Monday, July 02, 2007

Free Agency So What?

The wallets of the NHL teams opened up yesterday for the crazy free agent signing period. Several players signed big money and long term deals with new clubs. Likely all this spending did not create any new Stanley Cup contenders. Nobody bought a winner. This is because nobody of significance was for sale. In fact only one of last summer's top 50 players according to The hockey News was purchased at all (Ryan Smyth bought by Colorado).

The big spenders? Philadelphia, New York Rangers, Colorado. The contracts large. We gave up an entire season of NHL hockey for this? Why? It certainly doesn't seem like much of anything changed.

As the salary cap inflates, so too do the contract sizes. The cap is $50.3 million for the upcoming season and it was $39 million when we returned from the lockout. This is an almost 29% increase in available salary cap room and presumably leads to a similar 29% increase in contract values. It has led to the absurd situation that players who were the best of a weak UFA crop like Daniel Briere will get paid far more than the true stars in the NHL (like Sidney Crosby, Roberto Luongo, Nicklas Lidstrom, Martin Brodeur). If one test of a salary structure is that the best players in the NHL are the highest paid, then the NHL fails.

Have loved the blog for some time but felt moved to post for the first time.

I know that you feel the CBA is geared to benefit the larger market teams (nothing new there) but an interesting thing seems to be happening with these front-loaded contracts.

As the Cap continues to rise, the gap between big market teams - who can push up against the cap - and smaller market teams - who will be guided by their own budgets more than the cap when signing/trading for players - will continue to grow. Players whose contracts are front-loaded over a longer term have their Cap "hit" reduced as it is averaged over the term of the contract. In later years of the contract however this is death for the big-market teams. The issue for say the Rangers in the Drury deal will not be the $ in year 5 of the deal but the fact that a more marginal player, at that point in his carear, is taking up $6.5million in Cap space. For a smaller market team the Cap hit isn't the issue, the actual dollars being paid out are and the $6.5 million Cap space won't matter since they will have lots of space, what they will need to do is to maximize value for money spent - this "front-loading" of contracts signed by the big market teams should give their smaller market competition some leverage at the trade table that they might not otherwise have.
It is entirely true that a smaller market team will have leverage to trade for such gems as a 37 or 38 year old Kimmo Timonen in a few years (unless he is playing so well that he is worth his cap hit - then Philly keeps him). I don't think this is much of an advantage. Trading for old overpaid players has never helped a weaker team grow. Sure they may get some kind of asset for taking on the cap hit that goes with timonen, but its unlikely to be any huge prize.
Agreed, not a huge prize but its something.
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