Price of being great and doing business

Price of being great and doing business
March 19, 2013, 11:15 pm
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The Anaheim Ducks don’t just pose a problem for the Blackhawks on the ice Wednesday. They’re now part of the looming problem off the ice – off in the distance, but on the horizon.

The Ducks had themselves a financial headache just a couple of weeks ago, with their two biggest stars heading for free agency, the team having a wonderful (albeit overshadowed) season, and the crosstown Kings being defending Stanley Cup champions. But they closed their eyes and bit the bullet. They signed captain Ryan Getzlaf to an eight-year, $66 million contract March 8, but they still faced an even bigger price tag for his more highly-decorated linemate, Corey Perry. The 2011 Hart and Richard Trophy winner hails from southern Ontario, and if you’re one to believe rumors, he’d plan on playing the season out, await the biggest offer closer to home, and move along.

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That changed when he reached terms Monday on an eight-year, $69 million extension. This eliminates a huge potential distraction as the high-flying Ducks try to chase down the Blackhawks. But with every new mega-contract that’s handed out, it brings us to the fate of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane two years from now, when they’re scheduled to become free agents. Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough were wise to sign the faces of the franchise to five-year, $31.5 million extensions in December of 2009, paired with Duncan Keith’s 13-year, $72 million deal. They went on to win a Stanley Cup six months later. For perspective, Getzlaf and Perry were key contributors (if not the same type of leaders) of the 2007 Ducks team that captured the Cup early in their careers. Now, they’re being counted on to produce a couple more over the next eight years.

There’s a lot that will happen between now and the end of this season, but what if Toews and Kane lead the Hawks to another Cup this season or next?  What does that do to their price tags, and would there be reason for Hawks management to begin thinking about locking them up even longer, before their cost grows? How soon would agent Pat Brisson approach Blackhawks management over the matter?

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There are several Catch-22’s. The salary cap shrinks from over $70 million this season to about $64 million next year, and will be adjusted over the course of the new 10-year labor deal, depending on revenues. The signings of Getzlaf and Perry could mean the Ducks will have to part ways with their third, still-young, “core” player in Bobby Ryan. He’s due to make more than $5 million for two more seasons.  Beyond that, after this season, the only players on their roster making more than $4 million are goalie Jonas Hiller and young defenseman Cam Fowler.

The Hawks? After the $6.3 million each for the Captain and Kaner, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith all make between five and six million through at least the 2015-16 season. For what they represent, and how they’ve played, Toews and Kane deserve to be the highest-paid players in the organization. Especially for Kane this season. Their most immediate decisions for this summer involve Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell (unrestricted free agents), along with Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger (restricted).

More perspective from the current salary pecking order: Sidney Crosby’s 12-year contract extension from last summer pays him $12 million each of the first three years, but averages out to $8.7 million over the course of the deal. That matches current teammate Evgeni Malkin’s cap hit for Pittsburgh, which must decide where he falls between now and the end of his current deal in 2014. Alex Ovechkin has about a $9.5 million cap hit on his contract, without a Stanley Cup on his resume. There were 20 members of the average $7 million salary club on this season’s ledger before the Perry and Getzlaf extensions. After Crosby and Malkin, the only players who’ve won a Stanley Cup on that list are Eric Staal, Vincent Lecavalier, Brian Campbell, and Drew Doughty. The current $6.3 million salaries of Kane and Toews rank tied for 38th-highest in the NHL.

There are a lot of great players making huge money. Only a handful of them have also won Stanley Cups. If the Blackhawks’ two superstars add to that, how high does their value rise, what’s fair, and would “hometown discounts” be a factor in order to keep a good thing going together?

Those are just a couple of questions for another day. There’s too much to enjoy with these Blackhawks now. But it’s another game to keep an eye on off the ice as other stars keep cashing in.