On Wednesday, the Boston Bruins re-signed their top centre to a 7 year contract worth $28.05 Million. This breaks down to a surprisingly cap-friendly hit of only $4.007 Million per season. Wow!
Here’s how Savard’s new contract, which begins next season, breaks down:
- $7 Million in each of the first two seasons (years 1 and 2)
- $6.5 Million in year 3
- $5 Million in year 4
- $1.5 Million in year 5
- $525k in each of the final two seasons (years 6 and 7)
I have two thoughts about this new contract. First of all, on behalf of hockey fans worldwide, I’d like to applaud Marc Savard for signing this contract. A couple weeks ago, it was a rumoured that Boston were close to finalizing a contract with Savard that would be worth roughly $39 Million over 7 years, which would’ve worked out to a cap hit of roughly $5.5 Million a year. When I heard that rumour, I thought that was a fantastic deal for Boston, as Marc Savard could’ve easily commanded $6-7 Million per year on the open-market. And now we find out that the real cap hit of Savvy’s new contract will be $4 Million per season. For a player of Savard’s caliber, this is unbelievable. Bruins GM, Peter Chiarelli, has probably scored the biggest coup of his career with this deal. It’s also nice to see a player work out a contract that is not only cap-friendly, but that is fair and not overly greedy. However, it’s really weird that virtually nobody in the hockey world paid much attention to this. Hopefully the fans in Boston took more notice of this, as Savard’s absence this season put a huge hole in Boston’s offense and he would’ve been severely missed had he opted for free agency.
When Sidney Crosby took a “hometown discount” and signed for an annual cap hit of $8.7 Million, that really pissed me off. I understand that he’s one of the top 3 players in the world, but how can any hockey player say that an $8.7 Million salary is a discount, especially when that amounts to over 15% of his team’s annual salary cap? Crosby could’ve signed for $10 Million a year, but he said he wanted to save the Penguins some money. It’s noble, but I don’t really see how the $1.3 Million savings will allow Pittsburgh to produce a better team. Yet, with Savard’s deal, he’s clearly placed a greater importance on winning than on how much money he earns. A $4 Million cap hit leaves Boston plenty of wiggle room to re-sign their other key talent over the next few years. In the next two seasons, the contracts for Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Derek Morris, Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder and Marco Sturm will all expire and new contracts will need to be negotiated. Thanks to Savard’s steal-of-a-deal, Chiarelli will have lots of extra room to work with. Good news for Bruins fans, bad news for Ottawa and Toronto fans as they have to play the Bruins 6 times each season.
My second thought about this contract is that the NHL needs to step up – and fast! Scroll up and take another look at how this contract breaks down. Boston got a great deal on the cap hit, but they don’t exactly get a great deal on the first 4 years of the contract. It’s no surprise that this contract is front-loaded and I have no problem with that. My problem lies in the fact that Savard is currently 32 years old and will be 38 in year 6 of this deal and 39 in the final year, conveniently when the salary levels decrease dramatically. In these final two years of his contract, Marc Savard will essentially be earning the league’s minimum salary. Upon signing the new contract, Savard stated in his press conference that he planned to play all 7 seasons, but who can tell that far in advance? What if he gets hurt or doesn’t feel like playing hockey anymore? Most NHL players, even elite caliber players, aren’t still playing hockey at 38 or 39 years old. So if Savard retires before those final two seasons, doesn’t hurt the Bruins financially because his cap hit will already have counted as $4M in each of the previous 5 seasons he played, when in reality, Boston will have already paid out $27 Million in that time. That would actually average out to $5.4 Million per season – that’s a notable difference.
If I were an NHL GM, I’d probably be signing these types of deals all the time too. For now, they’re legal and the players seem to be willing to sign them. But I think it’s time the NHL wised up and put a stop to this. I know these types of topics are generally reserved for Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) discussions, but since we’re always hearing about those General Manager meetings, it would be great to see this topic get tabled at one of those. I’ve said it before in previous blogs, but I just don’t think it’s fair that a team can have a player leave his contract early but still have the advantage of the friendlier cap hit from the original length of the deal. I have two suggestions for the NHL as a way to rectify this looming problem, before it becomes a nightmare.
- Put a ‘cap’ (ha!) on the length of the contract. For example, no contracts can be longer than 7 years, and no contract can be signed for longer than 5 years if they player is 30 or older when signing the contract.
- No contract can decrease by more than 50% in salary from one year to the other. In Savard’s case, his contract drops by 70% from year 4 to year 5, and drops again 65% from year 5 to year 6. That’s too big of a drop-off from one season to the next and it presents an opportunity for the player to retire/leave the team early while the team takes advantage of the lower cap hit. If you look at Henrik Zetterberg’s contract in Detroit, this suggestion would really change the structure of his contract and make it a less ridiculous. Zetterberg’s contracts drops from $7 Million to $3.35 Million, to $1 Million, year-over-year, at the very end of the contract.
At the end of the day, the NHL needs to do something to either change or re-structure the way these long-term contracts are being signed because teams will continue to bend the rules and push the boundaries of the CBA, as long as they’re allowed to.
On the flipside, I’d thrilled to see that Marc Savard took the classy road and signed for an extremely fair amount of money. Hopefully, more professional athletes follow Savard’s lead and realize that they don’t need to squeeze every last dollar from their team and its owner (s). An average of $4 Million per season to play hockey is still a very nice way to earn a living. And if that allows your team the financial flexibility to keep a strong roster intact, then that’s just even better.
Your Reporter in the Field,