Oh, you thought I meant the ability and willingness to spend money on free agents? Well, yeah, that too. What I really meant, though, was the rest of the NHL hating us for it.
Shortly after the news broke of Christian Ehrhoff's shiny new front-loaded 10-year, $40 million deal, the cries of salary cap circumvention began to go out. A small sample of tweets, first from a writer I don't respect, then one from a writer I do respect:
DamoSpin Damien Cox
While I appreciate everyone's sudden concern for the integrity of the NHL's financial structure, let's not get ahead of ourselves here.twolinepass ryan lambert
The last few years have been littered with notable "cap circumventing" deals; for the details, I point you to the Capgeek pages for Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo, Chris Pronger, and the most famously blatant example, Ilya Kovalchuk. In case you'd forgotten, Kovalchuk's initial 17-year, $102 million deal added SIX years of less than $1 million after topping out at $11.5 million in year 2, which pushed the expiration date of his contract to the absurd age of 44. The NHL decided that this pushed the envelope too far and proceeded to draft an amendment to the CBA that essentially spelled out what is and what is not salary cap circumvention.
And that, my friends, is the key difference between Ehrhoff's deal and the others. Rules were not in place until late last summer; unlike the others, Ehrhoff signed his deal under the new rules, and violated none of its key tenets.
As a refresher, the new rules for long-term contracts (defined as five years and greater) state:
- For the purpose of Salary Cap calculations, any long-term contract that extends past a player's 41st birthday will be valued and accounted for in two ways: The compensation for all seasons that do not include or succeed the player's 41st birthday will be totaled and divided by the number of those seasons to determine the annual average value (AAV) charged against the team's Cap for those seasons. In all subsequent seasons, the team's Cap charge will be the actual compensation paid to the player in that season (or seasons, as appropriate).
- Additionally, in any long-term contract that averages more than $5.75 million for the three highest-compensation seasons, the following rule shall apply: Solely to determine its value for purposes of the Salary Cap, a player's compensation for any season in which he is age 36, 37, 38, 39 and/or 40 shall be valued at a minimum of $1 million.
Is Ehrhoff worth $40 million over ten years? That I don't know, but it's not my money. The cap hit is the only thing I care about, and the actual cap hit for a guy expected to fetch $5.5 or $6 million per year is only $4 million. So what if he's paid $18 million in the first two years? As for the ten-year term: let's say he plays for four years in Buffalo and doesn't pan out. In this scenario, he then has six years to go with $14 million owed. Easy buyout, easy trade.
Put another way: a $4 million cap hit for a 50-point defenseman (good for 7th in the NHL last year), one that will likely be the new powerplay quarterback, isn't unreasonable. Expecting that he can and will play until age 39 isn't unreasonable.
As a Yankees fan, I know a thing or two about being a fan of a team that spends a lot of money. I also know what it feels like for the rest of the league to hate you for it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the feeling, you can consider yourselves indoctrinated now. The rest of the league, which clearly expected Buffalo to remain a thrifty doormat forever, is getting caught off guard by Buffalo's new status as a major player in free agency and a marquee destination, and the only response it can collectively muster is one of hate.
My suggestion is to embrace it. Us Yankee fans feed off this hat, and honestly, it can be a lot of fun at times.
Enjoy the ride. And Merry Hockey Christmas to everyone.