Derek Stepan’s final score was nine minutes.
That’s how long it took yesterday, from the Rangers officially announcing the star center’s new contract while pointedly declining to include the actual terms, to the moment we knew the exact dollar value involved. That just barely beats Michael Del Zotto and Alexander Semin (both of whom clocked in at an even 10), but falls well short of Brandon Saad (four) and Gustav Nyquist (the unofficial record holder, at two).
It’s become an offseason hobby for NHL fans on Twitter, one popularized by TSN analytics columnist Scott Cullen: Wait for a team to publicly announce a signing, note its refusal to actually mention the dollar value of the deal, and then see how many minutes it takes for a media insider to get the goods. So far, nobody has made it past 10.
All of which raises an obvious question: Why are NHL teams doing this? Why bother taking the time to announce news without bothering to include, you know, the actual news?
If there’s a good reason for the practice, it’s a well-kept secret. I recently asked one PR rep from an NHL team that doesn’t disclose terms about the logic behind the practice, and he admitted he wasn’t aware of any particularly good reason for the policy. A player agent offered up the theory that some teams may exclude salary info “based on a philosophical belief the information is confidential,” but quickly added that “there is no legal basis for this assumption and contract terms are readily available on the NHLPA’s public website.” As for what other benefit the teams could be hoping to achieve by leaving details out, he was also stumped.
The NHL has had a tricky history with player salaries. For years they were tightly kept secrets, as owners reasoned (correctly) that having the information made public would just drive up prices around the league. Through the ’80s and early ’90s, it was rare to hear specifics about a player’s contract. But by the late ’90s, salaries for star players were well-publicized, and fans became used to knowing exactly how much top players were signing for. That was all well and good, and it gave the fans a sense of empowerment — after all, if you’re going to scream “we pay your salary” at some underachieving third-liner, it’s nice to know what that salary is.
But the 2005 lockout changed everything. That’s when the league introduced a hard salary cap, and information about how much each player makes went from nice-to-know to downright crucial. In a pre-cap world, a bad contract could strain a team’s budget and affect how it built the rest of the roster, but it could usually be dealt with. And “bad contract” was strictly a relative term — Bobby Holik was never worth $9 million a year, but if that money was coming from the Rangers’ bottomless pit, who really cared? Once the cap was in place, every contract mattered, with small mistakes adding up into big problems and some players even ending up representing negative value.
Hockey fans understand this. The league and its teams apparently don’t, or at least wants to act that way. After becoming the only pro sports league to lose an entire season to a work stoppage, all in the name of establishing a hard cap, the NHL now wants to selectively act like that cap doesn’t exist.