Thursday, July 14, 2005
The Morning After
If you are feeling some excitement mixed with a bit of anger, relief, and apathy, then you probably have the "It's about god damn time the lockout is over" Syndrome.
If you are REALLY excited, like my friend Michael, you could end up in a mental institution.
Now that we've had a bit of time to digest what has happened, it's time to prepare for the chaos of an unprecedented offseason, crazy rule changes, and more hockey news than you can shake a cane (but not a Carolina Hurricane) at.
(This is assuming the deal will be ratified, because you know the two sides aren't stupid enough to screw this up and vote 'NO')
First, each team will need to assess it's current position, read through the CBA 100 times, and prepare to get hand cramps from signing contracts, buyout agreements, and sending offer faxes.
Scott Burnside at ESPN provides a capsule look at each team as they stand after the dust settles.
TSN has a breakdown of the Canadian teams and the current contracts they are tied down to. The numbers don't quite jive, but the Canucks look very good or very bad depending on how you look at things:
Todd Bertuzzi - $5.3mil
Ed Jovanovski - $4.0mil
Trevor Linden - $1.5mil
Ryan Kesler - $722,000
Alex Auld - $513,000
Just 5 contacts for US$ 12,000,000
So, the Canucks have a lot of financial freedom, but have to worry about signing a lot of their stalwarts to deals...The SedinBots, Marek Malik, Sami Salo, Brendan Morrison (or will they let him go?)...
...and whither Markus Naslund? Will he really return home, like he's moaned about before? How about the brothers Niedermayer, who have been making noises about wanting to return close to home?
The other big question will be in goal. Will the Canucks try their luck with young Alex Auld after a pretty good AHL season? Will they give Dan Cloutier one more chance? Will they go after a different goalie who is on the market?
Oh, and there's always Todd Bertuzzi's re-instatement case. This is going to be a fun few months! :)
I was also stunned to see that the UFA age will apparently whittle down to 27, and not 28 as reported earlier...
liberalized free agency: age eligibility for unrestricted free agency at age 31 in 2005, 29 in 2006, 28 in 2007. In 2008, it's 27 or seven years of NHL tenure.So, a special player like Sidney Crosby or an Eric Staal could be given UFA status at the age of 25! Wow, quite a stunner...
Now, Tom Benjamin from CanucksCorner.com is a wise old crank, but I get the feeling that if Gary Bettman found a cure for AIDS, Tom would criticize him for not discovering such cure 10 years ago. It's time for a little Devil's Advocate and give some positives that I see to counter Tom's railings against the new CBA.
- Having young UFA ages has not killed or damaged the NBA, NFL, or MLB in any great degree. Why should the NHL be any different? With a lower UFA age, we'll have lots of player movement. Trades, trade rumours, and player movements have always been exciting for most fans and this could generate even more of that buzz during the season and off-season. With such fluid rosters and a more open market, there will be lots of opportunities for EVERY team to improve themselves somehow. Smart management will always trump whatever the Chicago Blackhawks are doing.
- I've been following European hockey for years, and the total free-for-all market hasn't 'killed' their game. Players can go back and forth between teams when they are 13, 16, 19, 24...any age they please! It's true that the bigger markets like Slovan Bratislava and Sparta Prague pilfer talent from the 'small' towns, but the NHL will have some safeguards whereas Europe does not.
- An unlevel playing field? As it stands right now, the Payroll Range is about $21-39mil per team (54% of league revenues). Tom assumes that the NHL will gain and maintain a constant growth rate (say 5% a year) that could see the the range end up being US$ 30-55 million.
So, if teams truly have trouble maintaining a team with a $30-35 million payroll, do we really want them in the league? Perhaps this is the true test to see if a franchise is really viable. The payroll range seems completely reasonable to me, and I don't want ANY team in the NHL if they can't meet this threshold.
There is also the argument that the 'small market' teams will not be able to ever come close to the top $50mil mark and will have a disadvantage because they will have a payroll of about $35mil while the Detroits max out at $50+ mil.
Is that a bad thing? You can't have it both ways, Tom! I like the fact that not every single team will have the exact same payroll ceiling. I do want some teams to have *some* advantage over other markets because it would be extremely boring and harmful to have every NHL team using the same payroll figure. It's not as if the BIG market teams will be able to buy every single good player on the market, providing major loopholes can't be found.
Tom also assumes that NHL revenues grow at a nice constant rate. With the damage already done to the NHL, and the fact that the NHL had pretty much maxed out its revenues in the USA, leaves me thinking that a constant 5% growth rate is a pipe dream.
- Let's not forget that these 'small market' clubs will be getting some revenue sharing money. If they use this money for their payroll, they will have nothing to complain about. If they stuff their pockets with this money (see many MLB teams like Pittsburgh), then these teams have absolutely no reason to ever whine about not being able to compete.
- Development of young players - I think it's great that most players, excluding the special talents, won't be rushed into the NHL at 18. Now that the CBA will allow for players to gain UFA status after 7 years of service time, the NHL teams will have a real disincentive to rush their prospects into service. Would the NY Rangers play and destroy Manny Malhotra or Dan Blackburn under the new CBA? No.
The AHL, ECHL and CHL will definitely benefit as players can stay in these leagues longer to develop, so there will be a run off effect to other hockey teams at the lower levels. I like the fact that this could lead to more prospects being more mature when they enter the NHL, rather than hurting their teams by sitting on the bench and learning the ropes.
Look, the European players who were able to play at home for decent salaries and stay with their families for a year (like Pavol Demitra or Ilya Kovalchuk) are the only short-term winners. Everyone else involved, from beer vendors, to NHL owners, to Chris Pronger, was a big short-term loser in this battle.
Lyle Richardson, aka Spector, sums up his feelings and I have to agree with his sentiment:
I don't want an apology from the NHL or NHLPA. It's pointless to ask or demand it, since it wouldn't be sincere. Neither I or you were factors in this labour drama and neither side really gave a damn about us. If they had, they would've avoided this nightmare in the first place.
The only thing I want is for both sides to learn from this, to understand that if they pull this stunt again in four or six years time, they might as well kiss their league bye-byes.
The damage from this lockout was serious but not fatal. Next time may be
I want both sides to learn to negotiate in good faith with costing them an entire season, and I want them to start improving this game and market it the way it should be done, not half-heartedly and half-assed as in the past.
In other words, shut up and play hockey!
Secondly, I think you missed a crucial point when discussing the FA system. I think this means the death of the Group 1-7 FA's that was so confusing to understand who belonged in what group. Who cares about Group I or Group II Free Agents!