Many people say that the drafting that takes place in pro sports is like a crap shoot…you never know what you’re going to get. Unless you’re the team with the number one drafting position, there’s no guarantee that the player a team wishes to pick is going to still be available when it’s that team’s turn to choose. Add to that the fact that neither the player nor the team ever really knows for sure whether or not they will be a good fit for each other until after they’ve spent a season or two together, and the act of drafting even one player could become way more trouble than it’s worth. This could be especially true for the top handful of draft picks in any given season. The top picks know that they’re exactly that – at the top of the draft class. They’ve been told for years by many people (coaches, scouts, teammates, family, the media and, of course, their agents) how exceptionally well they play their sport. So it’s no big surprise that when the time comes for them to sign their first professional sports contract, they (and their agents) have some pretty big expectations regarding the bonus money they feel they deserve.
The Devils also have expectations when they offer entry level contracts to their players. Like just about every other team (the Rangers regarding Sean Avery notwithstanding) they expect the player to perform to his potential and conduct himself like a true professional. But the Devils also have a “team first” philosophy that they expect all of their players to subscribe to. Part of that philosophy, as described by Lou Lamoriello today, is that the organization does not provide any player with individual performance bonuses in entry level contracts. Incentivizing players to play more minutes or to score more goals than their teammates fosters competition among teammates and a “player first” (as opposed to “team first”) philosophy.
Despite Adam Larsson being drafted by the Devils fourth overall, his contract is no different. The Devils and Larsson reached a 3 year entry level deal shortly before Friday’s 5pm deadline (after which time, the Devils would have been required to pay $100,000 to Larsson’s team in the Swedish Elite League to extend the deadline until August 15th before Larsson would have had to play the upcoming season in Sweden if no deal had been reached by then). While Larsson will be earning the entry level maximum of $925,000 per season (including any signing and games played bonuses), his contract – just like all of the entry level contracts of his Devils teammates - does not include any individual performance based bonuses. It’s a two way deal, so Larsson could also play in the AHL this upcoming season and would earn the entry level maximum of $70,000 per season if he does so.
Lamoriello said that Larsson “is as mature as he can get at his age” while praising him for making the decision to forgo any performance bonuses in favor of not being different from any of his Devils teammates who have been given entry level contracts before him. It also demonstrates just how much Larsson wants to be a Devil. “I’m excited,” Larsson said. “This is what I wanted all the time, so I’m very happy for that. It’s like a dream come true.”
It would appear as if the entire experience of drafting Larsson has been a dream come true for both parties so far. First, Larsson was still available for the Devils to pick him fourth. Now, Larsson is willing to subscribe to the “team first” philosophy which is so important to the Devils. Of course the true test will come on the ice, where we will see if Larsson can live up to the hype that’s surrounded him for so long. Being the high roller and Devils fan that I am, I know where I’m putting my money. This match is already starting to feel like one made in heaven. (And, yes … my fingers and toes were crossed as I typed that last sentence).
The Devils’ refusal to provide individual performance based bonuses in entry level contracts is unusual compared to most of the NHL. The annual cap hit for the abovementioned contract signed by Adam Larsson is $925,000, and that includes the league maximum amount of salary for entry level contracts as well as a signing bonus. Any higher cap hit from an entry level contract would be due to individual performance bonuses. To get a perspective of the kind of money Larsson chose to forgo to play with the Devils, here is a list of the cap hits from some other recent entry level contracts signed by first round draft picks in recent years:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011: 1st overall by Edmonton) – 3 year entry level deal with a $3,775,000 million annual cap hit
Taylor Hall (2010: 1st overall by Edmonton) – 3 year entry level deal with a $3,750,000 million annual cap hit
Tyler Seguin (2010: 2nd overall by Boston) - 3 year entry level deal with a $3,550,000 million annual cap hit
Ryan Johansen (2010: 4th overall by Columbus) – 3 year entry level deal with a $1,945,000 million annual cap hit
Evander Kane (2009: 4th overall by Atlanta) – 3 year entry level deal with a $3,100,000 million annual cap hit