How Getzlaf deal impacts trade market

Updated: March 11, 2013, 12:13 PM ET
By Craig Custance

At first glance, it certainly seemed on the high side. When news emerged Friday of Ryan Getzlaf's 8-year, $66 million contract -- one that averages $8.25 million per season -- the thought of one agent echoed many in the hockey industry.

"I can only imagine what [Corey] Perry will get," he said.

The deal is another sign of just how much teams loathe to lose talent in the NHL, especially at center. Colorado didn't hesitate to match Calgary's offer sheet for young pivot Ryan O'Reilly and Anaheim kept pace in the West by securing its franchise center long term.

In both cases, the high prices were eye-openers but also a sign that maybe we haven't adjusted to what contracts will look like in the new CBA. Especially the Getzlaf deal. Had the deal been struck a year ago, there probably would have been a couple extra years tacked on for $1 million or so, making it worth something like 10 years at $68 million. That $6.8 million cap hit would have put him right in line with the cap hit of other comparable veteran centers such as Brad Richards ($6.7 million cap hit) and Joe Thornton ($7 million).

One other reason this deal may not look as bad as some predict for a player whose production has admittedly declined is that hockey has come back in a big way after the lockout. Ratings are up pretty significantly, attendance has been strong and hockey is ready to continue its impressive pre-lockout growth. The long-term financial impact of the lockout appears to be negligible at this point. Besides, of course, the Blackhawks fan who is boycotting the season. You have to subtract his spending from hockey-related revenue.

But projecting forward, you've got a huge television deal coming in Canada with the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada contract expiring in 2014. The cost of television rights for live sports have skyrocketed and this deal will end up being huge. Local television rights continue to grow across the board, with the Kings and Predators both getting significant revenue increases in their most recent deals with local TV broadcasters.

Factor in potential expansion fees or the relocation of an unhealthy Coyotes franchise and the salary cap will be on the rise.

"Fans are coming back and it is not unrealistic to project the cap getting back up there quickly in the next three or four years," said one source.

The one thing that won't change in the next several years is the scarcity of good centers and how necessary they are to build a championship team. Just look at the recent Stanley Cup winners -- the Kings had Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards. The Bruins had Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. The Blackhawks are built around Jonathan Toews and even with their success this season would love to add another center. The Penguins, or course, may have had the best group of centers of all when they won their championship led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

Having a legitimate top-six center, preferably two, doesn't guarantee a championship … but good luck winning without them.

So with this in mind, there might be an extra motivation for NHL general managers to pursue an interesting crop of potential free-agent centers before the trade deadline, rather than wait until the summer when the market will be even more competitive. According to the new CBA's summary of terms, the maximum contract length teams can sign UFAs from other teams is seven years. But you can sign your own players for eight years, as the Ducks did with Getzlaf. And this caveat from the CBA is important -- players can sign an eight-year deal "provided the player was on the club's reserve list as of the most recent trade deadline." That means teams can't trade for the rights to a guy such as Stephen Weiss in June and then sign him to an eight-year deal. And that extra year makes a big difference. In Getzlaf's case, a 7-year, $66 million contract comes with an annual salary-cap hit of $9.4 million.

So the time to target a center could be right now, especially if the Getzlaf contract stalled any previous negotiations. Getzlaf was the best center available but not the only one. Here are potential top-six center UFA trade targets still young enough to earn a long-term deal: