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Several of the league's most prominent, talented young players have recently been signed to long-term contracts by their teams. The Oilers, for example, have locked up young stars Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall to six and seven year deals respectively. Max Pacioretty, Jeff Skinner, Wayne Simmonds, Zack Smith, Kyle Turris, and veteran Scott Hartnell have also all recently signed contract extensions. It is important to note that several of these contracts extend past the five-year contract length cap that the owners are proposing in the new CBA talks. That five of these contracts are six year deals and Hall's is a seven-year deal may or may not be a coincidence and it may be an effort by teams around the league to make sure that they lock-up their most valuable assets while there is still no cap on the length of players contracts and while signing bonuses are still allowed.
The Rangers still have restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto to sign and several key, young players who will be restricted free agents after next season. Next year's RFA class for the Rangers is Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin, and Mike Sauer. This group of players is crucial to the success of the club for at least the next half of a decade and probably longer than that when it comes to players like Stepan and McDonagh. The question we have to ask ourselves is should the Rangers attempt to sign any of these key, young players or any other players already under contract to long-term deals before there may or may not be a five-year cap on players' contracts?
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It is important to note that the owner-proposed five-year cap on players' contracts, the end of signing bonuses, and the new rules regarding entry-level contracts and when players become unrestricted free agents are as far from inevitable as anything could be. However, it should be on the minds of the players, their agents, and general managers that the time of the long-term mega contract may be coming to an end in the NHL and there is a rapidly closing window to negotiate mutually beneficial deals to keep valuable young players with their current teams for as long as possible. One also has to consider the fact that there are now several recent examples of what young, budding stars should be paid when compared to some of their peers, though that standard may change dramatically next season.
The Rangers haven't signed many of their homegrown talent to long-term deals, the two "largest" in recent memory being Hank's six-year deal in 2008-09 and Marc Staal's five-year deal of 2010-2011. Even the team's current Captain, Ryan Callahan was signed to a three-year deal despite his immense value to the team and relative youth. There seems to be a tradition of the Rangers not committing too much to their young assets too early. A common model in the league is for players to get their paydays in their third contract, as they are entering unrestricted free agency but there are exceptions to that trend when it comes to players with almost unlimited potential like Jeff Skinner, Sidney Crosby, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle (to name a few).
Glen Sather certainly hasn't been shy about committing long-term deals to unrestricted free agents like Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards but they too are exceptions to a greater trend of two or three year commitments to veteran free agent signings like Marty Biron and Taylor Pyatt. For the most part, Slats doesn't seem to like long-term contracts for homegrown players or free agents unless the player involved is truly exceptional and a corner piece to build the rest of the team around. So are any of next year's restricted free agents really and truly exceptional? For most of the players it is far too early to say and it is hard to imagine the club falling to pieces without the services of Mike Sauer (as we've already learned, unfortunately) or Carl Hagelin should they leave to free agency when they are eligible. However, arguments can be made for Michael Del Zotto, Derek Stepan, and especially Ryan McDonagh being crucial to the success of the team for maybe the next ten years.
There is no question that those three players are very valuable to the team and have all kinds of potential but the Rangers should be cautious about committing to any player, no matter how promising or valuable they may seem, with only a few seasons of NHL hockey under their belt to a gigantic contract. Though there might be a case for Ryan McDonagh, none of the Rangers' young assets that will be RFAs after next season are anywhere near the level of Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner, or Jordan Eberle and they certainly shouldn't be paid what those players are being played. Bottom line, the risks of a long-term, big money contract, especially for very young players, are too great and it simply doesn't seem to be worth the risks involved. As for the rest of the players on the team, other than signing Henrik Lundqvist to a "retirement deal" in two years there simply aren't many players on the roster that the Rangers desperately need around for the next six or seven years.
For the time being Glen Sather would be wise to stick to what has been working, especially with the CBA and its terms up in the air. If Ryan McDonagh continues to play the way he has been I am sure he will be headed to a contract similar to Staal's after this upcoming season (so long as it complies with the new CBA) and I am sure that players like Hagelin and Stepan will find themselves getting two or three year deals after their entry-level contracts expire which is what the Rangers gave Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky. Although many of us would like key players like Callahan and Girardi under contract for a little bit longer, there is something to be said about exhibiting some caution with shorter-term deals.
I expect that Sather will indeed keep with his recent trend of signing players to shorter-term deals after their entry-level contracts expire though players like Del Zotto, Stepan, and McDonagh may demand a larger commitment in years and money. Something tells me Sather won't bend much on what seems to be his policy. He has shown that he is content to let players go to arbitration or to the very brink of it if he thinks they are asking or expecting too much. In my opinion, it seems like the most prudent course of action is to see what happens after the dust settles in the CBA, whenever that may happen, and adapt to potential major changes in the restrictions and rules surrounding players contracts accordingly. All of that being said, a four or five year contract seems like it is plenty long enough, even for players who are the face of their franchise.
Do you think Sather should lock any of their players up in long-term deals before the window might close? Should the Rangers wait until after a new CBA is reached to resign MDZ? Also, do you think that some of the recently signed young stars have gotten too much money or contracts that are too long considering their youth? Have at it in the discussion guys and girls. Let's go Rangers.