I wonder how they're differentiating this from the other contracts like it.
Because it is different. As I stated in the Kovy contract thread as a tax attorney there is a phrase when dealing with the IRS "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered." When Z and Mule had their deals the drop off in $ wasn't as steep or long on the tail end, they were only signed until the age of 40 (and the league acknowledged at that time that the Wings had a history of getting good mileage out of their players and had several examples of Wing's players playing until they were 40), the length of the contract wasn't as long, and the overall cap hit was a slight reduction from their prime years pay (Z max year amount $7.75M, cap hit $6.083M = $1.667M difference, Mule max year amount $5.5M, cap hit $3.955M = $1.545M difference, whereas Kovy max year amount $11.5M, cap hit $6M = $5.5M difference). There is a great difference between the two, Z and Mule were pigs, then you move on to Hossa and Pronger, little bit longer and/or little bit older and/or little bit more disparity on pay/cap hit therefore they (unlike Z and Mule) get their contracts scrutinized however, they are still just considered pigs. Then comes Kovy, longer term, older age at the end of the contract, greater disparity in pay/cap hit at his prime so finally the bounds are pushed too far and he is considered a hog and thus gets slaughtered.
This happens in tax law all the time. If you are a minority owner of a business (own less than 50% of the business) and sell your business interest you can take a discount on the valuation of the business for minority interest/lack of marketability/lack of control. The IRS has never set a percentage for discount but if you discount it 25-35% you will almost never get challenged, 35-45% you might get challenged, and 50%+ you stand a great likelihood of getting challenged. Some clients don't care and want to throw the dice and discount the value by 60% they are likely to get caught but will take the risk, they are hogs and likely to get slaughtered. That is what happened here, the actions/tactic wasn't different but the degree was and that is why they rejected the contract.
Zetterberg and Franzen's contracts take them up to age 40 (look at Lidstrom, Yzerman, Chelios, Hasek, etc...)
The Wings have a history of utilizing older players later in their careers than most teams, so these deals are not at ALL out of the realm of possibility of being completed...
Hossa's deal is sketchy, as it takes him to 42/43 and he has had a few injuries with the way he plays - much less likely to get completed, but also only a 12 year deal... not 17
Pronger's deal - after 35, so if they want to sign him to 100 years, let them - it's on the cap regardless and it's their own choice if they want to eat future cap after he retires...
This deal there wasn't even a grey area, it was flat out designed to circumvent the cap and there is NO way he will complete this contract, or at bare minimum (if you REALLY want to stretch) complete this contract at the value it is for.
Keep things in perspective...