In the moments after the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane twin eight-year, $10.5-million per contract extensions were announced it was kind of like walking out of a bomb shelter after years of living underground.
So after the deals were announced we walked up the latter, opened the hatch and let our eyes adjust to the sun. What we saw was fascinating. Kane and Toews just became the biggest cap-hit players in the NHL, but not necessarily the highest paid players in the NHL. Remember, cap hit and salary are two different numbers. The cap hit is the average salary over the life of the contract, while the salary is the player's salary in any given year.
*Toews and Kane have a cap hit of $6,300,000 each next year, the extension kicks in 2015-2016, but their cap hit is put there to show how far ahead of the pack they are.
In the world of the NHL salary cap it's the cap hit that impacts a team directly. Every single team gets to play with the same amount of money and the same amount of space. That doesn't change outside of when the cap is increased or decreased after a season ends.
Salaries are a different matter entirely, however. The Weber salary is enormous because when the Philadelphia Flyers gave him an offer sheet they front-loaded as much bonus money as they could in the shortest amount of time to force the Nashville Predators' hand. The Predators don't exactly have that kind of money to throw around in a two-year span -- which is why the Flyers did it, hoping Nashville couldn't match the contract -- even though they could easily accommodate his cap hit. See the difference?
For Chicago money isn't a problem. Toews and Kane can make $20-million each the first three years of their respective extensions and it still probably wouldn't dent the team's coffers. The salary cap hit, however, will be something the team can't run around with their financial muscle, because that hard ceiling doesn't ever move once it's been set for the year.
Here's the thing: This is the direction the NHL is moving in. It's also the direction it should be moving in. What the salary cap has done is strangely allowed lower-level players to fight for more money while teams were keeping stars well below their market value. Do you need proof? Benoit Pouliot just $4-million a year from the Edmonton Oilers in free agency while Weber sits at a $7.8-million cap hit for the Predators. Is Pouliot only $3.8-million less of a player than Weber? Not even close.
Guys like Tanner Glass ($1.45 per), Deryk Engelland ($2.9 per), Dave Bolland ($5.5 per), David Clarkson ($5.25 per), Ryan Callahan ($5.8 per) and Brooks Orpik ($5.5 per) have sucked up immense pools of cap space they absolutely do not deserve. Those are all lower to mid-level players in the NHL earning cap hits far above their actual value. Some of those players are earning salaries that should be designated for the "upper middle class" of the NHL if you will.
This most recent CBA has forced players like Kane and Toews to accept eight-year maximum deals (seven-year maximum deals for UFAs) which obviously limits the money they can make. Just two years ago Parise and Suter signed twin 13-year, $98-million contracts with an annual cap hit of over $7.5-million. Those were the types of contracts the NHL wanted to abolish. The long, front-loaded deals that saw Parise and Suter go from making a $12-million salary the first two years to a $1-million salary the last two years.
The desire was so great, in fact, the NHL demanded cap recapture penalties be instituted in the new CBA to end the lockout. The NHL did grant every NHL team two compliance buyouts to allow them to rid themselves of such front-loaded deals without penalty. The Rangers essentially needed to buyout Brad Richards because of the potential cap recapture penalties that could come their way if they didn't and he retired early. The Blackhawks will have to deal with this if Marian Hossa retires early from his 12-year, $63-million contract.
So to clarify, look at the most recent twin deals we've seen the past few years:
Toews and Kane add up to a combined 16 years for $168-million while Parise and Suter add up to a combined 26 years for $196-million. Notice the difference? Less years forces the cap hits higher (and the total salary lower), which is exactly how it should work. The best players should be making the most money. And yes, it should come at the expense of fringe players in the league.
The contracts handed out to guys like Clarkson, Callahan, Pouliot and Bolland will slowly become more and more rare as the bigger stars suck up more cap space and teams don't have the ability to throw those $5-million contracts around like candy. This is the way it should be. This is the "new look" NHL landscape we should expect to see.
Fourth liners need to start being paid like fourth liners. The market is currently saturated with lower-level players getting bigger deals. I will maintain that Bolland doesn't get near $5.5-million a year if Clarkson doesn't get an even bigger contract from the Toronto Maple Leafs the year before. And because Florida is a team with cap space that needs to reach the cap floor, they were more than happy to play ball and over pay for a player with the intangibles but not the skill to earn that type of contract. That deal ends up raising the market value for those types of players and we get to where we are now.
Well, expect that to start to change. We all knew the numbers would be astronomical when Toews and Kane -- the first two true premier free agents to potentially hit the market with the new CBA in place -- grabbed a pen to ink a new deal. I'm not sure anyone expected them to be this high, but I also don't think it's a shocking number, either.
Yes, the duo will fill nearly 30% of the Blackhawks' total cap space when their deals kick in, but they're also two of the premier players in the league who have lead Chicago to two Stanley Cups. The problem isn't the cap hit, it's the fact that both players might begin their decline around their 30's (with multiple years left on the deal).
It also invalidates the argument about not having enough room for role players. It's not about not having enough room, it's about smartly using the room you have. An example? Pouliot on a one-year, $1.3-million deal is smart. Not re-signing him to a five-year, $20-million contract is also smart. Moves like that will be at the forefront in Chicago as they continue to move forward. All NHL teams might start having to take a similar approach as they need to spend big chunks of cash to keep their stars in check.
If it makes the smaller guys have to take smaller salaries so be it.
This is the "new look" NHL landscape, the way things should have been all along.