By JD Lagrange – It’s not just in Montreal, it’s just about everywhere in the league. Teams are struggling to manage their hockey operations with a hard cap in place. For some, it’s their own doing for the most part. But for all, it has become more and more difficult to manage the financial aspects of the game and keep teams together, even with a long term plan in place.
There are a few reasons for that. Of course, the pressure of keeping your own young stars is omni-present. Some blame Marc Bergevin for not caving into Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s demands, which led to him signing a $6.1 million offer-sheet. In reality, he was right to do so as KK had yet to earn a long-term, more lucrative contract.
Then, you have teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and others, who cannot draw marquis players to their market and have to overpay to lure them there. This inflates the market for sometimes marginal players. Then, the issue is compounded when other players around the league use those contract numbers as measures of comparison to negotiate their own contract.
Everyone will have their own solutions to solve the problem and I’m not going to be making any friends on the players’ side with mine. Players’ agents like Allan Walsh would like to see the salary cap abolished all together. Of course, he’s only doing his job, looking after his clients… and his own pocket. Who can blame him?
I’ve been a hockey fan for over five decades and I have seen and lived the “olden days”. The first issue that I see is when the NHL agreed to lower the age of free agency without restrictions. It used to be that a player could reach the UFA status at the age of 31 years old. They dropped it to what it is today and most become UFAs at 27-28 years old.
It might have been too old before, but it’s simply too young now, particularly in a cap world. The league needs to bump that up a year or two to allow teams to have control over those players a bit longer. A year or two older would be a step in the right direction as teams wouldn’t have to “buy UFA years” so soon, which inflates contracts.
The Entry Level Contracts (ELC) Cap works well, although the size of the bonus is a bit out of hand. But it could remain this way if the league imposed a bridge deal concept for second contracts similar (with higher ceiling) to the ELC. Right now, teams are too often paying players based on what they could become instead of on what they actually are. Nick Suzuki’s contract is an example.
Too many young players tie up too much of teams’ cap room too young. This prevents many teams from going after pending UFAs as they are either too close to the cap or teams’ individual budgets in not-so-rich markets. Implementing some sort of cost certainty for a couple more years would help teams keep competitive younger or young players requesting a trade.
Long term contracts
Right now, players have it all their way. They can sign long term contracts without any risk as those are all guaranteed. The league needs to impose a limit of time on the guaranteed part of long term contracts.
My recommendation would be for the first (say) three years of the contract to be guaranteed, and anything there after being non-guaranteed with similar rules as the NFL. So teams would have the option of walking away from a non-guaranteed contract and the player would become UFA. Not a buyout… walking away scot-free. If a player signs a five-year deal, the first three years would be guaranteed, but not the final two.
The no-trade clauses, partial no-trade clauses and no-movement clauses should have never existed to start with. It completely ties teams’ hands down the road. Again, some will say that it’s the teams’ fault for handing them out but those people “forget” that it’s a negotiation tactic utilized by players and their agents. Then if one has it, they all want it.
Not only is it killing trades in a cap world where trades are extremely difficult, but it also negatively affects the value in such trades, as it limits how many teams a player can be traded to. And how fair is it to some markets? They’re already struggling to draw UFAs, they also have players with clauses preventing them to acquire those players in another legitimate way.
You want General Managers and teams to be more accountable? Players on Long Term Injury Reserve should not be tradable. Period. The Shea Weber type trades? No more. For example, the Vegas Golden Knights put themselves in the position that they’re in by going after every high-priced player available. Why should they be rewarded by getting cap room by simply acquiring players who will never play again? It’s ridiculous.
I’ll go further. There should not be any kind of deals allowed where a high priced player is traded for nothing (future considerations). Marc-André Fleury got traded for nothing in return as the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. How stupid is that?
Why does the NHL allow that when they banished trading cash? Yes, for the younger fans, teams were allowed to send money the other way in trades. The NHL got rid of that, but now allow to trade away cap space for nothing. It’s hypocritical on their part.
Right now, if a team wants to retain salary in a trade of a player has more than one year remaining on his contract, it must retain cap for every year remaining on the said contract. For example, if the Canadiens wanted to trade Mike Hoffman and the other team insisted on them keeping salary, they would have to do so for the two years he has remaining to his contract.
Teams should be allowed to retain salary for the first year only instead of being forced to do so for the duration of the contract. This would be particularly helpful at trade deadline, where contenders are tight to the cap but have room the following season. In March, the Canadiens could retain half of Hoffman’s salary until the end of the season to facilitate a deal, but the receiving team would be on the hook for the full $4.5 million the following season.
Those are only a few examples of what could be done. Of course, they could be tampered with, have some give and take with the NHLPA but right now, it’s not working the way it is. And status quo, closing our eyes on the issues at hand is not working. And I didn’t touch on the unfairness of Canadian teams having their revenues in Canadian dollars while their biggest expenses (salaries) are in US dollars…
Of course, those issues have been compounded with COVID and a flat cap for the past couple of years, and revenues will, hopefully, start going up again. But don’t forget that the league revenue has been inflated by not one, but two extremely pricey expansions. Eventually, that will stop. There’s only so much money to go around.