- Craig Custance
At first glance, it certainly seemed on the high side. When news emerged Friday of Ryan Getzlaf's 8-year, $66 million contract -- one that averages $8.25 million per season -- the thought of one agent echoed many in the hockey industry.
"I can only imagine what [Corey] Perry will get," he said.
The deal is another sign of just how much teams loathe to lose talent in the NHL, especially at center. Colorado didn't hesitate to match Calgary's offer sheet for young pivot Ryan O'Reilly and Anaheim kept pace in the West by securing its franchise center long term.
In both cases, the high prices were eye-openers but also a sign that maybe we haven't adjusted to what contracts will look like in the new CBA. Especially the Getzlaf deal. Had the deal been struck a year ago, there probably would have been a couple extra years tacked on for $1 million or so, making it worth something like 10 years at $68 million. That $6.8 million cap hit would have put him right in line with the cap hit of other comparable veteran centers such as Brad Richards ($6.7 million cap hit) and Joe Thornton ($7 million).
One other reason this deal may not look as bad as some predict for a player whose production has admittedly declined is that hockey has come back in a big way after the lockout. Ratings are up pretty significantly, attendance has been strong and hockey is ready to continue its impressive pre-lockout growth. The long-term financial impact of the lockout appears to be negligible at this point. Besides, of course, the Blackhawks fan who is boycotting the season. You have to subtract his spending from hockey-related revenue.
But projecting forward, you've got a huge television deal coming in Canada with the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada contract expiring in 2014. The cost of television rights for live sports have skyrocketed and this deal will end up being huge. Local television rights continue to grow across the board, with the Kings and Predators both getting significant revenue increases in their most recent deals with local TV broadcasters.
Factor in potential expansion fees or the relocation of an unhealthy Coyotes franchise and the salary cap will be on the rise.
"Fans are coming back and it is not unrealistic to project the cap getting back up there quickly in the next three or four years," said one source.
The one thing that won't change in the next several years is the scarcity of good centers and how necessary they are to build a championship team. Just look at the recent Stanley Cup winners -- the Kings had Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards. The Bruins had Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. The Blackhawks are built around Jonathan Toews and even with their success this season would love to add another center. The Penguins, or course, may have had the best group of centers of all when they won their championship led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.
Having a legitimate top-six center, preferably two, doesn't guarantee a championship ... but good luck winning without them.
So with this in mind, there might be an extra motivation for NHL general managers to pursue an interesting crop of potential free-agent centers before the trade deadline, rather than wait until the summer when the market will be even more competitive. According to the new CBA's summary of terms, the maximum contract length teams can sign UFAs from other teams is seven years. But you can sign your own players for eight years, as the Ducks did with Getzlaf. And this caveat from the CBA is important -- players can sign an eight-year deal "provided the player was on the club's reserve list as of the most recent trade deadline." That means teams can't trade for the rights to a guy such as Stephen Weiss in June and then sign him to an eight-year deal. And that extra year makes a big difference. In Getzlaf's case, a 7-year, $66 million contract comes with an annual salary-cap hit of $9.4 million.
So the time to target a center could be right now, especially if the Getzlaf contract stalled any previous negotiations. Getzlaf was the best center available but not the only one. Here are potential top-six center UFA trade targets still young enough to earn a long-term deal:
Mike Ribeiro, Capitals: Ribeiro was a fantastic addition for Capitals GM George McPhee and during a normal season in Washington wouldn't be a trade consideration. But this year has been anything but normal. The Capitals dug a huge hole that they're just now starting to emerge from as they become well-versed in Adam Oates' system. McPhee could likely get a first-round pick and a prospect for Ribeiro if he's willing to move him, but then he's faced with having to find another top-six center on a team that will be expected to make the playoffs next season. There are concerns in signing Ribeiro to a long-term deal. For one, he's 33 years old, so you're not getting his best years. And despite registering 28 points in 24 games with the Capitals, he's winning just 42.6 percent of his faceoffs. That's a fairly significant red flag.
Derek Roy, Stars: Dallas News writer Mike Heika reported Friday that the Stars and Roy's agent Larry Kelly remain in communication about a long-term deal to keep Roy in Dallas. He has been a nice fit there as the Stars' No. 2 center and he likes it there. Heika pointed out that the organization scored points with Roy by suggesting he have shoulder surgery before the season, even if it meant paying him during the lockout. "It shows they really care for the players," Roy told Heika. "It's a great organization here, I like it here, so it's just a matter of trying to get it done." The assumption is that Roy and the Stars will work out a deal but if not, they can't let him walk for nothing. It wouldn't reflect particularly well to lose centers Brad Richards and Derek Roy in recent years without either a playoff run or significant assets coming back in return.
Stephen Weiss, Panthers: Weiss is out for the season, which hurts his trade value significantly, but there's still a case to be made for acquiring him before the trade deadline. For one, it gives interested teams a longer window in which to negotiate with him before free agency. Plus, it allows the flexibility of an eight-year contract extension if you want to go down that path. He was clearly playing hurt this season as his numbers suggest (four points in 17 games). When healthy it's safe to expect 20-plus goals and close to 60 points from Weiss. Nobody took more faceoffs for Florida last season than Weiss, who finished the year with a 53.2 percent success rate.
Valtteri Filppula, Red Wings: Filppula is an interesting one because he isn't exactly the kind of player Detroit is eager to move in the middle of a playoff run. On a team with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, he gets more top-six playing time on the wing but he has proved that he has the skill set to be a No. 2 center on a good team. He's strong on faceoffs (54.5 percent this season) and coming off a career-high 23 goals and 66 points. Still just 28 years old, he may be the most attractive of this group, but there have been times when his offensive production leaves you wanting more. He could be a piece that brings back the top-four defenseman the Red Wings need, but at the same time he's not easy to replace, especially if Pavel Datsyuk opts to finish his career in the KHL after his contract expires in 2014. This is a tough decision for GM Ken Holland.