It’s no secret in the hockey world that there are teams and cities that players prefer to play for, and some that they would rather avoid. While there are a plethora of players with low-mid level talent that may not necessarily have a choice, a Stanley Cup contending team needs to have elite players, making a team’s ability to attract the best a necessity. So, what exactly attracts the best? Money? – well, there’s no question that money plays a factor but elite players are offered large sums by everyone when their services are up for grabs. What really brings in a player is security – the type of contract that will not only pay them a lot of money but will do so for a long period of time, in some instances past the player’s usefulness to the team. So, if the new CBA caps player contracts at five years how will it effect struggling, small market teams?
The New Jersey Devils’ signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, in 2010, is a perfect example. After trading several pieces to the Atlanta Thrashers to acquire his services for a year, Kovalchuk became a free agent and was courted by many big market teams, particularly the Los Angeles Kings. While Los Angeles is far from the biggest hockey town in the league, most would agree that the lifestyle that comes along with playing there is far superior to that of playing in Newark, New Jersey. Los Angeles had offered a substantial amount of money, however it was the Devils that offered a lucrative 17-year deal that was eventually rejected by the NHL and lowered to 15 years. The security that came with New Jersey’s offer won Kovalchuk over and he is now, by far, the most potent weapon on New Jersey’s sub-par offense.
The simple truth is that Newark, despite being in a strong rebuilding phase, is far from paradise. When major cities like Pittsburgh, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. come calling, it would be difficult to chose New Jersey, all else being equal. By capping the length of contracts, the biggest leverage small market teams could have to sign a player is eliminated. This seems counterproductive considering the league’s recent efforts to keep struggling teams where they are, particularly the Phoenix Coyotes. If passed, this cap on length of contracts could be a serious problem for the New Jersey Devils.