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Long Term Contracts: So Hot Right Now | November
Work has been railroading me lately. The little hockey news I get has been limited to the headlines feature over on Puck Daddy. No joke. Not even clicking on any links either. Straight shoving pretzel niblits down my gullet and drinking a Sprite Zero - that's my lunch break. But today I saw something in the headlines that made me chuckle, and in the end, caused me to drag my entire desk into the bathroom so I could get some peace and quite from the Dementor-like consultants that are constantly hoovering through out my waking life. The headline read:

• Razor made us LOL: "With the extension of Jeff Carter virtually the entire Flyers team is now under long term contract prompting the club to announce it will take both it's 2011-12 and 2012-13 team photo this coming Friday." [Razor With An Edge]

It made me laugh in an 'ain't that the truth' sort of way. But then I started to wonder how the Flyers actually compared to the rest of the league when it came to long term deals. Would every team in the NHL have a new Crosby, Kane, or Semin in 5 years and the Flyers would still, for the most part, resemble the same Stanley Cup winner of 2011? Or were there a lot of guys getting tied up for longer deals, like Ovechkin, Staal, Franzen, Yashin. So I hit nhlnumbers.com, and since the salaries only go out through 2013-14, I decided to take a quick tally of how many players every team in the league already had under contract for the season that won't start until 3 years from now. The numbers weren't surprising, except that there was the hint of a correlation between being 'good' and having more guys under longer term contract. Check it:

Now there are a million factors as to why a team might already have 6 guys with contracts in 2013-14 and another might have none: you have your entry level deals, your old-timers, changes in GMs, salary cap trickery. You name it. But you can't deny that the teams that have most recently reached the Cup Finals are numbers 1 and 2 on that chart (because it says it right there). The Penguins have been good, the Canucks and Sharks have both been good and looking to win that ever elusive Cup sooner rather than later, the Rangers have Wade Redden.

Locking up your core isn't some brand new sports business technique. It's not some trade secret you learn when you're inducted into the 8th Order of General Managers. But it appears that once teams reach a certain level of success they become more certain of a larger core that they want to invest significant time building around. The Hawks are a great example of that. They have the most 'long term' contracts in the NHL and were very happy, I'm sure, to win the Stanley Cup, exchange their spare parts for newer and cheaper ones, and see if they can't rebuild a very similar engine with the replacements.

Now the bottom of the barrel supports that argument, but possibly with it's own unique twist. If you're no good you've gotta start young, right? Draft well, trade vets for rookies at the deadline - you know how it goes. Without any modicum of success, however, it's more difficult to know what you want to build around as an organization, and what you want to cash in for the $1 surprise gift bag otherwise known as prospects, or the $5 mystery bag known as draft picks. The added twist however isn't the rebuilding process, it's that when guys approach unrestricted free agency (and believe me and Ilya, they will), they might be nearly impossible to retain. There's no denying the NHL is a business because you hear it 45 times a day, but just because these guys want to get paid doesn't mean that they don't want to win. Or even just play in a rabid hockey market. Atlanta, the Islanders, Nashville, Florida, Edmonton, and the newly decent Coyotes and Avalanche - they're either just finding out who they want to be or really just beginning to start over.

It's difficult to claim that there's any science around this with so many moving parts. But there's definitely some psychology at work - some human behavior to be studied. If you really liked a player on your club in the '90's you might hit him with a 3-5 year contract in most cases. These lifetime contracts, however, are a new phenomenon for the most part. Or plague - depending on how you look at it. And honestly? I don't think it's entirely due to the salary cap. I think it's got a lot to do with the indifferent times. There's so much information out there these days. The world is so small. Branding is so important to the teams and the players. Developing a post-hockey career, not for need in these cases, but for want, is something that is very appealing to player - not being Jeff Halpern or Steve Eminger but Steve Yzerman or Eric Desjardins (or Riley Cote in 10 years). There's so much uncertainty these days too. On the organization's and individual's side. Both sides are afraid to lose, and locking up a group of players is proving to be beneficial to everyone - including maybe even the fan.