Just this offseason, the Minnesota Wild signed the top two free agents to such "supercontracts." Zach Parise and Ryan Suter each received $98 million contracts, which would be paid in a massive upfront bonus ($25 million) and then in incremental installments over 13 years.
Yet even before Wild owner Craig Leipold signed the contracts in April, he was complaining about them. He told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune his team is “not making money” and that long-term contracts represented “one reason we need to fix our system.… The revenue that we’re generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And [the Wild's] biggest expense by far is player salaries.”
“It is true that a very significant amount of their revenues went to salaries, and the union realized this and was willing to cut back," says Mark Conrad, a professor of sports law at Fordham University in New York City. "But sometimes these collective bargaining agreements are made to protect owners from themselves, because they are the ones who sign these long-term contracts.”
Professor Conrad has some sympathy for the Leopolds of the NHL. Star players are a limited commodity and therefore have enormous leverage.
“The elite players drive the market up. It’s a very controlled labor market because of that,” he says.
Yet much of the NHL's current cycle of crisis was foreseeable when the NHL expanded into non-hockey markets in the 1990s in the bid to become a national brand, say others.