For Some Players, Less (Salary) Is More

Valtteri Filppula, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nick Lidstrom
Photo by Anna Enriquez

It’s no surprise Scott Gomez is getting called out in Montreal for his salary.

Salary creates expectations. And in a salary cap environment, this is especially true, since every dollar going to one player is not available for another player. So when a player like Gomez underperforms, not only is he collecting a lot of money, the money he’s collecting can’t go to a better player.

And sometimes the pressure of playing up to a salary makes things even worse. The player will press and press and press, trying to show they’re worth what they’re getting paid.

I would guess this pressure is behind a lot of Ilya Kovalchuk’s struggles in New Jersey this season.

Many Detroit Red Wings have the right idea about contracts. A lot of core players have taken less money to keep the team together. Pavel Datsyuk’s cap hit is just $6.7 million per season. Henrik Zetterberg’s hit is just over $6 million per year. And Johan Franzen’s cap hit is just under $4 million. All could have earned more on the open market and all settled for less (with Zetterberg and Franzen going for especially long-term contracts). Marian Hossa did the same thing when he signed with Chicago for $5.275 million per season.

And goalie Martin Brodeur has historically given the Devils a home team discount on his contracts.

Players like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Hossa, and Brodeur all understand that every dollar of cap space they take is salary that can’t go to someone else to help their team. And with no one else to help the team, the pressure usually falls on the shoulders of the team’s high-priced players.

And even if the cap hit isn’t the issue, the duration of the contract sometimes is. Goalie Rick DiPietro has constantly pushed himself in a misguided effort to live up to a 10-year contract. As a result, the fragile goalie has never had a chance to heal, and even when he is healthy, like he was this season, he’s pushed himself to force wins. Which is how he wound up getting injured in a goalie fight.

I don’t begrudge a player his right to make as much money as humanly possible. But I do think more players should consider the implications of a huge contract. As the Notorious B.I.G. observed, increased salary often correlates with increased problems. When things are going well for a team, salary is rarely an issue. But when things get a little rough, salary often becomes a performance variable.

I wonder if Gomez would give back some of his contract to get the fans and the media off of his back. I suspect he might, if he could.