Alex Chiasson was awarded a $1.2-million contract over the weekend, and most fans of the Ottawa Senators were pleasantly surprised by how low the salary came out to be. However, the more I thought about it, the more I wasn't sure why I was pleasantly surprised. Is there a reason for me to want Chiasson to make less money?
I think it's safe to say that typically fans side with the team when it comes to contract negotiations. For example, when Chiasson asked for $2.475-million in arbitration, most fans laughed. Everyone talked about how he wasn't worth it. I didn't hear a single voice saying, "That would work out really well for him."
Of course, last year Chiasson didn't do a lot to convince people he was a valuable asset. People don't root for disappointments very often. Maybe a better example is Bobby Ryan. This season he starts his contentious seven-year, $50.75-million extension. The debate over the contract is based around whether his production justifies this kind of money, and if another team would have given him that money as a UFA (for what it's worth, I say definitely yes). Nobody argues that Bobby Ryan did well to get that kind of money. Most people would consider Ryan more likeable than owner Eugene Melnyk, and yet when it comes to finances, we celebrate Melnyk's victories.
Still not convinced? How about the contracts of Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris? Both are lauded as bargain contracts. It never really crosses our minds that Turris deserves to be making more money, and that if we're fans of Turris, we should want what's best for him. Instead we're happy that the team has him on a steal of a contract. The idea of cheering for something that benefits Melnyk at Karlsson's expense seems really odd to me.
You also see this idea among people who don't really pay attention to hockey. When the 2012-13 lockout was taking place, lots of people I talked to told me the lockout was stupid, because the players already make so much money. For some reason the idea that billionaires wanted to shortchange their most valuable assets wasn't a thought that crossed their mind until I brought it up. It's not as if money can evaporate into thin air. When players make less money, the saved money goes to management or ownership. Alex Ovechkin is worth every penny the Capitals pay him because he brings in way more money than that for the team. You'd have a hard time telling me Ted Leonisis isn't overpaid as owner of the Capitals.
Of course, there are reasons we side with the team. After all, most of us are fans of a team primarily. The Daniel Alfredsson debacle taught a lot of us that we were Sens fans first, Alfie fans second. It's in the interest of the team to not have overpaid players, because it allows the team (in theory) to take on more talent. Having Karlsson and Turris for cheap has allowed the team to lock up Craig Anderson and Milan Michalek. OK, maybe those aren't the best examples. But still in theory, it's in the fans' interest for a team to have a lot of reasonable contracts.
The problem is that every time I see a fan celebrate an underpaid player that helps owners get richer, I can't help but think that Gary Bettman has already won.