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From the editor's desk: stop giving huge contracts to okay NHL players

The Justin Abdelkader extension is the latest example of NHL GMs not understanding how to build a perennial winner.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Seven-year contracts are in vogue in the NHL these days.

Marian Gaborik has one. So does Erik Johnson. And Dion Phaneuf. And now Justin Abdelkader.

What do all of these players have in common? Since signing these contracts - which are the longest possible free agent contracts allowable under the new CBA - the most any player had produced in a single season is Marian Gaborik's 52 point campaign in 2013-14. And all four players are or will be over 27 when the deals kick in.

These deals highlight a new problem with the CBA; instead of front-loading massive overpayments, NHL teams are now splurging on overly long contracts for replaceable players.

Nobody is denying that Gaborik, Abdelkader, or Phaneuf are useful players. And nobody is denying that long-expensive contracts are necessarily a bad way to go about winning the Stanley Cup. After all, Chicago signed Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to gargantuan deals. P.K. Subban, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have them too.

But the reason those contracts make sense is because those players are practically irreplaceable for a team trying to win the Cup. The comparative value of those deals will diminish as their offensive numbers decline. But right now, Kane is well on his way to yet another 60+ point season. Subban is near the top of the league in points by defensemen once again. Those players form the bedrock of a Cup-winning team.

Here's the easiest way to think about the value of a long-term deal. Is Justin Abdelkader going to be the piece that gets the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup? How about Erik Johnson for the Avs? Or Marian Gaborik for the Kings?

They are all good players. But they aren't essential ones. Tying up players - and hampering the team's roster and salary cap moving forward - should be done reluctantly and rarely. Giving out contracts to okay - but replaceable - players is not the way to build a winner.


  • Another good reason why long-term deals are usually not worth it; even if the Arizona Coyotes wanted to move on from Mike Smith, the odds of them finding a willing trade partner are next to zero. So he's on the roster for the foreseeable future, and his team's chances of winning rise and fall with his play.
  • Colorado is reportedly dangling Tyson Barrie as a potential trade asset. If I'm Don Maloney, I'm visiting Joe Sakic in person and cutting the phone lines to the Pepsi Center in the process.
  • For a team that missed on Dougie Hamilton, Barrie would be a decent consolation prize. He's only 24, he's a right-handed shot, and is in the middle of a horribly unlucky streak despite shooting at an eight percent clip for his entire career. He would be a tremendous asset for the Coyotes' power play, and has been a possession driver his entire career.
  • Also equally important: Barrie is making only $2.6 million this season. And he will be a restricted free agent. Arizona could in theory offer him whatever they were going to offer Hamilton, or close to it.
  • What would it cost to land Barrie though? One of our writers would offer Lessio and a 2nd round pick for Barrie. I tend to think Colorado would ask for more, and get it. Arizona has a dearth of left-wingers they could part with.
  • Also underscoring the need to consider someone like Barrie: defenders not named Oliver Ekman-Larsson have combined for seven goals and 11 assists for the Coyotes this year. And not a single Coyotes defenseman has scored a power play goal this year. That's a big part of why the power play is dead last in the NHL.
  • Speaking of players who haven't scored a goal yet this season: Antoine Vermette. Considering who his linemates are, that's more than a little disappointing.
  • I suspect that even missing a few games to injury has not done enough to make him 100%. But regardless, if he's being paid to be a top six center for Arizona, he needs to produce like it.