Jackets go against trend, lock Nash up for long term
Posted: Sunday August 7, 2005 9:30PM; Updated: Wednesday August 17, 2005 4:58PM
The Blue Jackets signed restricted free agent Rick Nash to a reported five-year deal worth $27 million.
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Who out there is surprised at the size and length of contracts awarded in the first week of the new NHL's self-proclaimed "cap-constrained free agency free for all?" I mean the previously destitute Pittsburgh Penguins committed $25M for five years to Sergei Gonchar and another $13.5M over three seasons for Ziggy Palffy. This after years of shedding salaries in the form of Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka et al?
Granted, the Pens are giddy after winning the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes and maybe you can't blame them for already spending the real and projected economic windfall that accompanies Crosby. But then you have the Chicago Blackhawks and the heretofore "Miser of the Midwest" Bill Wirtz opening his wallet in a big way, shelling out close to $50M for goaltender Nik Khabibulin, defenseman Adrian Aucoin and winger Martin Lapointe. The 30-something trio also received term from the Blackhawks, with the contract lengths reading four, four and three years respectively.
Call it strange, ironic, or merely coincidence, but not since the Penguins and Blackhawks met in the 1992 Stanley Cup Final have they been at the forefront of the league in any capacity. That was the dawn of the new expansion era and about the same time longtime Wirtz decided to collect the expansion fees and sit on his hands for the next decade. He rid his team of all superstars that carried, in his estimation, ridiculous salaries.
With his three substantial signings last week, Wirtz reentered the world of icing a competitive NHL team. Only time, though, will tell if the crusty custodian has a prudent plan, or if these new rules will soon prove too burdensome, as the long-term deals doled out today will have as yet unforeseen ramifications on future financial flexibility.
So, while old teams showed renewed vigor by wading into the previously untested free agent market, as the week wound down, the Columbus Blue Jackets may have set the most noteworthy standard by re-signing restricted free agent Rick Nash to a reported five-year deal for $27M. The term is staggering for a player with two years in the NHL and the money is suitably outlandish.
Nash is a splendid player and certainly the centerpiece for the CBJ's for years to come, as well as one of the brightest young stars the NHL has to offer. But GM Doug MacLean seems to have jumped the gun a bit here and it isn't the first time. MacLean continued a pattern of over-committing -- think Scott Lachance and Andrew Cassels as free agents now bought out of their contracts, as well as still being saddled with the overzealous contracts of free agents Scott Sanderson, Luke Richardson and Todd Marchant -- and all for what? Respectability? A short cut to the postseason?
Some would say shortsightedness. Under the new CBA, Nash will be eligible for free agency after four more seasons. Surely MacLean could have come up with a two-year deal this time -- don't tell me he feared arbitration coming out of a lock out -- and then taken a bigger bite out of Nash's potential for free agency in the next contract. As it stands, this preposterously long-term deal only mitigates the first year of that possibility. More damning for MacLean is the wrath of the GM's around the league who now have to hear about his folly as footing from agents looking to the Nash signing as the benchmark for all restricted forwards.
So, with the likes of Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat,Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk all in similar situations as Nash, MacLean can expect curious queries from Boston, Ottawa and Atlanta, to name but a few cities now saddled with MacLean's 'CBJ way' -- Cost Before Justification.
Next summer, however, MacLean will have to figure out some sort of rationale for his hodgepodge spending, especially when the CBJ's other fine young forward, Nikolai Zheredev, comes looking for the same kind of love.
Until then, he can expect only glances askance and muted mutterings of others in the GM fraternity.