The contract year. Such a magical mystery. Do players really turn it on to a new level the season before they’re up for a new deal? Could a player that is so motivated by money really just flip a switch after years of sandbagging through his existing contract? I have my doubts.
In many cases, there does seem to be at least some correlation. Owen Nolan, for example, scored 44 goals as a Shark in 1999-00, cashed in on a fat payday, and then failed to eclipse 30 in a single season for the duration of his career. But it’s hardly a science.
That said, the last year of a player’s contract is undeniably important. At the very least, they want to maintain whatever standard they’ve set for themselves, so that the next pact they sign is on par with what they’ve become accustomed to earning. At best, they want to have career years and cash in.
So it’s safe to wonder what the lockout-shortened season might mean for those players who will be looking for new deals come summer. It’s almost impossible to fairly evaluate a player’s financial worth based on a 48-game sample size, let alone 48 games that in no way, shape, or form replicate any 48-game segment of a traditional regular season.
Will general managers simply throw out the 2012-13 season when deciding who to keep, who to pursue, and what to pay them? And does that benefit the players, or hurt them? Slow starters this year, like Ryane Clowe, might welcome the mulligan. But what about a guy like Nazem Kadri, who will be a restricted free agent at the end of the year, and doesn’t have an NHL history that backs up his current rate of production?
The answer will probably vary from team to team. GMs who have histories of being conservative with free agents will likely look at a larger body of work. GMs who have histories of doing inexplicably rash and bewildering shit will likely continue down that path. That said, it would probably be a good idea for Ryane Clowe to score a fucking goal at some point in the very near future.