July 1st is still over a week away, but the free agency signing frenzy has already begun in the NHL. With Canada Day and the date at which players at the end of their contracts become free agents fast approaching, NHL GM's are trying with great fervor to re-sign their impending UFA's before other teams have a chance to offer them contracts.
The signings by the Flyers and Pantehrs in the last few days are by-products of the new NHL, the new CBA and the salary cap era. Last season, we saw the Edmonton Oilers lock up one of their young stars, who (with Ryan Smyth's departure) is now their franchise player, Ales Hemsky to a 6-year contract. This type of contract allows for teams to keep the cores of their franchise for a long period of time as an attempt to ensure a continued high level of competetion. The player is guaranteed long-term security while at the risk of not being given a raise for a good season until after the contract expires while the team is risk of paying a player so much even if they don't produce in years upcoming.
While this could have been now in the old-NHL, it was rarely seen notwithstanding the crazy Alexei Yashin type deals. But the Islanders did many crazy things, so we will discount them. The Oilers deal with Hemsky made sense to me, and to go even further so did the decade-long deal that Rick DiPietro of the Islanders received. What is puzzling to me is why teams are now starting to sign lower level players to long-term contracts at high prices. Hemsky's deal saw him get what was fair market value for his performance, over a long period of time. Again, player security and low future cap hit for the team. But when the Flyers signed Scott Hartner to a six year deal worth over four million a year, both of the reasons to make a six year deal were thrown out the window. Hartnell, a 20-goal scorer and a second line player (at best) may not ever produce more than he has, and may even begin to decline in production in the new-NHL. The Panther's did the same with Nathan Horton signing him to a six-year deal, Horton hasn't done much to prove himself in the NHL and guaranteeing him six-years without proof of superstardom may prove to be foolish.
I guess the point is that some GM's are beginning to focus more on their salary cap's over a long period of time, rather than the actual hockey. Sure a player making the same six years from now may be a good deal, but that is only if he is a better (or atleast equal) player than he was at the start of his contract.