Every devout hockey fan loves an exciting free agency season in the summer. The shocking and unexpected moves make us jump for joy, question a GM’s motives, and leave us in great anticipation for the next season to start.
But the 2011 free agency market has turned into an absolute frenzy. It’s gotten to the point for me personally where I don’t think the casual hockey fan understands what the $300 million and growing amount could mean for the sport.
One word: lockout.
Lockouts have become a trend in sports as of late. The NFL has been locked out since the beginning of the summer, and just last week the NBA locked out its players. Unlike football and basketball, the NHL has already had a lockout since the 2000s started.
And what was the lockout for? So a forward like Joel Ward can score 10 goals (his best ever) and be rewarded with a 4 year $12.5M contract? Or a defenseman like Ed Jovanoski, who just finished one of his worst seasons, can get a $16.5M contract over 4 years – at age 35?
How about Erik Cole getting $18 million for 4 years? Those were some of the signings that transpired in the first day of free agency and by July 3, 2011 it seemed every NHL signing had the look of teams spending in excess to get something, anything. Even Brad Richards at $60 million over 9 years – Richards will be 40 when his contract with the New York Rangers is done – seems inflated (while skilled, Richards is also a career minus-72).
NHL Teams Spending to Reach Floor of Salary Cap
One of the largest issues is that the salary cap is leaving certain teams, like the Florida Panthers, spending insane amounts of money to reach the $48 million salary cap floor. After adding the always overrated/over expensive Brian Campbell, the Panthers signed Jovo, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Jose Theodore and traded for Kris Versteeg. Most came in at numbers that were higher than reason would suggest they should be.
Buy-Outs of Players
Some teams don’t prefer to spend to get to the floor. But when a team starts spending money like the Panthers have, it sets a trend that the rest of the league has to follow if they want to compete. In at least one occasion the cap forced a team, the Rangers, to spend so that they could keep spending, as New York did when they bought out the contract of the underachieving and overpaid Chris Drury so they had the money in cap space to burn on Richards.
Current NHL CBA Expires Before 2012-2013 Season
As the Washington Capitals pony up all that money on Joel Ward and he plays like he should be in the 1.5 million dollar a year range and as Jovanovski hits 38 and plays average for his 4.1 million per and Erik Cole is a bust for his 4.5 million the person it will make the biggest impression on may be NHL boss Gary Bettman.
After all it’s his job, as much as anything, to make certain his owners are making as much profit as they can manage. And there is no profit in overpaying players and this was not what the NHL lock-out and the current CBA were designed to do. So when this CBA expires on September 15, 2012 look for Bettman and the owners to seek to lower the cap floor in the next.
The players won’t like it but, shy of another lock-out, there won’t be a thing they can do about it.