Monday, July 18, 2005

How Will This CBA Playout?

The consensus opinion in the mainstream media is that this CBA is a wonderful thing for hockey. It will make all small market teams instantly competitive. Here is a typical article on this topic. This one is written by Robin Brownlee of the Edmonton Sun.

Ken Campbell of the Toronto Star has a different opinion. He argues that the lowered unrestricted free agency age will drive the most talented NHL players into the biggest NHL markets for their best seasons and this will hurt the small markets.

Colby Cash diagrees with this assessment and argues it in is his blog.

Of course Tom Benjamin has opinions on these topics. Here is his response to Ken Campbell and here is his response to Colby Cash.

My opinion on the topic. To some degree we will have to wait and see exactly hopw this CBA plays out. However, I do have some early opinions. It is clear that with reduced unrestricted free agency ages, that it will become possible to buy a future hall of fame player in the prime years of his career. This was not true under the last CBA. Drafting that future hall of famer is of far less value if he can leave as a free agent before he has the best years of his career. Drafting in general is much less important to building a championship team. The key to building a championship team will likely become buying the best free agents on the market. Of course a salary cap will prevent any one team from buying all the top free agents. This is necessary because it would otherwise become possible to buy a top team on the free agent market - something that was not true under the last CBA because the best players in the game never became unrestricted free agents until they were on the downsides of their careers. The most elite free agents will likely wind up in the largest markets. This will always be the case. Even if the team cannot offer them the largest hockey salary under a salary cap, they can have the largest total salary including advertising and other large market benefits (the same way Gretzky did more commercials as an LA King then as an Edmonton Oiler). Capologists will become extremely important to teams. If this salary cap is seen to be somewhat leaky, the large markets will still be able to outspend everyone else only this time they will be able to buy the best players in the league when they do so. That is a nightmare scenario. That is when championships will be bought. The small market teams will still buy free agents (they will have to as player movement will significantly increase - thery will have no other way to fill out their rosters) but they will buy the leftovers that the big markets passed up on.

In the short term before the free agency age drops too much, I think the key is to reading the new CBA and figuring out how to deal with it as fast as possible. There are a lot of players available this summer. A smart GM who is fast off the blocks will have a great opportunity. This is why I think New Jersey has a very good shot at the 2006 Stanley Cup.

On the whole, I like the last CBA. I thought it was arguably the fairest CBA's to the fan. I'm not sold that this one will beat it. I would not be suprised if it falls flat.

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