Ilya Kovalchuk, the NHL's most coveted free agent, signed a 17-year contract with the New Jersey Devils, which was subsequently rejected by the league, which claimed the contract was an attempt circumvent salary cap rules.
In analyzing this contract, it's natural to compare it to similar, unusually long contracts that have come before it; including the (semi-)recently signed contracts of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Our Capitals blog, Japer's Rink, wants to remind you that those comparisons aren't really fair to the Capitals. The whole thing is a great read, but some choice excerpts below the jump.
The Capitals signed Ovechkin to a 13-year contract before the 2008-09 season and inked Backstrom to a 10-year deal in the past few months. It's easy to see these contracts that extend into double digit years and compare them to Kovalchuk's nearly two-decade deal. But it's important to remember that the comparisons end there.
First and foremost there's the obvious point that neither Backstrom's deal nor Ovechkin's is front-loaded in an attempt to garner a more favorable salary cap. Quite the opposite, in fact. Backstrom will start with a salary of $6 million and see it increase gradually to a maximum of $8 million - in the final year of his contract. Ovechkin, meanwhile, will get a moderate $1 million raise (from $9 million to $10 million) in 2014-15 but will collect the same paycheck every year until the contract expires in 2021.
By contrast, if the Kovalchuk deal is allowed to stand he will collect $98.5 million of the total $102 million, or almost 97% of the total value, in the first eleven years of the contract - with six more years remaining to pick up just $3.5 million.
The deals are comparable in length, but not in structure and, more importantly, intent. It appears the Devils wanted to use the extra years to avoid a large salary cap hit while paying Kovalchuk a bunch of money in the first few years of the deal, whereas the Capitals signed the long contracts to ensure the players would be in Washington for the duration of their deals.
There's a big difference between the $8 and $10 million that Backstrom and Ovechkin will earn in the final year of their contracts respectively and the $550,000 that the Devils had scheduled for the final year of Kovalchuk's deal. There's also this:
The seventeen year deal means that 27-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk will be under contract until he's 44. And while Chris Chelios has taught us nothing if not the fact that age is merely a number, the reality is there just aren't many guys who are able to play into their 40s - and those that do have to prove they can still play before earning a new contract. Kovalchuk could very well play until he's 44, but the contract is likely structured under the assumption that he will retire before the end of or upon completion of his deal.
Meanwhile here in Washington, Ovechkin and Backstrom are signed until they are 36 and 32, respectively. Plenty of viable playing years left,
Unfortunately, comparing these deals in terms of length brings the accompanying connotation that the Capitals were also trying to do something wrong in locking up their franchise players. That is simply not the case. The Caps are signing guys to long term deals too, but there's a reason those contracts weren't rejected.