The NHL's salary structure
Part 1: Youth pays off
"In the old system, we had more ways to control the salaries. Now we have to make decisions on where we want to spend, and salaries are jumping younger and quicker."The idea that players are getting paid earlier in their careers certainly isn't a new one. Heck, Mike Richards getting a $69-million deal prompted this piece here, but I'd been waiting for the off-season in order assess the impact of all these new deals.
Yesterday, I had a small graph outlining the league average salary, which has gone from about $1.4-million in 2005-06 under a $39-million salary cap to more than $2-million per player this season under a $56.7-million ceiling.
And it's the youngsters gobbling up a huge portion of that increase.
Using Oct. 1 as the age marker, I've broken down the four lockout seasons by age and salary with the help of a massive spreadsheet from Chip McCleary at nhlscap.com. Compiling the raw data would have taken ages, so a big thanks to him.
The essential numbers
In 2005-06, the average player 25 and under made $865,000, while players aged 30 and over made an average of $2.07-million.
This coming season, based on contracts already signed, the average player 25 and under will make $1.64-million, nearly doubling the figure of three years earlier. Players aged 30 and up will still get more green than they did in 2005-06, but with an average of $2.82-million, it's only a 36 per cent boost.
What's remarkable about that is that almost no 25-year-old players are eligible for unrestricted free agency, while, under the new collective bargaining agreement, every player 30 and older would have been at some point.
It's essentially a flattening of the league salary structure, where players around age 23 (coming off an entry level contract) and 28 or 29 (entering unrestricted free agency) have received a major pay boost.
Here are the average salaries by age for both seasons:
Maybe the most surprising part of the graph is toward the end, where we see the graybeards still cashing in considerably — and that's without Mats Sundin and Joe Sakic in the fold. What that's really the result of is a small sample size, as with only 10-15 players aged 38 and up in the league, Nick Lidstrom's $7.45-million deal skews things.
The same goes for the under 20s, who are represented by fellows like Patrick Kane making the entry level max.
The biggest changes from 2005-06 to 2008-09 come at age 23 (a 157 per cent jump) and between ages 32 and 35, where salaries have climbed an average of only about 20 per cent.
23 years young
In 2005-06, the highest paid 23-year-old players were the likes of Alex Frolov, Marian Gaborik, Henrik Lundqvist, Anton Volchenkov, Justin Williams, Nick Schultz and Scott Hartnell. Those seven players were the only ones in that age group to make more than $1-million.
Only two, Frolov and Gaborik, cashed cheques over $2-million that season.
Flip ahead to next season: The average 23-year-old will make more than $2-million, with the highest paid in that category beginning with Alex Ovechkin ($9.5-million), Dion Phaneuf ($6.5-million), Mike Richards ($5.75-million), Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry ($5.325-million), Marc-Andre Fleury ($5-million) and Jeff Carter ($5-million).
It's an incredible difference, one that's not explained only in the high-end talent.
No more old-age paydays
Some players in the 30-and-over category still receive nice deals in free agency (Brian Rolston comes to mind), but others are, more than ever, settling for entirely reasonable contracts these days.
Or going to Russia.
Good examples of discounted contracts to middle-aged free agents this summer are Andrew Brunette ($2.33-million) and Brendan Morrison ($2.75-million), who both received far smaller deals than we would have seen prelockout.
Flash back to 2005-06, and Bill Guerin was making $6.74-million, Jeremy Roenick nearly $5-million and Alexei Zhamnov $4.1-million.
Are big-time contracts for young stars the end of the world? Not necessarily.
I've addressed this in the past, but, in general, it's a good thing that stars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are paid for putting bums in the seats. The problem comes when players not quite so deserving begin to get those massive deals too early, before they've proven themselves NHL regulars — and 23 certainly applies to the wide majority.
It's only a matter of time before teams are stuck with underperforming youngsters on unmovable, long-term contracts. And things could get ugly.
While the salary graph has begun to flatten in terms of age, it's headed elsewhere when it comes to what I'd call "the salary hierarchy." We've already heard that the middle class is being eliminated, but is that true?
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Salary by age (postlockout)
"In the old system, teams were overpaying or paying a lot of money for the 31-year-olds who were unproductive, [and] not producing up to that level. I really feel that if you're going to pay the big money, it's the 23- to 29-year-olds that deserve the money."They're getting it..