Crackdown: The Problem With Jonathan Quick’s Contract

The NHL's latest proposal wants to hold teams fully responsible for cap hits on deals longer than 5 years, even after retirement or trade

When you first see "Jonathan Quick signed for $5.8 million," you might assume that he took a discount. We had feared his cap hit would be much higher. Some people even joked, "Maybe he should fire his agent!" But really, that agent is being handsomely rewarded, and our Conn Smythe winner is a very happy man. Quick will earn $7 million a year in the first seven years of his deal. This is essentially the Pekka Rinne contract with three years added to lower the cap hit.

But now the NHL is out to crack down on all long-term deals, and that’s where this gets scary. Quick will be 37 when his contract ends. Under the NHL’s new proposal, if he were to retire at any time before the deal was up, the Kings would still be stuck with that contract.

The league's proposal includes a clause that says all years of existing contracts longer than five years will be charged against the cap regardless of whether or not a player is still playing. If that player is traded, the new team takes on his cap hit, but if he retires, the cap hit reverts back to the team with which he originally signed. - ESPN

(If you’re wondering what would happen with Richards’ and Carter’s cap-bending deals, those would count against the team that originally signed them – and it’s safe to say that Philadelphia is freaking out.)

Now, the Kings hardly went to back-diving extremes here. Other teams like Chicago, Detroit, Vancouver, and Philadelphia are worse offenders. This contract doesn’t have an unreasonably low salary in the final three years, nor does it pretend that Quick will be playing into his forties, as Roberto Luongo’s contract notoriously does. One could easily defend its structure to the NHL on the basis of age and compensation. But it is ten years long, and now that could pose an even greater risk.

How long could Quick play?

Of course, Quick might play out his full contract, and make this worry disappear. We can find examples of goalies playing at a high level past their mid-thirties. Martin Brodeur just played in the Stanley Cup Final at age 40. Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe at 37. Miikka Kiprusoff remains Calgary’s starting goalie at 35.

But we can’t be sure how much longevity Quick will have. I preferred a shorter 5 or 6 year contract because that fits the span of most goalies’ prime. At around age 33, more goalies still in the league begin to shift from starter to backup roles. The Kings might be able to trade him with that $5.8M cap hit if they ever have to, but they won’t have any control over when he retires -- and if he retired early, even after the trade, L.A. would still be on the hook.

The best case scenario is that Quick plays at a high level for a very long time -- but that will require him to beat the odds.

At least the next eleven years will be interesting

We had a lively discussion back in June about Quick's contract, so many of you already know that I’m opposed to large goalie contracts in general. The latest wrinkle only adds to my concern.

However, I understand what Lombardi was trying to do. Quick had saved their season, won their first championship, and was the team’s unquestioned MVP. A player couldn’t have done anything more in a single year, and if you lowball the Conn Smythe winner, the team is going to rebel. They wanted to add him to the core long term, and Quick was more than willing. Instead of waiting a year to re-sign him, they assumed it would be better to get a clear picture of their long-term salary situation going forward. In an effort to lower the cap hit, they took a risk on term. Many people quite reasonably pointed out that retirement or trade looked like good options if the deal ever became onerous.

But if this crackdown goes through--and we don't know if it will--I’m still wishing they had chosen to wait.