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Who Deserves 11-Year Contracts?

Forgive me if I’m not jumping aboard the “Ken Holland is a genius” bandwagon. Check that—Ken Holland may have made plenty of genius moves in the past, but I’m not agreeing with the “Johan Franzen for 11 years is a genius move” sentiment.

Ok, so most of his moves are pretty sound. I’ll give him that. And getting players at reasonably low cap numbers is an impressive and good thing.

But seriously, aren’t at least some die-hard Wings fans out there a little unnerved by the length of Johan Franzen’s contract? I didn’t like the term of Henrik Zetterberg’s, but I think a guy like that is much more deserving of it—he’s a franchise player, versatile in every respect and a leader on the ice.

Franzen? There’s no questioning his ability to put the puck in the net, but is he a core guy on your team that you want to keep until he’s 40? There’s no way to predict things, but goal-scorer skills tend to decline pretty fast once you hit your mid-30s. Ask John Leclair about that; his whole game was based around putting the puck in the net from within a 15-foot radius around the crease, and in the end, he couldn’t have begged his way onto a team.

Leclair is also just about ten years older than Franzen. Here are his stats leading up to his 30th birthday:

96-97 (27): 82 games, 50 goals
97-98 (28): 82 games, 51 goals
98-99 (29): 76 games, 43 goals

And after he turned 30:
99-00 (30): 82 games, 40 goals
00-01 (31): 16 games, 7 goals
01-02 (32): 82 games, 25 goals
02-03 (33): 35 games, 18 goals
03-04 (34): 75 games, 23 goals
05-06 (36): 73 games, 22 goals
06-07 (37): 21 games, 2 goals

Is there a chance that Franzen’s stats could decline like Leclair’s? I’d think so; as good as he is, he’s not going to be one of those ageless wonders a la Joe Sakic (Zetterberg, though, has a much better chance of being that). That’s no knock on him, it’s just that he’s not the same “Best Players In The World” tier. I don’t think many people will refute that.

So let’s just say that between ages 33-35, Franzen goes from a 40+ goal guy to a 25-30 goal guy. Then between 35-40, he slowly diminishes every year until he’s just taking up cap space. Will this still be a genius move then, when half of the life of the contract is a cap anchor?

This trend of giving monster-length deals is disturbing, but at the same time, GMs are choosing to live and die with certain players. Remember how we all laughed at Rick Dipietro’s deal? What was crazy before is groundbreaking now, and deals of this length are riddled with land mines.

I’ve said before that the only way I’d ever hand out a contract of 10+ years is if the guy is under 25—at least the age factor isn’t as much of a concern, but even then, I’d be hesitant. You just never know how injuries can derail a career—not end it a la Pavel Bure, but take it way off its projected course. Just think, if the Flyers gave Eric Lindros a 10-year deal following his Hart Trophy, they’d have been stuck with a huge paycheck while he dealt with all of his concussion problems. You think Bobby Clarke hated Lindros before, just imagine how much more he would have hated the guy if he was earning top dollar for playing like a shell of his former self.

There’s a fine balance with long-term contracts; you have to look at the player’s potential and projections but you have to safeguard yourself from being anchored down. This is sports; it’s unpredictable and volatile. Signing anyone to such a long-term deal removes an element of control for GMs, and considering a GMs job is equally based on the present and the future, it just seems like a foolhardy gambit.

(The x-factor here, of course, is the cap. We can’t predict how it’ll go up or down, and maybe by 2020, inflation will have made the average NHL player salary $4 million. If that’s the case, I’m guessing the league will have bigger concerns than Johan Franzen’s contract. If any readers are economics experts, feel free to leave a comment whether or not this is even feasible.)

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: contracts, johan+franzen, john+leclair


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