Hold On, Is That Another NHL Holdout?

The business of hockey is something most fans do a great job of ignoring. Then, a big name player who just happens to be a key member of your Fantasy Keeper League team decides to holdout on signing a contract and you can’t sleep at night.

This off season has been privy to more holdouts than we’re used to. The drastic drop of the salary cap has played its part, with the recent innovation of the Bridge Contract equally making negotiations more complicated.

Contract holdouts are in no way new to the NHL, something Ottawa Senators fans know very well. In 1999-00, Alexei Yashin, Sens Captain and star player at the time, stood so firm on his contract demands that he missed the entire season. At least we don’t see that anymore. Yashin was established and well paid already. A year off wasn’t going to destroy his bank account. These days, most holdouts involve young players coming off entry level contracts. Young players, as promising as their careers may appear, can’t afford a year off. GM’s hold all the leverage with first time RFA‘s.

Drew Doughty perpetrated a holdout at the beginning of the 2011-12 NHL season. He had his new contract before Month 1 of the regular season was over. The Kings inked their young star blue liner to a giant second deal worth $56 mil over 8 years. Obviously, in Doughty’s case it was a little different. He was a 2nd overall draft pick, one-time Norris Trophy finalist, and only 21 years young. After a slow start to the schedule, all that mattered was getting Drew Doughty back in the lineup.

The Hockey Gods were good to Doughty and his Kings. After a rough beginning to the season, Drew quarterbacked the franchise to its first ever Stanley Cup Championship, and they all lived happily ever after, basically. No matter what Doughty does in the remaining years of his contract, a Cup is a Cup. Had the Kings moved him or let him sit out the year, it’s hard to imagine they win that Stanley Cup in 2012.

Image Courtesy of Flickr. Photograph by Margaret.

Image Courtesy of Flickr. Photograph by Margaret.

One year later, the Montreal Canadiens faced the exact same scenario with young defenceman P. K. Subban. Habs GM Marc Bergevin held strong. The Habs blue line blaster missed the first 6 games of the season, finally returning under the obligation of a measly two-year deal worth $5.75 mil.

The short-term deal signed by Subban is called a Bridge Deal. It’s a new tactic GM’s use to avoid making mistakes, throwing too much money at young unproven players. Logically, bridge deals seem very fair and sensible. However, they can, under specific circumstances, blow up in an organizations face. I don’t know what P. K. Subban’s contract demands were before signing his epic bridge deal, but I can assure that this summer when they renegotiate his contract, he’s going to nail them with a much higher number, and they’ll have no choice but to oblige.

At the moment, the most notable holdout in the NHL is St. Louis Blues’ defenceman, Alex Pietrangelo. The Blues stud blue liner has Norris Trophy potential, thus, if GM Doug Armstrong learned anything from the Subban deal he probably doesn’t want to secure his young star to a risky bridge contract, only to fork over the inevitable King’s ransom allotted to young defencemen with Norris winner on their list of credentials.

Recent history suggests that missing a few games at the start of the season won’t wreck a tremendous talent like Alex Pietrangelo. Doughty and Subban missed beyond training camp and they both did very well for themselves upon returning to their respective teams. The Blues have a little more time to nit-pick and negotiate with Alex and his agent before the season starts. However, time is rapidly running out. The last thing the Blues want to do is be stubborn about a few million dollars in what could be their year to win the franchises’ first ever Stanley Cup, because a contender today can be a pretender tomorrow in the new NHL. Seize the opportunity. Sign the franchise defenceman.