By JD Lagrange – If you followed hockey closely prior to 2005, you will remember that trades were rather common in the NHL. While it was more common than today to see players play their entire career with one organization, the surrounding pieces were being replaced more easily, even during the season. That is, in part, because there was no salary cap to contend with. You didn’t need to be an expert in law and accounting to trade players. Just owners willing to pay salaries.
First, it is important to point out that trades are good for everyone.
- They are good for the league as teams can unload contracts in order to rebuild or load up for a season.
- It is also good for the players, as how many times to we see players requesting a trade but their GM being unable to accommodate them due to cap reasons?
- Last but not least, it’s good for the fans as it brings excitement and that, whether their favourite team is struggling (bringing new interest and new hope) or adding pieces to get even better.
Why is it so difficult?
There are four main reasons why trades are so few and far between during the season, justifying why teams have to live and die on their off-seasons’ decisions:
1- Hard salary cap: This is the biggest culprit, no doubt. With that said, it had become necessary as some teams were trying to buy themselves a winning team while the poor was left trying to survive. However, without any changes elsewhere in the CBA, the NHL and NHLPA had not foreseen how difficult it would be to trade players.
2- UFA age too low: For older folks like yours truly, you will remember that the UFA age was 31 years old prior to them bringing it down to what it is right now, around 27 years of age. They dropped that age too low. Many players don’t reach their full potential until 25-26 and are faced with losing their key player(s).
3- Guaranteed contracts: If you’re a player, you want that. If you’re an owner, a GM or even a fan, you don’t. Because contracts aren’t based on current performances, they are set in concrete once signed. Yes, some GMs get desperate and overpay some players. But when a players’ performances drastically drops, they are guaranteed that money. And it ties their team’s hands.
4- Trade clauses: This was often used as a luring tool by smaller markets, or teams which were a UFA’s second or third choice, to lure them to sign with them instead. It has become out of control. The no-movement and no-trade clauses are killing trades, and/or the value teams could get in return for that player in a trade.
Not all of the points above need to be changed. You can change a couple of them, or amend some of them a bit. Granted, most of the concessions up there would be coming from the NHLPA so that’s a touchy issue. In any CBA negotiation, it a matter of give and take and the NHL under Gary Bettman as been about players giving and owners taking, for the most part.
Still, if they could get together and make decisions for the betterment of the game itself (not Bettman’s forte, granted), here are a few options that they could be looking at. These are not in any particular order by the way. They are just what a fan thinks would be best for the game of NHL hockey as a whole.
☞ more buyout windows
Keep the one after the NHL Playoffs as it’s part of a team’s reconstruction for the following season, preparing for the NHL Draft and Free Agency. The second window should be in mid-November. Statistically speaking as it stands right now, if a team is out of the playoffs by American Thanksgiving, their odds of making the playoffs are all but gone. That’s way too soon to put a cross on a team’s season due to a slow start.
The third buyout window should be just before trade deadline. This would facilitate player-movement by trade deadline, and for contending teams to pick up some players who were on too rich of a contract at a more affordable price as UFAs at that time.
Keep in mind that those buyout windows will allow players to become UFAs and sign with whomever they want, and make room for other more deserving players to be added on the teams. Also, it would help alleviate a huge loophole where teams trade assets for nothing in return, or for cap space. The NHL has made illegal trading cash in trades yet, allows to trade cap space. It makes no sense.
☞ Limit guaranteed contracts
I see this as a compromise, not as being imposed to the players. There is no way that the NHLPA would accept having given up a hard salary cap and having to now give up their guaranteed contracts and I’m with them on that. What could (or should) be negotiated however is to set a number of years limit of guarantee.
Arbitrarily, I would like to see the guaranteed portion of the contracts be somewhere around three years. If a player signs a five year contract, the first three would be guaranteed. On the fourth year, sometime before free agency, a team could walk out of that deal and allow the player to become a UFA, or to renegotiate a new contract. If teams chose to continue with that contract, it would be reviewed again in a year’s time, and so on until the contract is up.
☞ Bring UFA age up
I’m not suggesting bringing it back up to 31 years old here. But in order for teams to keep their good players longer, particularly in smaller market, bumping the UFA age by one or two years would make a world of difference. It was 31, now it’s 27, split the difference and make it 29?
☞ franchise player
I don’t like this one as much as it only benefits one player on each team but… some people like that idea. Perhaps each team, during the off-season, could name one player on their roster whose salary will not count against the cap? So a Connor McDavid would not count, allowing the Oilers to add another player or two to their roster, or leaving more cap space for in-season’s trades. It’s something to consider or at least, to think about.
So there, you have it. Will this happen? Allow me to doubt it because I clearly don’t think like the NHL’s Commissioner. I strongly believe that he does not think for the betterment of the game, but solely for putting more money in the owners’ pockets. His actions since 1993 have all pointed to that. In order to get people to work towards a common goal, you need a leader, a trusted authority to rally people. I’m not sure that’s what the NHL has. In fact, I don’t believe they do. But hey, it doesn’t mean that ideas from true fans of the game aren’t what’s best for hockey, right?