In an age where a 10-year deal is often looked upon as excessive, what does that say about a 17-year deal? A player rarely spends his entire career with one franchise in any sport nowadays, yet the Devils inked their star winger to an unprecedented deal that will have him playing until he’s 44 years old, if all goes to plan.
This is not an 18-year-old prospect we’re talking about; this is not a Taylor Hall-type player the franchise is desperate to sign. Kovalchuk has already spent eight years in the league (and just a few months with New Jersey), so yes, he has proven himself to be one of the top snipers the NHL has to offer. But, he’s no spring chicken, either. No matter how good he is, isn’t it a bit risky to sign a guy to this kind of deal?
Actually, not really.
For each of the next two seasons, Kovalchuk will make $6 million. For the next five, he’ll make $11.5 million per year, and from there, it’s all downhill. He’ll make $10.5 million in 2017-18, $8.5 million in 2018-19, $6.5 million in 2019-20, $3.5 million in 2020-21, $750,000 in 2021-22, and then he’ll get $550,000 for the next five years until the deal runs out.
Not only does this allow the Devils to fit him under the salary cap, but it takes into account the possibly dramatic decline facing a player as he gets older. If the Devils need to buy out Kovalchuk’s deal over the final five or six years they’re on the hook, they have put themselves in a position to do so without suffering a tremendous loss.
Kovalchuk’s deal is unprecedented in hockey, but it’s not in other sports. In 2000, then-Mets GM Steve Phillips needed to free up cash for impending free-agent deals, so he decided to hold off on paying Bobby Bonilla the $5.9 million he was owed. Bonilla agreed to allow his payment to be deferred with eight percent interest for 11 years, so starting in 2011, he’ll get $1.2 million every year for 25 years. Yes, that means the Mets are paying him about $30 million over the next 25 years to do absolutely nothing.
In 1984, BYU product Steve Young signed a $40 million lifetime deal to play for the Los Angeles Express of the USFL before joining the NFL.
During the 1981 NBA offseason, Magic Johnson signed a 25-year, $25 million deal.
The common thread, obviously, is that none of these deals worked out particularly well for any of the teams involved, but maybe Kovalchuk will be the one to change it. It seems as though the Devils have structured the contract as sensibly as a team can structure a 17-year deal. And if there’s any player who’s worth the risk, it’s Kovalchuk.
In every year after his rookie year, his lowest goals total has been 38. Throughout eight seasons in the NHL, he has averaged 42.25 goals and 38 assists for 80.25 points.
A 17-year deal is a little excessive, but if anyone can make it seem genius, it’s probably Kovalchuk.