"It's really unfortunate," said [Willie] Mitchell, 33, whose new two-year $7 million deal expires at the same time of the current CBA. "I think it's a flawed CBA in that aspect. A lot of good hockey players are having to wait a lot longer because teams are giving the young guys at chance at training camp. The reality is, as a GM, you have to give those younger guys a shot or else you risk losing them to free agency. It's just an unfortunate product of the current CBA."
"For sure, there's a strong possibility that in the next CBA you can see that changing," he continued. "I know as a union that's something we'd like to take a look at, that's for damn sure. Guys like Brendan [Morrison] have worked their whole career and next thing you know the young guys are getting the shot even those he's paid his dues for a long time. Like I said, it has everything to do with free agency. These kids are free agents at 25 and 26, signing big contracts. Now you score 25 goals and you're getting $2.5 million if you do it once. Brendan's done that multiple years [sic], but they want to tie down these young guys or risk losing them to free agency."
Here's the thing: Morrison scored 12 goals last year, on the only team in the league to register over 300 goals (313 excluding faux shootout goals), getting top-six minutes while playing against middle-of-the-road (at best) competition. That was after netting a whopping 16 goals with Anaheim and Dallas the year before, which followed an injury-truncated year of netting nine goals in Vancouver.
In fact -- how's this for irony? -- that magic 25-goal mark Mitchell refers to: Brendan Morrison has only done it once. Seven seasons ago.
That's not entirely his fault: he's a center, a setup man. But it does shoot one of many holes in Mitchell's "woe is the dues-paying veteran" theory of the NHL CBA. Nothing against Morrison, but by one account, Morrison has logged about $21 million pre-tax dollars in his career -- nearly $14 million of that since the lockout that initiated this big, bad CBA that has cruelly forced the league's veteran masses to forge day-to-day for food.
I'm not being a jerk: Most of us fans actually like the "wise, grizzled" mystique of veterans. We like players who "pay their dues." That doesn't mean they should be the highest paid. That doesn't change the reality of the human body and athletics, which sadly shows that very few players are still worth top dollar when they hit their mid-30s (where Morrison is, incidentally). Ask Brendan Witt fans whether -- despite paying more painful dues with one shot-blocking foot than your average center pays with his whole body -- that means he's entitled to another lucrative contract, if any NHL contract at all.
NHL Careers are Short. Sometimes They Should Even Be Shorter.
You know which guys on the Cup-winning and regular-season-dominating Blackhawks were over 31 last season? John Madden (36) the checking forward. Brent Sopel (33) the at-best #5 defenseman. Christobal Huet the discarded goalie (34). That's it.
The original Province piece doesn't quote Mitchell directly on this but says:
He was talking about the laundry list of veterans around the league that still don't have contracts for this season. Guys like former Vancouver Canucks' Brendan Morrison, Scott Walker and Kyle Wellwood as well as Billy Guerin, Doug Weight, Darcy Tucker, Steve Begin … I could go on and on.
If that was the type of player Mitchell was referring to ... are you freaking kidding me? All of those guys may have something left to give, but it's in minor roles -- not top-dollar ones.
Back in the day when money was no option to your un-capped Leafs and Rangers of the world, they could dump $3 million on each vet who's "paid dues" and chalk it up to an investment in "valuable playoff experience." But today, when every dollar must be spent carefully (because we have a system designed to protect a league consisting mostly of teams that cannot afford to spend them carelessly [see chart]), you actually have to evaluate -- and pay -- players based on what they are likely to do. Not what they've done.
Why, perish the thought, some of us fans are actually happy the CBA has forced GMs to be smarter about where they spend their money -- even though it's caused some of our favorites to exit stage right.
Today players pay their dues through the hard cap of the entry-level contract, plus the limited flexibility of the RFA and arbitration system (which, I might add, still pay out a handsome sum). After that, if you can make it to unrestricted free agency and cash in, you've done well. With younger unrestricted free agency, you can even do that while you're still in your athletic prime, your late 20s-early 30s. If you've made it to your mid-30s and still expect to be getting raises each year, you probably don't understand the relative worth of each player to a team.
I'm sorry if that cuts off the multi-million-dollar money pipeline. It is a hard league to crack, after all. But as someone who's spent quite a bit of disposable income to watch the league over the years, I'm well aware that if you can still play, there's still plenty of fan-generated revenue to get your hands on.