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What We Learned: What has brought on these big-term NHL contracts?

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Getty ImagesDon't get me wrong, Blake Wheeler is a perfectly good hockey player.

He had 64 points in 80 games in 2011-12 and then followed that up with a 41-in-48 performance last season, despite getting fewer than 19 minutes a night, and on top of all that, his underlying numbers were fairly good pretty much all the way around.

And so when it came time to give Wheeler a new contract, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff apparently felt like he had to go all out for it. You can't really sit there and get too mad about the $5.6 million a year he's getting; as with all new contracts in the league, it's important to keep in mind that the salary cap is going to be considerably larger within three seasons (and moreover the Jets are nowhere close to being near the cap ceiling). If you're paying Evander Kane, who hasn't replicated Wheeler's production in either of the last two seasons, $5.25 million against the cap, then it's difficult to justify not giving the former more than that, right?

But what's troubling about the Wheeler contract is the fact that it goes on for six years. Six. Now granted, Wheeler's not even 27 yet, but he will be before the season starts, but the fact of the matter is that he's now being paid this much money until he's 33 years old, and that seems not to be the safest bet Cheveldayoff has ever made. Wheeler is absolutely worth the money right this second. Will he be even halfway through this deal? History tells us that the answer, from a production standpoint, is "probably not."

What's so interesting about the new CBA is that slightly older RFAs (i.e. those not coming off their entry-level deals) as well as notable UFAs are now getting not-so-much in terms of money; everyone's but maybe Tyler Bozak's and David Clarkson's this summer made at least some semblance of sense. But the term on these deals seem to be huge gambles.

Six years for Wheeler? Five for Bryan Little and Matt Duchene? Eight for Kris Letang, Dustin Brown and Patrice Bergeron? That's a lot of time to commit to anyone, especially players who, with the exception of Duchene, are now at the point where you can expect production to more or less decline over pretty much the entirety of their deals. No one is saying Bergeron isn't worth $6.5 million against the cap now, at age 28 (though he'll be 29 when the new deal kicks in), and no one's saying he's not an elite center in this league. However, if you're trying to argue that he will be at roughly the same level as a 37-year-old, well, that's not an argument you're going to win.

This is not to say that over-long deals haven't always existed in the salary cap era of the NHL because they obviously have. But they used to be reserved primarily for elite-level players and Philadelphia Flyers. Back then, they were also mainly designed as a way to circumvent the salary cap by giving out all those bogus low-salary final years. Now they can't, really, and so guys are getting what they would have gotten over the course of those deals in a smaller number of years. Under the old CBA, maybe Letang or Bergeron or Brown would have gotten their $58 million and $52 million and $47 million over the course of 10 years instead of just eight, but with the vast majority of that coming in the first six years or so, and slowly declining to unreasonably low levels. With that no longer an option in teams' arsenals, and players still wanting to get paid what they deserve, this is the result.

Limiting term and the amount of back-diving contracts can put teams at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to keeping player costs down, and even with the cap going up appreciably in the next three or four seasons, the problem isn't going away. It seems possible, maybe even probable, that this kind of issue will be what's inflationary under the new CBA, rather than salaries growing out of control. In the same way that the New NHL saw a growing disparity between what the stars (a lot of money!) and replacement-level players (not very much!) received from teams, you have to wonder if the New New NHL will in turn see a larger gap between what borderline players get and those granted to teams' better performers.

If these longer-term contracts are the new way in which teams keep their better players paid, even to their own detriment, you have to wonder whether one- or two-year deals become the norm for the rank and file. It looks as though the answer is probably yes. This is seen already in the proliferation of bridge contracts and the like, as guys will be routinely asked to prove they belong in the NHL until they can do it for two or three years straight, at which point they'll basically be given jobs for too long.

Again, it doesn't really help anyone but the league's best players, who don't need much help anyway, but this is meritocracy taken to its illogical extreme.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: As if to undermine everything I just said, Kyle Palmieri got three years and reasonable money out of the Ducks. I hate you Kyle Palmieri.

Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand making the Canadian team at the Olympics would be the funniest thing ever. He'd be suspended for the tournament before it even started.

Buffalo Sabres: Are the Sabres a "lame duck" or "dark horse" in their new division, which features five teams that made the playoffs last season? Oooo I have a guess!

Calgary Flames: The Flames and Senators will play a preseason game in Saskatoon about two weeks before there's one between the Jets and Bruins in the same building. Which would YOU rather go see?

Carolina Hurricanes: Nice little deal for Carolina here, signing Nathan Gerbe to a one-year, two-way contract. He was badly misused in Buffalo.

Getty ImagesChicago Blackhawks: Bryan Bickell is still recovering from a thumb injury and getting married this week. Quippeth the winger on his bum thumb: "It has been affecting my fishing. This wedding has been affecting my fishing too."

Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon took time out from his summer preparation routine to shoot a guest role on the CBC sitcom Mr. D. I thought the Avs already passed on Mr. D to take Mr. F because he played in the QMJHL.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets re-signed Cody Goloubef to a two-way deal and I really only cared because Goloubef is a fun name to say and type.

Dallas Stars: Stars raising prices as much as 10 percent for "premium" games, and reducing them for games no one wants to see. They'll actually give you money to go to a Flames game.

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings might trade Jordin Tootoo back to the team from whence he came, but I can't imagine why the Predators would take him on for another two seasons at $1.9 million per given that he had eight points last season and also is terrible.

Edmonton Oilers: Does anyone want Ales Hemsky? Anyone at all? Maybe the Senators. Definitely not the Oilers.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers re-signed Scott Timmins with a one-year contract, meaning that teams across the Flortheast could soon find him sleeping on the couch in their coaches' offices.

Los Angeles Kings: Fair to wonder just who the US chooses as its captain for Sochi, but if I had the choice I probably wouldn't go with Dustin Brown. Ryan Callahan, probably. Maybe Zach Parise.

Minnesota Wild: To the surprise of probably no one at all, Josh Harding has founded a multiple sclerosis charity to raise awareness of the disease. Go have a look.

Montreal Canadiens: Will Raphael Diaz do well for the Swiss in Sochi? Sure, but they invited two Flames too, so let's not get too excited.

Nashville Predators: I'm still kind of shocked the Predators pulled Filip Forsberg out of Washington for Martin freakin' Erat. The Preds are hoping he'll do big things with a full-time NHL gig next year.

New Jersey Devils: Didn't see this bonus structure on Jaromir Jagr's contract before: Every five games he plays from 10 to 45, the Devs cut him a check for $250,000.

New York Islanders: Will John Tavares be able to replicate the insane season he had last year? Pretty much yes. And by the way, sick burn, ESPN: "Being the best player on the New York Islanders is like being the best musician in One Direction: No one really takes you seriously."

New York Rangers: Wait, people thought that Madison Square Garden Maybe Closing In 10 Years thing meant the Rangers would have to move? To where?

Ottawa Senators: Paul MacLean gave a keynote speech at a coaching convention, but the real takeaway here is that this story — which features a great quote about Steve Yzerman's most famous goal — describes his mustache rather aptly, as "jubilant."

Philadelphia Flyers: And now here it is: your monthly Philadelphia media Ilya Bryzgalov grave-dancing article.

Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes had eight players invited to Olympic camps. That has to be pretty close to the most of anyone, and certainly the most of teams that didn't make the playoffs last season, right?

Pittsburgh Penguins: If you really hate yourself, you can read 2,900 words by a maniac about how the Penguins should have re-signed Brenden Morrow right here.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks include a list of "Fin Facts" about their various players on their website, and some of them are just fantastic. Dan Boyle? "Really enjoys NBC’s 'The Voice' and the catchy jingle that accompanies the show." Scott Hannan? "He enjoys comic book movies, including The Green Lantern which he admits wasn’t very good." Hahaha.

St. Louis Blues: Bad news Blues fans: You still have to drink Bud Light at the games.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Yeah, I still can't understand why the Canadians didn't invite Martin St. Louis to the Olympics in 2010. Doesn't make any damn sense.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Mark Fraser wants $2 million in arbitration, which is exactly the kind of thing that happens when you let Randy Carlyle give guys like Mark Fraser 17 minutes a night.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks recently signed former Bruins top pick Zach Hamill, who was taken one pick before Logan Couture. Not a good No. 8 choice, there.

Washington Capitals: Evgeni Kuznetsov is 21 years old. He has not yet played in the NHL, nor will he this coming season. So he'll be 22 at the start of his first full year in the league. Now he says that he'll be gone when he's 30. Fun.

Winnipeg Jets: With the Wheeler signing squared away, only Zach Bogosian remains unsigned for the Jets, and oh boy is his contract going to be a whopper.

Gold Star Award

Getty ImagesHere's some nice borderline naiveté from Larry Brooks. I guess it all depends how you define a PED "problem."

Minus of the Weekend

Getty ImagesPursuant to that last bit on the Jets, by the way, is the fact that they are still almost entirely the Thrashers. Big ups Rick Dudley!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "sgupca" has it figured the heck out.

To Montreal:
Brad Richards

To NYR:
Tomas Plekanec

Signoff

Look how straight the lines are on the highway. A man could get highway hypnosis like that.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don’t you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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