to reach greatness, then there was that huge hit from Scott Stevens that derailed everything.

Now, imagine if in 1998, after leading the Flyers to the Cup finals, Philadelphia had signed him to a long term deal similar to Ovechkin’s. The Flyers would have been praised for locking up a phenom like Lindros, the game’s premiere star! Well, then you have to consider that a 11-year megadeal given to Lindros at that time would expire next July 1, after his playing career did in November, 2007.

So, I’m not saying that it was a dumb idea for the Capitals to throw that kind of money over the long term to Ovie or the years that the Lightning have given Vinny, or for any other team to do so with prized investments, but they should remember the tale of Eric the Great and how his career turned around almost overnight. Remember, no player is invincible and if, say, Dion Phaneuf lined up Washington’s hero and clobbered him into an early retirement, well that’s a lot of years and a lot of dollars that will be choking a team’s salary cap room for a decade to come.

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