NHL’s South Beach Syndrome: Big money for free agent stars to head out of dodge

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Updated: July 12, 2012

In this day and age a salary cap has been imposed in many sports to create a sort of level playing field. It prevents big market, big money teams from out bidding lower budget ones simply because they can spend as much as they want. Works great in football, and as other sports adopt the concept it’s beginning to level out competition as well.

But as always, teams will find loopholes to circumvent the rules in order to “get away” with things.

The NHL was the final professional sport in the U.S. to adopt some sort of a salary cap or luxury tax in the aftermath of the 2004-2005 lockout. For the most part, general managers are constantly looking for ways to get around it and it may be ruining the sport of hockey.

On July 4th, star winger Zach Parise and long-time friend Ryan Suter agreed to matching 13-year deals valued at $98 million dollars to join the Minnesota Wild. This bombshell certainly created a buzz, and hockey fans actually had some meaningful puck to talk about this offseason. But what do these contracts say to other up and coming stars?

Can players really just hold out, not sign with the team that drafted them, and due to a “lack of talent” on the free agent front that year proceed to sign ridiculous deals that will keep them employed and making bank until they are north of 40?

Parise and Suter are great hockey players, but are either of them proven winners? Are they both worth $100 mill? No cups, no hardware, no proof. Instead, a team found a loophole, was able to front load two identical deals, and all of a sudden is a contender. Now, whether or not the Wild will have won a cup by 2027 when these two will become free agents again is anyone’s guess.

A front loaded deal is designed to pay the players more in the first three years of the deal and significantly less in the final few. Though Parise and Suter will make over $10 million next season, their salary cap hit is only around $7.85 million; because of the way their deals are structured, for the final 3 years of their contracts they will only make a total of $4 million dollars.

Do you really believe two stars of this magnitude will be willing to play for three seasons and make only $4 million? No, and no one expects them to.

I like to call it the “South Beach Syndrome”. It seems like ever since LeBron and Bosh teamed up and took their talents to Miami that everyone wants out of where they are currently playing, wants to team up, take the easy way out, and leave their teams in the dust.

Loyalty is gone. Gone are the Brodeurs, the Stevie Y’s, the Cal Ripken, Jrs. or the Derek Jeters. Now that Suter’s out of Nashville, what’s keeping their star Shea Weber from wanting to leave? Will he be asking for a trade now?

This past year was the closet the Devils will get to Lord Stanley’s chalice for a while, and it may years before they ever replace Parise or find a player close to his caliber. I feel for Devils fans and I’m also excited for Wild fans – hockey is about to be great in Minnesota.

But does it ruin the sport? Does it take an element from the game and from building a team away?

Check back with me in 2027.

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