This always happens more than it should. It always will. Logic won’t explain it. Desperation will.
You can’t blame Phil Kessel for being too valuable. You can’t blame Julia Roberts for that, either. Was it fair she received $20 million for Mona Lisa Smile? Probably not, but she did. That was her quote. Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $25 to show up for, like, 15 minutes and contribute to the death of the first Batman franchise. It’s just how it goes.
And, in 2013, Phil Kessel’s value on the open market is $8 million a year. That’s actually low. The kid could have fetched more. Kessel – who turned 26 on Wednesday – is a bonafide point-a-game player (52 in 48 games last year, 82 in 82 the year before) with a long career ahead of him.
Is he worth $8 million a year? Absolutely.
But, is he worth $8 million a year for eight damn years? No way. Jose.
You don’t pay a player $64 million to be who he is. You pay him that money because you think he’ll become something. You’re paying him to win a Stanley Cup. You’re paying him to lead your team and make everyone else better – Kessel has, to some extent, already done that for Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak, two millionaires who would be little more than journeyman forwards without Number 81 streaking down the wing – and you’re paying him to make himself better.
You’re paying him to be The Guy, and the only guy.
An eight-year deal that commits that much money to one damn guy is like handcuffing yourself to a bus without knowing the route. You could be pretty sure you’re going the right away. You’re almost positive. But, this isn’t a science. The salary cap is going up and down, and the NHL is the only league in America in danger of subjecting itself to a lockout every half decade. In eight years, every owner will change his or her mind (oh, please… there won’t be a her) and they’ll squeeze their property (their players) for less, suddenly deciding that not only did they make a mistake, but that it also wasn’t their fault.
Kessel won’t get less, but his teammates will.
Roberto Luongo isn’t overpaid. At $6.4 million a year, only Cory Schneider is tending twine at a more legitimate price. But, Luongo is signed to a 12-year deal. That’s not eight, but it may as well be.
Phil Kessel will be bald when his contract’s done. His Leafs could look completely different. Toronto could contain more people than Chicago by that point. Breaking Bad could have run two-and-a-half times. Wayne Gretzky’s daughter could be a grandmother.
When you sign a guy to an eight-year deal – for $64 million – you’re chaining yourself to the same nuke. You’re boldly and blindly going where no one has gone before, at least not with that player.
I’m fully confident that Phil Kessel will be an $8-million player for as long as his body allows him.
But, if eight years are up and we haven’t yet congratulated the Toronto Maple Leafs for a Stanley Cup, this will be a failure of dynastic proportions.
Toronto, this is your team for the foreseeable future. You better like ’em.