Photo courtesy of PredneckNation.com

The Minnesota Wild kicked off our nation’s Independence Day in the most American way possible – frivolously spending a ton of money.

The news broke shortly after 9 o’clock this morning that the Wild signed the two top NHL free agents, Zack Parise and Ryan Suter, to 13 year, $98M dollar contracts respectively. The newest Wild players will join former Sharks Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell in forming a new force to be reckoned with in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Details of the contracts have not yet been released, but these agreements follow in a recent NHL trend that finds clubs signing extremely long term deals with top free agents. The hockey world gawked in 2010 when the New Jersey Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15 year, $102M deal, tying the New York Islanders and Rick DiPietro for the longest contract in NHL history.

Other notable long contracts include:
Alex Ovechkin (Capitals) – 13 y, 124M, signed Jan 08
Duncan Keith (Blackhawks) – 13 y, 72M, signed Jan 10
Henrik Zetterberg (Red Wings) – 12 y, 72M, signed Jan 09

The key to these long term contracts are how the clubs safeguard themselves against declining production. Let’s take the Kovalchuk deal and the Ovechkin deal for example:
The Devils paid Kovalchuk $6M per for the first 2 years of the contract and then increased his pay to just over $11M for years 4-7. His salary steadily decreases from $10M to $1M for years 8-13, presumably leaving the club with an easier out should Kovalchuk’s production fall flat in the twilight of his career. The last two years pay him $3M and $4M, should he make it that far. Of course, no 17-year deal is safe, but this is about as safe as you can play it.
The Capitals were not so careful with Ovechkin. Then again, when you’re dealing with the best player in the world at the time of contract negotiations, you’re somewhat handcuffed. Ovechkin’s deal pays $9M per year for the first 6 years, and $10M for the last 7. If Ovechkin falls apart at any time before the contract is up, this will turn out to be a huge financial disaster for Washington.

The NHL and retirement

With Parise and Suter both at 27 years old, their contracts with the Wild keep them under contract until the age of 40. Considering the longevity of NHL players these days – think Owen Nolan and Nicklas Lidstrom – it’s safe to say that these guys will play and produce to that age, right?
Not so fast. According to QuantHockey.com, the amount of players that have lasted to 40 years old in NHL history is shockingly small. In 94 years of NHL hockey, only 69 of 5,931 players have made it to 40 or older – that’s just over 1%. The average age of retirement for all players is 28, with a trend of steady decline past the age of 25.

This isn’t to say that either Parise or Suter will be retiring any time soon. They were the top two free agent prizes in the 2012 off season and deservedly so. But if the Wild are counting on both of them to produce until 2025, they’ve got another thing coming. History clearly shows that only a rare few players actually reach that pinnacle.