Parity. The safety net of the over-zealous big spenders.
It truly has been amazing to see the deals that have been made in the Summer of 2011 that include some pretty big contracts, both in dollar value and in length. Myself, personally, can’t say that surprise is the right word, because historically speaking, we’ve seen lots of deals come out of left field, deals that have made us scratch our head and say ‘huh?’ and deals that have made us fall out of our chair in disbelief. The amazement really comes from the stories that have set these deals up, the roster moves that have been made to force the issue and just the intrigue that ‘if this one deal has happened, what could possibly come next?’
Brian Rolston, Eric Fehr, Joe Corvo, Kris Versteeg, Ryan Smyth, Robyn Regehr, Brian Campbell, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are all examples of players who have been dealt since July 1st that would constitute as being traded as salary dumps. In some cases through that list, these players were thought to have deals that would be awfully tough to move, but these immovable objects were up against an unstoppable force… parity.
Since the salary cap system was introduced after the lock-out of 2005, it has truly evolved from a limiter of spending in accordance to incoming league revenues to a beast that has grown an extra head, one that forces teams to spend at least a certain amount. We all can agree that there are three different types of teams now in this post-lockout era, teams that spend to the ceiling, teams that don’t worry about the cap and teams that budget for the cap floor. At the same time, there has been one consistent fact… free agents are going to get paid. They will be paid huge sums of money and will remain on the payroll for years upon years.
As long as there are teams spending to the cap ceiling, teams that are struggling to get to the floor (or somewhere in between), top free agents and franchise players getting paid, we will likely get to see these big deals getting done.
Thanks to the wonderful work done by the always helpful website CapGeek.com, there is just no hiding for teams and their spending habits. With the salary cap eclipsing the $60 million mark for the 2011-’12 season (all the way up to $64.3 million), we can now count the teams that have gone over the $60 million plateau, knowing full well that these teams have the philosophy of ’spend money to win games.’ Buffalo, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Vancouver are all on my list of teams that have projected rosters that have a cap hit of $60 million or more. It may not read the same as what CapGeek has speculated, but it’s pretty close.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the salary cap floor goes up, much like the ceiling getting raised. The 11% raise at the bottom took the salary cap floor up from $43.4 million to $48.3 million, which has made some teams and their bottom lines quiver at the potential for spending that much money. Nashville, Long Island, Colorado, Phoenix, Winnipeg, Dallas, Ottawa and Carolina all have figures that are currently below the salary cap floor, although most of those teams are still a player or two short of climbing into the safe area.
The beauty of the salary cap system is that the guidelines for spending have been pretty good for keeping the competitive balance alive. There are teams at either end of the spectrum that have found some kind of success with their designated spending, while other teams are getting what they’ve paid for. Of course, spending is not the only factor for a team’s success or failure, but it is a pretty good measuring stick.
Taking the two lists, the spenders and the thrifty, we can look at a good number of the deals that have been made in the off-season and write the story of parity spreading itself out over top of the league again. Philadelphia, a team that likes to spend money for winning, decided to change the overall philosophy of their team, moving large cap numbers (Richards, Carter and Versteeg) to teams that could (or in some cases, needed to) take on that sort of cap hit, thus making the recipients a better team with a bit more skill and paying for it to become cap compliant.
I think it should also not be forgotten that the change of the NHL landscape doesn’t just happen when the salary cap numbers are released in June, there are the odd tremors that can shift contracts and players around… new ownership. The Buffalo Sabres, for example, welcomed a new owner near the end of last season, Terry Pegula, and he is a man on a mission. Pegula has given the Sabres management what they have been doing without for way too long, spending ability. The influx of new money has changed the Sabres from a once tightly budgeted team to a free spending cap ceiling occupant. The Sabres have done a heck of a job spending money, picking up some quality talent and now having one of the league’s top payrolls going into the beginning of August.
Of course, there is a polar opposite in this regard as well, which sees the Dallas Stars having some ownership issues, trying to sell the club and not being able to commit the same money they once did, thus having to let superstar centre Brad Richards go to unrestricted free agency. The Stars will be forced to spend money, staying around the salary cap floor until some new money comes in and they can try to compete again, but with the right management, they should still be able to stay relatively competitive in a fast-paced Pacific Division.
I think if the last 12 months has taught us anything, it could very well be that the phrase, ‘you can’t move that contract,’ cannot be uttered whole-heartedly again. Let’s face it, with the cap numbers escalating, NHL ownership polarized and CBA loopholes that can inflate or hide contracts for the purposes of being compliant, I don’t think any deal is 100% stuck anywhere. There is always going to be a general manager who likes a player like Ilya Kovalchuk, despite his monster contract, or there is always going to be a general manager who will help another team out (for a price) with their cap woes. Some teams may find themselves in harder positions than others, but the possibility should always be there.