Sabre For Life?

by Ryan

With the announcement of Henrik Zetterberg’s contract extension, the topic of long term contracts has come about once again. The growing trend in the NHL is to sign your franchise player to an extremely long contract, making them a “{insert team name} for life”. These deals, sometimes lasting ten years or more, are the new frontier in hockey. Eight players have deals extending until at least the 2015/16 season, including players such as, Vincent Lecavalier, Alexander Ovechkin, Rick DiPietro, and Mike Richards.

Zetterberg’s deal is set to run until 2021, which is a long freaking time until now. In fact, Detroit has another long term deal in place for Pavel Datsyuk, keeping him under contract until 2014. With Filppula and Cleary also on the roster until 2012/13 it looks like Detroit is beginning to decide which players they want on the team long term. They still have seven UFAs on the roster, but signing Zetterberg says a lot about their thoughts on his game and who they value as things progress.

The debate over long term contracts is still very much up in the air. There is an obvious danger in giving a young player a ton of money if he’s relatively unproven, and there’s also danger in overpaying for a player as his game declines. However, having a productive player under contract eliminates the danger of your franchise player being lured away by the free agent market’s suitcases full of money.

There are positives and negatives associated with a big deal, but it seems it really depends on the player involved. Richards’ contract was criticized, as was DiPietro’s deal; but Ovechkin’s contract seems accepted by most as a good signing. The Zetterberg deal seems to have gotten a pretty good reception, but I feel that has a lot to do with the respect Wings’ GM Ken Holland has garnered in the past. Zetterberg will be 40 when his deal expires, but if he chooses to retire early the team won’t take a cap hit at all.

Personally I like the deal, but I’m still a bit uncertain about long term deals in general. It’s hard to say if contracts like this are good for the entire league, as each team has a variety of different circumstances and situations for each player. So, let’s put it this way: do you want a long term contract for anyone on your team?

With the current Sabres’ roster it’s hard to say. If you look at contracts that last until at least 2013/14 you’ll see three current Sabres on the list. Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Ryan Miller all have deals that expire that summer, and Derek Roy’s contract ends a year before that.

Those look like mid-range deals given the above, but that’s a lot of time and money invested in four players for a team like Buffalo. All four players are likely to see one last contract as they reach their career peak, and are very unlikely to see long term deals like we’ve seen with Zetterberg. Not at that rate, at least.

So what about the younger players on the roster? Stafford is an RFA this summer and has been hot lately. He is still touted as the younger Sabre with the greatest potential by most, and if he develops the way the staff hopes it may be smart to get him locked up before his price rises.

On the back end Toni Lydman continues to be the Sabres best defenseman, and his contract expires next summer. He’ll be 32 at that point, but right now he looks to be the best candidate for any sort of long term deal. Teppo, Jaro, and Rivet are too old, and I haven’t seen anything out the young RFAs that would translate into a massive contract.

It’s an interesting debate, but with the current Sabres situation it’s hard to find a player worthy of such a deal. Even the Vanek deal seemed so lengthy at the time it was signed compared to all the one year deals we saw around the lockout. It was a time when the free agent landscape was uncertain, but with the CBA staying in place until 2011 we may see more deals like this down the road.

Still, it may be a good thing if the Sabres avoid such signings. Already we’ve seen Briere’s contract being shopped, and the rumors about Lecavalier aren’t a good sign for deals like this. It looks like each deal really is a unique situation, and it may be for the best that there aren’t any situations likely for the Sabres just yet.

One Comment

  1. Ogre39666

    The thing that makes Zetterberg’s contract extension “special” is that because in his last two years he’ll make only $1M, his cap hit for the length of the deal will be $6M instead of $7M.