My brother was visiting the other week. He’s down to scope out the venue for his wedding next summer. My brother’s from Edmonton and he’s a big Edmonton Oilers fan. So on the eve of the Conor McDavid super contract, I asked him how he felt about it.
He answered boldly, and with conviction: “It’s going to be the death of the NHL.”
My family has a penchant for being a little hyperbolic sometimes. I know what he means though. He’s saying McDavid’s new deal will be the reason the NHL goes through its third lockout in 2022.
We’ve been hearing about the pending NHL lockout of 2022 for some time now. Ever since players started signing deal laden with signing bonuses.
NY Posts Larry Brooks pointed it out back in 2015. That signing bonuses were lockout protection for players.
(1/2) Lockout protection for Stepan, $5M total for ’20-21 includes $3M signing bonus that won’t be affected by likely Owners’ Lockout IV.
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) July 27, 2015
McDavid’s new deal isn’t any different. Of the $100 million of it, $82 million is signing bonus. Carey Prices recent deal eight-year $84 million deal, $70 million of it is signing bonuses. Another commonality between these two deals is a noticeable increase in the player’s salary in the 2021-2022 NHL season. For Carey Price, he jumps from a total salary of $9.75 million to $13 million. For McDavid, the jump is $13 million to $15 million.
Players are clearly getting ready for a lockout.
But before the McDavid deal, what was there to squabble over?
Player safety is a relevant concern, but I fail to see either side willing to interrupt a season over concussion protocols. If that’s the last issue needing discussion I would imagine they’d leave room for it to be added at a later time. And it’s not like there’s an epidemic of head shots and concussions at the moment. CTE is an ever present threat, but that was the case back in 2012.
The Olympics? Again. I don’t see either side willing to lose a season or even part of a season for this issue. Players want to go, sure. But as a collective, players aren’t going to draw a line in the sand so a select few, who already have lockout protection, can go to the Olympics.
But when it comes to ballooning salaries we know that the NHL is willing to die on the hill of roll backs. Because they’ve done it before.
Back in 2005, the league had a report drafted that indicated teams spent 76% of their revenues on player salaries. That 76% was contested by the Union, but by the end of the negotiation process player’s agreed to have their salaries rolled back 24%.
Now here we are with a 19-year-old making $12.5 million (on the cap) a year. A contract that will have ramifications across the NHL salary market.
Already the New York Islanders are going to have to revisit what ever offer they thought they could make for their star center John Tavares. Before the McDavid deal, an upgrade to $8 million a season, maybe nine seemed reasonable. But now that the ceilings been raised by McDavid that number jumped to at least $10 million.
A player like Ryan Johansen, who puts up 60-70 points in a season just signed an eight-year $8 million deal with the Nashville Predators. Just last season Mark Scheifele signed an eight-year deal worth an average of $6.125 million per year. That was after putting up 61 points before the arrival of Patrik Laine.
Towes and Kane were the first to raise the bar above the $10 million contract in the salary cap era, and for a while they sat onto of the NHL salary world. Much deserved to be fair. They did win three Stanley Cups within six seasons.
But now that list of $10 million deals grows. It now includes McDavid and Price and Anze Kopitar. Tavares won’t be far next season when he becomes a UFA.
Now think about all the other fringe elite players. Guys like William Nylander. He’s not at the same level as teammate Auston Mathew, though he isn’t far off. How much do the Toronto Maple Leafs give him next season as an RFA?
Or even go back to Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl is currently an RFA. How much do they offer him? His 77 points on the season were second on the team, and his 16 in 13 playoff games led the Oilers to the second round of the playoffs. How much is he worth? Based on the market, which was set by McDavid. A young prolific center who can put up 70+ points in the NHL has to be worth Johansen+ money.
And that’s what my brother was getting at. When big contracts start to show up it dilutes a teams ability to fuel a competitive roster. Look at the Blackhawks. Sure they’ve had some regular season success, but since the Towes and Kane contracts kicked in in 2015-16 the Blackhawks haven’t been able to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
They got steamrolled by the Predators last season and to the St. Louis Blues the year before. So when the Edmonton Oilers have to start juggling contracts to make McDavid and Draisaitl fit post season success might have to take a back seat. They’ve already started. Eberle for Strome was nothing more that a cap dump. The Oilers didn’t get better with the trade.
Teams and ownership are going to get to a point where these deals are going to be sustainable to them anymore. Look, the NHL salary cap barely went up this season. And that’s after the Golden Knights franchise was added. If expansion can save the salary cap and thus “hockey related revenues” what will? Cutting labor costs.
McDavid felt awkward when he was scehduled to make $13.5 per year, imagine what he’ll feel like when the NHL and NHLPA go to war.