As the NHL, in the words of one agent, “try to idiot-proof the CBA once again,” two players who find themselves in rather interesting situations are Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks.
You see, both are due to become unrestricted free agents next summer, which means the Ducks are free to negotiate contract extensions with them now. But it begs the question, what to do with two players who were on track to become superstars in the NHL, but have both seen their production dip precipitously?
For both players to get in on the action of the ridiculous front-loaded, double-digit term contracts we’ve been seeing lately, the time to strike is now. Because chances are by the time both players become UFAs next summer, the new collective bargaining agreement will have placed term limits on contracts.
Perry and Getzlaf will be 28 years old by the time their theoretical extensions would kick in next summer, meaning they’d potentially have at least another decade remaining in their careers. It’s the prime age for the 13- and 14-year deals we’ve been seeing players and agents sign to beat the system.
But there’s considerable risk in signing these two players to those kinds of deals because predicting their future production is a mug’s game.
Let’s take Getzlaf, for example. Three years ago, he was one of the premier playmakers in the NHL, coming off a 66-assist season and a playoff run in which he scored 18 points in just 13 games. Two seasons prior to that, he was an enormous cog in the Ducks Stanley Cup run - and in 2010 he was a vital part of the Canadian Olympic team that won the gold medal in Vancouver.
But last season was a miserable one for Getzlaf. His assist total dropped below 50 for the first time in five years and he scored just 11 goals. Worse yet, he was minus-11, recording the first negative rating of his career. In the World Championship, he drew more attention to himself for a kneeing infraction that led to the power play goal that sank Canada in the quarterfinal (for which he was suspended one game) and for enjoying the nightlife in Helsinki than for anything he did on the ice.
So did Getzlaf simply have a bad year or is he a declining asset? That’s something the Ducks will have to weigh heavily when they decide whether or not to make a long-term commitment to him without the luxury of having the final year of his contract to scrutinize him.
Perry is a less difficult read, but exactly where his career trajectory is going is anyone’s guess. Even with scoring 50 goals two seasons ago, Perry has been a notoriously streaky player. But the fact remains he’s just one season removed from scoring the incredibly-difficult-to-attain total of 50 goals and from winning the Hart and Rocket Richard Trophies. He too was a key contributor to the Ducks Stanley Cup in 2007 and Canada’s gold medal triumph in 2010. When he is at his best, Perry can be one of the most effective and annoying players in the league.
But what is Perry, exactly? Is he a player who simply rode a season-ending hot streak to 50 goals and the Hart Trophy and will never do so again? Is he a consistent threat to score 40 goals and 90 points for the next decade? Or is he something in between? It’s important to consider that not only did Perry drop to 37 goals last season and was also a minus player for the first time in his career, but prior to scoring 50 in 2010-11, his highest goal total to that point was 32.
You also have to ask yourself, what would Perry and Getzlaf have been offered if they were UFAs this summer instead of next? In a world where Alexander Semin can get a $7 million deal after the season he had, anything is possible.
Suffice to say the Ducks face some vital questions between now and Sept. 15, which is the day either a new CBA kicks in or the players get locked out, in which case teams will no longer be able to negotiate with them until a new agreement is reached. To a lesser degree, the Phoenix Coyotes face the same dilemma with last year’s all-world goaltender Mike Smith, though re-signing a goalie who is still a year away from unrestricted free agency is the least of their financial worries at the moment.
Among potential restricted free agents, it will be interesting to see if the Boston Bruins try to get something done with Milan Lucic and the Montreal Canadiens with Max Pacioretty this summer, a year before their free agent status kicks in. There are a host of other potential stars coming off entry level deals, namely Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers, Tyler Seguin of the Bruins, Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers, Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Coyotes.
Players not named Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby typically don’t score those kinds of deals coming out of entry level contracts and their teams will likely wait until after the new CBA to sign them because it may include a longer period before unrestricted free agency kicks in.
But if any of those teams wants to get those players under long-term deals before the rules change, they’d better do it soon.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.