Monday, December 04, 2006

Re-Entry Waiver Problem Not Fixed

One problem that came with the new CBA last season is that of re-entry waivers. Last season, any player who was making more than $75,000 in the minors would have to clear waivers to be called up to the NHL. If a player was claimed on re-entry waivers, then the team that lost him would assume half his salary (and his salary cap hit) while the claiming team would get him at half price. In most cases, somebody would claim a player if the could get him at half-price. Teams nearly the salary cap could not afford to risk calling up such players because they could not afford to lose them and still have to pay half their salary as well as the salary of whichever player had to fill their spot after they were lost. Effectively, this means that if a player making above the limit gets sent ot the minors he is stuck there for the rest of the season. It is too risky to bring him back.

This created problems with the minor pro hockey leagues. The minor league players in the Professional Hockey Players Association (which represents the AHL and the ECHL) sued the NHL. They claimed this was an illegal clause in the NHL CBA since it effectively capped salaries in the minors at $75,000 per player and this cap was imposed upon these players in negotiation by the NHLPA, a union to which that are not member. The Winnipeg Free Press falsely reported a solution (and I believed them). There was a proposal that any player with over 320 professional games (180 if its a goalie) would be exempt from re-entry waivers. That was not what was eventually agreed upon. They instead agrreed to raise the salary limit to $95,000 and keep the rule the same.

This means that any player on a one-way contract (where they dont get paid at a lower rate in the minors cannot be called back up except in rare circumstances).

So far this season, two players have been claimed on re-entry waivers. Nashville claimed Michael Leighton on re-entry waivers from Anaheim when Tomas Vokoun got hurt. Why not get a half-priced backup goalie to get through the injury? Tampa Bay claimed Andre Roy from Pittsburgh. Roy had a successful run with the Lightning in the past and they let him go partially because of payroll concerns - but at half-price why not?

Los Angeles finds themselves with one of the most awkward two goalie systems in the NHL. Dan Cloutier has played very poorly while he has shared Kings goaltending responsibilites with Mathieu Garon, who has been much more adequate. Garon is currently out with a groin injury. Los Angeles has Jason LaBarbera, who was their backup last season, playing very well in the minors. So naturally they brought up Barry Brust instead. They did this because LaBarbera must clear re-entry waivers to get back to the NHL. If Leighton got claimed, LaBarbera would most definitely get claimed as well. But Los Angeles doesn't want to give away LaBarbera so they keep him in the minors and use other weaker goalies in the NHL.

This is another example of the CBA keeping the best players from the NHL. It fits with the players who are left on the sideline or going to Europe because of the CBA, when they are good enough for the NHL. We also have players stuck in the AHL who are good enough for the NHL, but cannot get there due to the CBA. In fact, re-entry waivers is a big part of the reason some of the players go to Europe. They risk a situation where they get stuck in the AHL, unable to be promoted or else accept a two-way contract. So why not go to Europe where they will have a better situation and quite possibly more money? The NHL should be the league of the best available players in the world, but the red tape they have imposed on themselves is chipping away at that.

Here is James Mirtle on the Jason LaBarbera situation.

It's there to encoruage (force) more players to want to go with a 2-way contract. If a player is just looking for money then an NHL contract is fine but they may get stuck in the minors like LaBarbera. If a player is looking for opportunities at the NHL level then a 2-way contract would keep more doors open. To some extent it is a players choice on which route to go. Money or opportunities.

An interesting contract was signed in the summer between the Leafs and Eric Westrum. Westrum signed a 2 year deal which was a one-way deal this year and a two-way deal next year. I believe he did this because he doesn't need to go through waivers this season because of his age and experience but next year he would. So to keep the ability to be promoted to the NHL on a short term basis he chose to go the 2-way route in the second year of the contract.

But just as it keeps LaBarbera out of the NHL it is keeping others in the NHL. If it weren't for this clause Andre Roy would not be in the NHL right now and if he is an NHL calibre talent (someone believes so) then this clause helped keep talent in the NHL. Same thing could potentially happen with John Leclair. No team wants him at his salary but at half of his salary the value proposition becomes more favorable. We might see Leclair finish the season in the NHL solely because of this clause so this clause works in both directions.
It may be intended to force players onto 2-way contracts, but the more likely consequence is to force those players who are NHL talents to Europe instead.

As a fan, I do not gain when NHL calibre players are kept out of the NHL for any reason. The re-entry waiver rule keeps NHL calibre players out of the NHL.
It also keeps players like Roy and possibly Leclair in the NHL so it depends on your perspective. For the most part we are talking about fringe players though so I am not all that concerned but I see your point.
The number of NHL jobs is unchanged by the re-entry waiver rules. So while vit keeps some players in the NHL it also keeps better players who teams would rather have on their rosters out of the league.

If there are 700 players in the NHL, I would like to see them be the 700 best in the world. That isn't the case. Sometimes teams call up a player who should not be there to prevent losing a better player on waivers. Other times, teams do not send to the minors players who should not be on their roster because they would not be able to recall them should they need them in the future.

I am not sure it only affects fringe players. It pushes young players who might have a lot of potential to Europe - because it is better than a two way contract or exile to the AHL where they cannot come back. We don't know how good they will be. Some will likely be able to become good players if only they were given the chance. This system does not afford them this chance.
The salary cap has a far bigger effect on keeping (better) players out of the league. Third and fourth line players are going to see their salaries squeezed down to the league minimum as the first and second line players get the highest percentage of the cap space. A 3rd/4th line Russian player can make just as much playing in home country as he can make in the NHL. Evgeny Artyukhin of Tampa is a perfect example. While the waiver recall rule might keep fringe NHLers out of the league, the salary cap keeps quality NHLers out of the league.
The salary cap is part of the problem. The re-entry waiver rule is another part of the problem.

This CBA keeps capable NHL players out of the league in order to cut costs. That does not benefit the fan.
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I didn't know that it was something that they added to those player in a way it makes thing a little bit unfair.
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