Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NHL millionaires riding buses in the AHL

What better way to illustrate how the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement is not working well then by looking at the plight of a growing group of NHL players banished to the AHL. They aren’t playing in the AHL because their hockey skills have diminished to the point they can no longer play in the NHL. These players have been demoted to create cap space so their team can acquire better players for the same money. All these players would be playing in the NHL if they were earning less money.

Here are just some of ex-NHL millionaires that have been riding the buses in the minors: ex-Blue Jacket Mike Commodore ($3.73 million), ex-Oiler Sheldon Souray ($5.5 million), ex-Ranger Wade Redden ($6.5 million), ex-Leaf Jeff Finger ($3.5 million), ex-Flame Ales Kotalik ($3.0 million) and ex-Flyer Michael Leighton ($3.1 million) who re-appeared for the playoffs.

So what do these players have in common besides being overpaid? Except for Commodore, they played for big market teams. Big market teams can afford to bury their mistakes in the minors to free up cap space to spend some more. They still have to pay the player’s salary but it doesn’t count against the cap. Smaller market teams could do the same but don’t have the money to spend on a replacement, so their mistakes remain on the NHL roster.

This is just another loophole that big market teams use to their advantage. The other well publicized loophole is the front-end loaded contract like the one New Jersey had worked out with Ilya Kovalchuk over the summer. The trick is to extend the length of the contract to beyond a point where the player will still be playing and then pay the bulk of the salary in the first few years. This reduces the average salary and the cap hit which increases the amount available to spend on salaries. Again, this strategy is not really viable for small market teams since they don’t bother to spend right up to the cap limit. These loopholes allow some teams to spend around $65 million per season on salaries when the limit is $59 million.

Though no one is feeling sorry for the poor guy banished to the AHL for getting too rich of a contract, it really unfair. They signed a contract in good faith expecting a job in the NHL and end up in the minors. There is no escape for them unless another NHL team agrees to take on their salary. The NHL's waiver system makes it unlikely any of these players will be back in the big league anytime soon. If a player is picked up on waivers, both his new team and his old team must add half the player's salary to their salary cap total.

They aren’t complaining because afterall they are earning big time money. But they would love to be playing in the NHL just the same.

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