There has been considerable backlash by fans of all teams over the new contract just signed by New Jersey Devils forward Adam Henrique. General manager Lou Lamoriello committed more than $24 million over 6 years to the 23-year-old forward, whose career high in points is a mere 51. The Devils are betting on his future to be sure.
But, why are other teams mad? Because Henrique’s deal “set the market” for players of his caliber. With the Toronto Maple Leafs struggling to negotiate a new contract for Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson with limited cap space, fans up north are especially put off. But Kadri and Henrique, aside from both being from Ontario, have little in common.
Kadri was the 7th overall pick in 2009 and put up nearly a point per game last year. Henrique, a 3rd round pick in 2008, had 5 assists in 42 games.
By comparison, Kadri could point to Henrique and say, “I’m better than him,” and ask for upwards of $5 million. After all, he’s had far more success at the NHL level than Henrique to date. But is that a fair jump? Henrique and Kadri play for two different teams in two different cities with two very different situations.
The Devils have had many stars walk away throughout the years: Zach Parise, Scott Niedermayer, and David Clarkson, just to name a few. With Henrique, they owed it to their fans to make every effort to lock him up for a long time. Toronto, generally, has been a place where players have flocked to and want to play. Clarkson, again, can be pointed to here.
There are too many variables to be able to compare two players as a way to find a fair salary. Kadri’s contract should be negotiated by what he’s done and what he can do, not what Henrique is making.
We see this “slotting system” in all sports. Joe Flacco’s ridiculous contract set the bar for players of his caliber. The Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers may lose their quarterbacks to free agency due to not having the cap space to pay Jay Cutler and Phillip Rivers. And if they do commit the money, they may not be able to keep other, talented players. Either way, the team is weakened.
Because one general manager overpaid his player, why should another follow suit? That’s what leads to runaway contracts and, eventually, lockouts.
Is “this is the way it’s always been” a good explanation? In my eyes, no. But there is no easy fix. Players want to maximize their value while they can, because talent doesn’t last forever. For every Jaromir Jagr and Chris Chelios there are hundreds of guys who don’t even get that second contract. Should general managers elect to play hardball with their players, holdouts will become more frequent. And no one wins there.
There’s a happy medium to be found. I’d like to see bonuses become more common, and actually allowed by the NHL CBA for players of all ages. Players will still want to be paid, but they’ll actually earn money for what they contribute on the ice. Goals will become aligned whether you’re playing for a contract or playing for a championship. And everybody wins there.
In the coming years, other teams will need to lockup their young players. Next offseason, the Carolina Hurricanes will be in a similar situation to the Maple Leafs, facing new contracts for a talented forward (Jiri Tlusty) and defenseman (Justin Faulk). Henrique’s deal may present general manager Jim Rutherford with a difficult situation of his own.
For now, runaway contracts are the unfortunate norm. If the cap ever comes back down, more than a few NHL teams could be in trouble.
The Devils had to overpay Henrique. The Maple Leafs–and the rest of the NHL–don’t have to make the same mistake.
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