Friday, January 16, 2009

Al Strachan Doesn't Have a Clue About the Cap Crunch

OK, so that title is pretty harsh. I'm sure he's a nice guy and does have a clue about some things. After all, you don't get a job writing for Fox Sports for nothing. That being said, his most recent article gets filed under the category of 'Are You Freaking Kidding Me?!?' for an egregious way of thinking (Warning, dear reader: long post ahead).

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.


  1. Good Post. I agree that many teams are in better situations to deal with the current economic crisis and I also have to agree that Al Strachan doesn't get the cap. That said I think that all NHL teams need to figure out a way to get through this. I think the Penguins may be the worst off of all the teams in the league now that they have 3 top centers on a team and now they won't have the money to spend on a real scoring winger for ANY of the their 3 centers.

  2. "After all, you don't get a job writing for Fox Sports for nothing" Considering what he wrote, I wouldn't be so sure...

    Pens couldn't find a scoring winger (Malkin not counted) to Sid's side even if they had all the money in the world..

  3. I am confused ... I thought player salaries went down if the cap did. Ie. if you make 10 million and the cap goes down ten percent you now make 9 million. That way it does not matter what you sign for because the cap adjusts. All these commentators never mention that. Always just doom and gloom ... Am I wrong?

  4. @patty: As far as I know, if the cap goes down, teams will be forced to cut and/or trade players. The contracts do not simply get reduced, although that might sound logical, the NHLPA would probably have a problem with that.

  5. If you are Questioning Al you must be a hockey retard. Have you ever read the Toronto Sun? Have you ever played hockey? Why do you think players like sean avery and ray emery aren't playing in the NHL? Hockey players Know they are not better than the game.Bettman is the worst thing that ever happened to hockey. He has no idea what hockey is,and the NHLPA is just another power hungry union looking out for the upper crust and letting marginal players fend for themselves.

  6. @goaliedey: That doesn't even relate to what we're talking about... But thanks.

  7. @Kevin: I am sure it is so. Thats why they have the escrow .... if the revenues go down, the players do not get that money. The NHLPA might have a problem with that, but its already is in the CBA. If the cap were to drop to 20 million next year, you cannot trade because everyones over, and you cannot cut the contracts they are guarenteed and count against the cap anyway. Thats why its so annoying when everyone talking about the cap going down because thats already accounted for in the CBA. I am fairly certain I am right, but its worth looking into. I let you know if I find any concrete.

  8. @patty: After reading your comments and some of the news about escrow today (specifically mirtle:, I think you would be correct. Or at the very least, you're a lot closer than I am. I'm still curious as to how things work from season-to-season. Say this year players lose 20% to escrow and the cap is 42 million (I didn't do the math, just an example for a hypothetical). Does the cap for next year then start at 42?

  9. @Kevin&Patty:
    From what I can tell, if the salary cap lowers or raises that does not affect the salaries of any player who is currently under contract. We've heard the 20% rule, in that a player cannot be paid more than 20% of the team's entire budget, but even in the event that the salary cap drops and a player's current contract now accounts for 20%+ of the team's payroll, their contract will not shrink accordingly. If it did, then none of these long contracts would be an issue and frankly it would remarkably easy to dole out contracts to your players if you knew that their paycheque would rise and fall with the cap.