The Curse of the Albatross: Understanding “Bad” Contracts in the NHL

It’s December 2010. I’m sitting ten rows behind the net at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. In front of me, the hometown Devils are being badly outplayed by the Nashville Predators. Offensively, the Devils can’t generate any pressure. Defensively, they look confused. After two periods, the fans start heckling their home team.

Behind me sits a Devils season ticket holder. The guy looks 50, has short grey hair, and is decked head-to-toe in Devils apparel. He makes occasional comments to his wife about injuries, team strategy and organizational prospects. He sounds like an educated hockey fan.

About halfway through the third period, I lean back, catch his eye, and ask a rhetorical question.

“So, why’s the team having problems this year?”

He doesn’t hesitate.

“The Kovalchuk contract. Fifteen years is ridiculous.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This guy was nuts. In reality, the team was losing for two reasons. Firstly, injuries had decimated the roster. Leading scorer Zach Parise was out for the season while franchise goalie Martin Brodeur was battling an elbow injury. Secondly, Coach John MacLean had lost control. He would be replaced five days later by Jacques Lemaire who would take the basement-dwelling Devils on a 26-7-3 run and narrowly miss the playoffs.

But the guy’s answer didn’t surprise me. In fact, I expected it. Remember, I live in Vancouver. I’ve heard the Canucks’ playoff losses, defensive breakdowns, scoring slumps, coaching oversights, lack of reasonably priced parking and proximity to public transit all blamed on Roberto Luongo’s 12 year contract.

But what if this guy was on to something? Are these unequivocally bad deals that overpay overrated players? Are they actually hurting their respective franchises?

Let’s take a look.

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