Mr. Strachan's piece yesterday that was so eloquently titled 'Cap having negative effect on teams,' is having a negative effect on my eyes. It hurts me just sitting here and reading it.
The NHL's salary cap has ballooned from $39 million when it was instituted in 2005 to the $56.7 million mark it current sits at. That's a 45% increase in only three seasons! And as the salary cap ballooned, so did contracts for players. Somewhere along the line, everyone decided it would be a good idea to not only had out a lot of money but also to do it for a long period of time. Now, given the economy and the possibility of the cap decreasing (oh, the horror!), some teams are in a bind.
To be fair, a lot of us did not see the severity of the current economic crisis coming. To be fair, NHL GMs probably did not either. However, to assume that the salary cap would continue to go sky high through leaps and bounds each year was simply foolish. At some point, recession or not, it's going to level out even if only for a couple years. And now NHL teams are paying for not doing their homework.
In an NHL where everything that goes wrong is blamed on Gary Bettman -- by most people including myself -- and everything that goes right isn't necessarily credited to him, it's natural to blame Bettman for cap concerns. But Mr. Bettman isn't the one to lay blame on this time.
Because of the salary cap that Bettman imposed, the Lightning and Senators are toast for years to come. How is that good for the fans? More important, how is that good for the National Hockey League?
When the Lightning gave a mega-deal to Vinny Lecavalier, Gary Bettman was not the one forcing either side to do so. It's not his fault either party signed the deal and it's not his fault the Bolts may not currently have the money to back it up. And honestly, how do you sign someone to that kind of a deal if you don't? The Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators mis-managed themselves into a mess. No one made the Senators commit $19 million to their top three forwards. No one made the Bolts spend$2.5 million on
Oldaf Olaf Kolzig, $4 million on Andrej Meszaros and $2 million on Jeff FREAKING Halpern.
And there's no guarantee that these two teams are the only ones that will be adversely affected. They're just the first. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, among others, could soon find themselves in the same boat.Sorry, tough luck. This is why some teams fail and others flourish. It's all about how you play the game and in the NHL that game isn't only the one on the ice, it's also the one in the board room -- managing the salary cap. The rules changed and different teams took different approaches. If your approach failed, well, that's life.
No, Bettman did not print up a manual saying that teams must sign star players to mega deals to be successful under a salary cap. The whole principle of a cap system is that it takes away the advantage of being able to simply throw money at players -- that's what was happening before the cap was implemented. Now, under a cap system, there's more emphasis on who can draft well, grow their own talent, and most importantly, decide which free agents are worth the money and which aren't. Misjudge a player? Sorry, get a better scouting staff.
When Vinny Lecavalier, Thomas Vanek, Danny Briere, Alex Ovechkin and a whole host of others were signed to monster contracts by their teams it wasn't Bettman holding a gun to their head. The rules of the NHL had changed and for a while everyone decided to play follow the leader -- the leader being Charles Wang giving Rick DiPietro 15 years and a truck load of cash -- and lock up big names to big deals. They did so instead of studying the cap and trying to come up with a best course of action. What may be best for the folks on Long Island, may not be the best for Philadelphia or Tampa Bay.
I've been an advocate of the cap since about 1997 and I think what we're seeing here is that nobody really did their homework on it.
In the NFL, teams have a 'capologist' whose job it is to know anything and everything about the cap. While the NHL's cap isn't that complicated and teams may not have money to hire someone like this, it isn't the worst idea in the world to at least study the darned thing. I think everyone is slowly waking up to the realization that many teams just assumed the cap would continue to rise and never really bothered to look at the long term outlook.
What is happening in Tampa Bay is another variation on the same salary-cap theme. Thanks to a number of quality players, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. Thanks to the salary cap, they couldn't keep those players. Out went Brad Richards, Nik Khabibulin, Pavel Kubina and Dan Boyle.That's where I give up, Mr. Strachan. If you honestly believe the situation unfolding in Tampa Bay has to do with Bettman's imposition of a salary cap, I don't know what to tell you. In a matter of six months, the Lightning have become the poster child of how not to run a franchise under these conditions. If they're not the only ones who don't know how to do it, well, that's business. Just like on Wall Street, some businesses thrive while others fail. It's simply the way of the world.
I don't know about you, but I'd much rather sit here and listen to Mr. Strachan complain about how teams are mismanaging their money under a salary cap than listen to 20 teams complain about how they can't afford to keep up with the buckets of cash big market clubs were throwing at free agents before the lockout. Think about it. Is that really what we should go back to?
This system was designed to save the owners from themselves. Sometimes, there are people that you can't save.