On the 22nd anniversary of the infamous Wayne Gretzky trade from Edmonton, we were reminded the more things change in the NHL, the more they stay the same.
The big news isn’t often enough about goals and victories.
It’s too often about money.
Back in the summer of 1988, Peter Pocklington took the coin — how many of you out there referred to it as his 30 pieces of silver? — along with all the players and draft picks for sending Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings.
Fast forward to Aug. 9, 2010 and the hockey world is again abuzz about the Benjamins.
At least this time somebody finally said the amount of dollars involved in the 17-year, US$102-million contract between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk was too much.
Too many dollars over too few years at the start of the deal, and too few dollars over too many years at the end.
Basically, the Devils and Kovalchuk took too big of a step into the loophole in the collective bargaining agreement.
Thankfully, arbitrator Richard Bloch quashed the ridiculous front-loaded contract, with $98.5 million paid out over the first 11 years of the deal and only $3.5 million over the final six. Does anybody believe Kovalchuck would play those final years until he is 44?
For the NHL to truly deserve credit for having the courage to nip the contracts which were too long, it needed to step in years ago.
We’re talking about when the Vancouver Canucks signed Roberto Luongo to his 12-year deal which expires in the summer of 2022, when he’ll be 43 years old.
Or when the Chicago Blackhawks signed Marian Hossa to a 12-year deal which ends after the 2020-21 season — after he’s celebrated his 42nd birthday.
If we want to dial it back further, the league could have said something when Vincent Lecavalier signed his 11-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning — it goes from $10 million the first seven years to $1 million the final season.
Or when Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff inked his six-year, $35-million deal — which opened at $8.5 million in the 2008-09 season and ends with a $1.5-million in the 2013-14 season.
Or even the Daniel Briere eight-year, $52-million deal inked July 1, 2007. It started the whole mess by starting at $10 million before falling to $2 million in the final year — 2014-15.
Basically, the league let too many horses out the door before finally closing the barn.
The fact the NHL actually won the hearing is more of a surprise than the O.J. Simpson verdict.
Not because the contract was flaunting a flaw in the CBA, but because the league allowed so many others which did the same to pass muster.
The next step is to quash all these deals entirely, either by limiting contract lengths or making the salary cap the average of the five most expensive years.
Maybe that will make the system closer to idiot-proof.
Then again, what’s wrong with punishing clubs for their follies?
Teams which sign players to bad contracts need to have struggles down the road. Look at the situation the Flames find themselves right now — over the salary cap because there are too many players inked to deals paying more than $3 million per season.
At least Flames GM Darryl Sutter has seen the error of his ways, admitting last month “We are not prepared to go past two years on anybody right now” because the core slots are full and the uncertainty facing the league — and its CBA with the players — beyond the 2012-13 season.
Still, other teams are trying to stretch contracts out through dubious means.
Thankfully somebody decided the Devils took it too far.
It would be nice to think everyone else would learn.