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Monday, September 27, 2010

Priorities: Wade Redden and Cristobal Huet

In the last few days, both the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks decided to rid themselves of an overpaid, underperforming player. The Rangers waived $6.5-million-dollar-man Wade Redden. Not surprisingly, none of the other 29 teams in the NHL wanted to take on his salary, so Redden is now in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale.

Meanwhile, in Chicago...the Blackhawks loaned goalie Cristobal Huet to HC Fribourg-Gotteron SA of the Swiss National League. The Hawks are still on the hook for Huet's $5.625mil salary for the next two years, but no word yet (that I can find, anyway) on how much the Swiss team will be kicking in.

From a team standpoint, both moves made sense: Get rid of an aging, expensive veteran to clear precious cap space. For either team to keep these players, other moves would've been necessary, and comparable, cheaper players were available.

Both the Redden and Huet situations have a troubling aspect, however: While both players are past their prime, both can still play at the NHL level. The only reason they were thrown overboard was because the salary cap-weight (cap hit) of their contracts was too much to bear.

As a Rangers fan, I've railed against Wade Redden and his terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad contract for the past two seasons. Last season, I was able to admit Redden was/is still a serviceable defenseman, but he's grossly overpaid. If he were making, say, $1-$1.5mil, I don't believe I'd have burned Redden in effigy nearly as often. More importantly, I'm sure he would still be a New York Ranger today, were his contract more in line with his abilities.

Cristobal Huet's case is similar. He can no longer be considered a reliable starting goalie (whether he ever could is debatable), but...if he were making $1.25mil, instead of $5.625mil, I'm sure most Blackhawks fans would rather see Huet in the backup role than Corey Crawford.

Obviously, team management deserves a fair share of blame for both situations...and I'm not just talking about Glen Sather and Dale Tallon: signing a free agent can be much like an auction, and both the Rangers and Blackhawks had to outbid other teams to "win" the players in question. Thus, other bidders (teams) contributed to inflating the players' perceived value.

Player agents also get a serving of blame. Obviously, it's an agents' job to get as much money for his client as he possibly can. As the agent gets a percentage of that money, he's got plenty of incentive to do his job to the best of his ability. By "doing their best", however, two agents contributed to the premature end of their clients' NHL careers. Since those agents will still be paid in full, why should they care which league their clients end up in?

Ultimately, the players themselves must also be held accountable, for they signed on the dotted line. At the time, I doubt either Redden or Huet realized they were ending their NHL careers by agreeing to those terrible contracts. I'll always wonder if either player thought to himself, "Wow - there's no way I'm worth that much money!"

To my knowledge, neither player offered to take a pay cut or to otherwise restructure his contract in order to remain in the NHL, so it seems clear Huet is content with his Cup ring, and Redden would rather be the highest-paid player in the AHL than to have a shot at Lord Stanley's Cup. They've chosen their respective paths. It's unfortunate - sad, even - to see two NHL careers ended not by retirement, but by greed.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010-11 Season Keys in Threes

It's Hockey Time again, boys and girls! As we OGA Boys prepare for puck droppage on our third season of prescient prognostication, statistical analysis and semi-literate blogging, we're changing our focus somewhat: In 2010-11, we'll be concentrating more on the NHL's non-traditional market clubs. You see, Frozen Pill and Big Tex live in the Dallas area, while The Colonel currently resides in Louisiana (where the NHL "market" consists of...The Colonel's house), so we have a certain affinity for non-trad teams. Besides, they don't get no respect, and we love underdogs.

Though the majority of our blogging will be related to the non-traditionals, we reserve the right to opine on any team in the NHL, at any time, for any reason. For example:

Even though Dallas icon Mike Modano now skates for The Hated Red Wings, they're still just as Hated...and we'll always love ya, Mike, but we don't like you very much right now.

See that? A post about Detroit - a non-traditional market team. We just blogged it. And we'll do it again, as the need arises.

Also, our pride and joy, the PQC, will still be running for the entire NHL, and we'll still be calling all 30 teams IN or OUT of the playoffs as they earn those designations. So there's no need to worry, as things ain't changin' all that much around here.

With that in mind, we humbly offer our Three Keys to the 2010-11 Season for the non-traditional market teams:

Frozen Pill's Teams: Carolina, Dallas, Phoenix and San Jose

Carolina Hurricanes - For CAR, the first thing I am looking for is to see if Staal, Ruutu, LaRose and Ward can stay healthy for the whole season because they are key to a strong Hurricane team. With them healthy to start the season, I am then looking for six-to-seven wins in the team's first 10 games to erase the memory of last year's dreadful start. And finally, I am looking to sneak Brandon Sutter under everyone's nose in my fantasy hockey draft because I think he is going to be hot on the puck this season.

Dallas Stars - For the post-Modano, post-Turco, post-Lehtinen(?) Stars, there’s nowhere to go but up. THE key, without which all others are meaningless, is the health of goalie Kari Lehtonen. If Lehtonen can stay on the ice (and off IR), the Stars have a very good chance of reclaiming a spot in the postseason. Next, Dallas needs a bounce-back season from d-man Matt Niskanen, who slipped from 35 points in 08-09 to just 15 points last go-round. The Stars’ third key to success this campaign is, essentially, the first two keys. Dallas must cut their Goals Against dramatically. Consider this: In 09-10, the Stars scored more goals (237) than 9 of 16 playoff teams. Unfortunately, they allowed more goals (254) than any of the 16 playoff teams. If Dallas can shave 20-25 goals off last seasons’ total Goals Against, they’re back in the playoffs.

Phoenix Coyotes - And with PHX, I want to see if they can continue to dominate with that 6.5-wins-in-10-games average clip they produced last year that brought them into the playoffs. I also want to see a healthy Scotty Upshall who was averaging better than a point in three of every five games before last year's injury. And, I cannot help myself, I have to keep following @biznasty2point0 on my Twitter account.

San Jose Sharks - Let's be honest: These aren't the three keys to San Jose making the playoffs; these are the keys to the Sharks going deep in the playoffs. First and foremost, it's a simple equation: Niemi + Niittymaki must be > Nabokov. If not, well...as Simon and Garfunkel so eloquently put it, "Hello, Darkness, my old friend...". Next, the Sharks must fill Rob Blake's skates, either through current d-men stepping up or via trade. Last, they must shift their focus from defeating last seasons' champs to this seasons' primary threats - Vancouver and Los Angeles.

The Colonel's Teams: Anaheim, Atlanta and Tampa Bay

Anaheim Ducks - For ANA, I want to know what kind of defense we will truly have because I know it is a magnitude weaker without Scott Niedermayer. I also am highly interested to find out if Emerson Etem and Cam Fowler can make the cut this season or not because of their potential. And finally, no matter who is on the blueline, I am looking for about a .600 winning percentage.

Atlanta Thrashers - As far as the Atlanta Thrasherhawks go, I am interested to see the entire team just hit the ice because they seem to have improved on paper in order of magnitude over the off-season. Also, since ATL gives us a 'tell' into their season's end early on, I am interested how they fare in the two back-to-back pairs of vs WSH/at TBL and vs TBL/at WSH they face in their first 10 games. And finally, I am going to be watching and hoping they are healthy in mid-December as some OGA Staffers and their boys take a road trip to ATL on 18 December to see his old team bang on Kovalchuk, a.k.a., the $100M Man.

Tampa Bay Lightning - And finally, for TBL I begin with wanting to see them with 23-25 wins (in combination) by Game 40 because that may just see them set a playoff-making tempo. I am also highly intrigued with a report from Damien Cristodero stating the Lightning's #1 PP unit is Stamkos - Lecavalier - St. Louis with Gagne and Kubina on the points and what that might do on the scoreboard. And I also want to see this squad healthy just before Christmas as that road trip beginning in ATL includes trucking south to see the all-non-traditional matchup of CAR @ TBL on 20 December.

Big Tex's Teams: Florida, Los Angeles, Nashville and Columbus*

Florida Panthers - Along with the rest of the Southeast Division, the Panthers spent the summer working on “home improvements”. Florida’s future success now rests on the shoulders of one Dale Tallon, architect of the Chicago Blackhawks Cup-winning team. Rome (or in this case, Sunrise) wasn’t built in a day, but Tallon’s Panthers could compete for a playoff spot next spring, IF…David Booth can regain his pre-concussion form of two seasons ago…Rusty Olesz plays up to his $3.125mil cap hit (early word from camp is good)…and if the Cats can get off to a better start than the 2-7-1 debacle which derailed the 09-10 season before Halloween.

Los Angeles Kings - Ask for Kovalchuk, settle for…Ponikarovsky? Actually, from a numbers standpoint, Poni is a replacement for Frolov, not a Kovy consolation prize. I want to see if the Big Boy from Kiev will still be good for 20 goals, playing on the third line. Speaking of the third line, I wonder if Wayne Simmonds will build on last seasons’ success (78GP, 16-24-40, +22), or was his 5.5-point increase in shooting percentage over 2008-09 a fluke? Last, but not least, will the Kings take the Pacific Division Crown from San Jose? If Jonathan Quick gets more nights off and both Willie Mitchell and Justin Williams are at 100%, that’s a very real possibility.

Nashville Predators - For five of the last six seasons, the Nashvillians have made the playoffs. In 2009-10, they were the only team in the NHL to tally 100+ points without a positive goal differential (they were exactly even). The theme in Music City is “Win Small, Lose Small”, and the Predators accomplish this with stifling defense. Thus, the three keys to a Preds playoff push next April are: 1. Pekka Rinne AND his backup (a goalie to be named later). Rinne has to stay healthy, and Nashville must find a backup solid enough to allow their No.1 a few nights off. 2. Pivots: Matthew Lombardi must be a more effective/consistent top line center than Jason Arnott was last season, and Colin Wilson must provide the Predators a desperately-needed 2nd line scoring threat. 3. Patric Hornqvist must meet or exceed last seasons’ performance. If all the above comes to pass, Nashville could very well capture their first divisional title.

(Ed. Note: The Colonel says Columbus is too far north to be considered a "non-traditional" market. Big Tex says if any negative team news, whether on- or off-ice, causes Canadian journalists and fans to crank up the POSSIBLE RELOCATION ALERT!!! sirens, it's a non-traditional market. Frozen Pill is wisely silent on the issue.)

Columbus Blue Jackets - For the Jackets to return to the playoffs this season, three things must happen: First, the team must adapt quickly to new head coach Scott Arniel's up-tempo system. Next, goalie Steve Mason has to return to his Calder Trophy-winning form (he showed signs of doing so late last season). Finally, the enigmatic Nikita Filatov must live up to his potential, as doing so will provide Columbus with a franchise first: TWO legitimate scoring lines.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

The NHL Weekend Roadie: Singing the Blues

In the first two installments of The NHL Weekend Roadie, we OGA Boys touted a four-games-in-three-days East Coast swing and a three-in-three West Coast walkabout. For the third weekend of the upcoming NHL season, OGA goes straight up the middle for two games in two days in The Gateway City, St. Louis.

The itinerary:

NHL Week Three (Friday, 22 OCT – Sunday, 24 OCT)

Friday, 22 OCT: Chicago @ St. Louis – The New and…Improved(?) Blackhawks make their first appearance of the season in Saint Loo on this night - the second meeting of the young season for these old Norris Division rivals (they play in Chicago on Monday, 18 OCT). Last season, the OGA Boys drove from Dallas to St. Louis for the Blues-Blackhawks game on 2 JAN, and it was well worth the trip. Blues fans are among the best in the league, and they really get fired up when the Hawks come to town. On this night, the house will be rockin’.

Saturday, 23 OCT: Pittsburgh @ St. Louis – Crosby, Malkin & Associates roll into town for an all-too-rare visit. I’m calling it right now: Blues’ Coach Davis Payne starts Ty Conklin against (one of) the goalie’s (five) former team(s), Cam Janssen goes at least two rounds against Eric Godard, and BJ Crombeen (6’2”, 210) drops the gloves with Mike Rupp (6’5”, 230) and battles him to an epic draw. Who wins the game? Who cares? It’s gonna be fun to watch.

Back-to-back games in the same city. What more could you ask for? Another Penguins game? Okay, fly into Nashville on Thursday, 21 OCT for Penguins @ Predators, then rent a car and drive the 309 miles to St. Louis in about five hours on Friday morning. On Sunday, it’s an easy drive back to Music City for your flight home.

HOTELS – Currently on Hotwire.com (where prices change all the time), a 3.5-star hotel room near the airport can be had for just $55/night on the weekend of 22-24 OCT, while 3.5 stars downtown (within walking distance of the Scottrade Center) will cost you $69/night. If money is no concern, skip Hotwire and stay just two blocks away from the arena at the Union Station Marriott for $169/night, or four blocks away at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch for $139/night. (NOTE: the OGA Boys booked the Hyatt Regency through Hotwire last January for $69/night)

FLIGHTS – Strategically located in Middle America, St. Louis is a short flight from most locales. Direct flights are available from 22 of 29 NHL cities. (Toronto is the only Canadian NHL city with direct service to St. Louis, while San Jose and Buffalo are the only American NHL cities without it.)

FOOD – There are at least two good reasons to eat at St. Louis’ Iron Barley: oak roasted pork tenderloin and schnitzel with spaetzle. Both entrees are Certified OGA Tested and Approved. This small, crowded-but-worth-the-wait restaurant won’t disappoint. On the other hand, if you have the opportunity to sample some authentic St. Louis-style pizza…PASS. Two main features distinguish St. Louis-style pizza from the rest of the pizza universe: a thin, cracker-like crust and Provel cheese. The thin crust is fine. Provel, on the other hand, is a blend of Provolone, Swiss and White Cheddar cheeses, the end result being a taste similar to Cheez Whiz, and a texture reminiscent of half-dried Elmer’s glue. If you’re one of those kids who ate glue back in grade school, it’s a trip down memory lane.

TICKETS – The Blues split their home games into five categories: Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Value. Single-game ticket pricing varies accordingly. Both games of this roadie fall into the Platinum category, so good lower-level seats will run a minimum of $65 plus additional facility charges, service charges, convenience fees, transaction fees, etc. (Thank you, Ticketmaster!) Said fees vary according to the base ticket price, but a $65 ducat will cost you $74.70, plus a transaction fee of roughly $2-$4 (and more, depending upon which method of delivery you choose). As of this writing, great seats are still available for both games.

GETTING AROUND – The Gateway City is easy to navigate by car, but the Metrolink light rail system is also quite hassle-free and runs from the airport to the Scottrade Center and beyond. Metrolink doesn’t run everywhere, though: Iron Barley, for example, is a cab or bus ride from the nearest train station.

The third NHL Weekend Roadie is an easy trip, perfect for those who don’t want to spend a sizable chunk of their time on the road. Two guaranteed-good games in two nights. Passionate, friendly fans. A great city with some great food (Provel-laced pizza aside). Time to make reservations, buy tickets and pack a bag, hockey fans.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The 2010-11 Black And Blue Schedule – The Colonel

‘B&B’ decidedly does NOT stand for Bed and Breakfast. Not when it comes to Hockey.

No, for those of us who like our Hockey hard-playin’ and rivalry-driven, the NHL has given us the real B&B, what I like to call the ‘Black and Blue Schedule.’

On many occasions, they have given us back-to-back, home-and-away games between clubs with nobody to focus team energy, effort and anger upon but the same team who last scored on you, put that vicious check on your forward in the corner, or taunted you no end. (Some times, Gary Bettman and the NHL Scheduler need a big hug, and this would be one of ‘em.)

My theory is that, due to the increased nature of competition against the same foe for a consecutive game, the following things will happen in Game 2 of the pairing:

1. The opposite team will win the game

2. The likelihood of the game going into OT / SO is higher

3. There will be more penalty minutes awarded

And the above will apply even more so when it is an intra-Divisional game.

Using these three simple measures, we will compare these contests against the above criteria throughout the season. Below are the matchups we are going to cover with emphasis on comparing Game 2 to Game 1 in relation to the above three criteria. (Intra-divisional matchups are in BOLD font!)

We are also interested in two matchups for the Dallas Stars where they face a foe back to back but their foe has a game in between (ANA 12 & 16 NOV & SJS 13 & 16 DEC). Same goes for STL 18 & 22 OCT against CHI. Who will have the higher intensity in Dallas’ Game 2?

And we are curious to see how the LAK’s fare when they have two sets of back-to-back games over a five-day time span – will there be any gas left in the tank at the end of that week? (With 26 DEC vs ANA; 27 DEC @ SJS; 29 DEC @ PHX; and 30 DEC vs PHI – what a rough way to bring on New Year’s…)

Which of the above would you like to go see? How about NYI vs NYR, NJD vs PHI, CHI vs NSH, EDM vs VAN, CHI vs DET, or LAK vs ANA?

Which ones are not there you’d like added next year? How about OTT vs MTL for Eastern Canadian bragging rights? Or some TOR vs DET or BUF for USA versus Canada action? More CGY vs EDM for the championship of Alberta? TBL vs FLA for an in-state rivalry which is going to do nothing but heat up between Dale talon and Steve Yzerman? And who from Texas can pass up a DAL vs DET pairing?

Regardless of your preference, if you are a Hockey fan clear the decks for action because we both kick off the season with three pairings in the NHL’s 2010 European Premier and close it out again with three more, intra-Divisional pairs.

Take me to On Goal Analysis and the OGA Blogs.
1. 4.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

If I Subscribed To Conspiracy Theories – The Colonel

Two events that have unfolded/are unfolding in the NHL off season gives a fella pause.

Sometimes suffering through the doldrums of the summer Hockey off-season is a bit like being adrift out on the waters in your brand new C&C 131, waiting for a breeze to come along and pick up your sails.

So if you were otherwise bored, you could easily sit around and subscribe to Conspiracy Theories, like the Kovalchuk Ultimatum and Niemi, The Shark...

The Kovalchuk Ultimatum

According to NY Post writer Larry Brooks, the NHL has issued what I like to call “The Kovalchuk Ultimatum.” Within the article, it is claimed that the NHL will ‘grandfather’ all current contracts, but wants an alteration to the current CBA that limits the counting of any future contract money past age 40 and the dollars in any years after the first five in the Salary Cap. There is an apparent deadline of Friday, 3 September for a final answer on this issue.

But IF you got caught up in conspiracy theory, you might pause at a few spots along the path taken to this point with the following line of reasoning…

Lou Lamoriello needs a player like Kovalchuk to get his team over the first/second round hump in the playoffs, so…

Lou signs Kovalchuk to a deal making him a Devil for life, but…

He still needs to be able to sign Parise next year, so puts in the ‘back end switcheroo’ to lower the overall Cap Hit a lot and promptly gets the first contract contested and voided;

AND Management/Team Owners have had it out for players throughout the history of hockey…

Lou is old school, and even apparently said he doesn’t like the kind of long term deal he concluded with Kovalchuk;

But then promptly forwards another, very similar contract to the NHL who apparently rejects it, simultaneously providing an ultimatum for the NHLPA to ratify changes to the Salary Cap structure, effectively ending the ‘old backend switcheroo;’

THEREFORE, Lou was working with the NHL to undermine the contract process at the expense of players to end these anti-old school contracts, right?


There was no collusion to force an alteration of the CBA before its scheduled renegotiation that was plotted, planned and executed by Lou Lamoriello on behalf of all other owners, the NHL, and Gary “The Evil Empire” Bettman himself.

How can you be sure because my logic above makes perfect sense?’ you ask.

Maybe to a paranoid tabloid reader. You are correct that Lou and the Devils need a player like Kovalchuk to get them over the hump come the post season. And they need Kovy AND Parise. After that, your conspiracy theory begins to take on water.

You are absolutely right Lou Lamoriello, GM of the New Jersey Devils, is old school. To his credit, he is a measure of the vanishing breed of folks who are all in for something they feel is important – in this case, putting together a winning Hockey club. That is why if you listened to the press conference, you heard him say ‘the name on the back is never bigger than the logo on the front,’ and once the deal was done, the Devils no longer care about anything except fitting that player into a system that can win.

You are allowed to scratch your head over why Mr. Lamoriello submitted a second contract that was similar to the first one. Heck, I did for a minute. But in 26 years in the military, I have thought long and hard on some tough issues and rubbed most of the hair off of the top of my head, only to find out the correct answer was something much easier.

But rather than surmising a grand scheme to end the long contract in the NHL by hacking off Mr. Bettman, ruminate on this: it is human nature to take the path of least resistance.

In contract negotiations, your competing input and sources of friction are: the current CBA; the player’s wants; expressed through his agent; the team’s balanced needs for that player plus taking care of the rest of the team; the NHLPA to ensure a player’s rights under the CBA are protected; back to NHL management to approve the whole process; and an independent arbitrator if there is an appeal of a decision against the contract. Like 40-grit sandpaper quality friction, that all is. Meet the CBA’s requirements and you only have the player, his agent and the team actively engaged in the process and all of the rest only passively doing their part. Aaaaah… Less resistance. And curiously enough, something ‘old school,’ which their accompanying experience knows.

I will hand you a mask and snorkel now as the crew abandons your sinking, conspiratorial ship.

Niemi, The Shark

In your descent with The Kovalchuk Ultimatum, your timing couldn’t be better as now you enter shark-infested waters. That’s the waters of Niemi, The Shark.

In a fit of final protest as you dog paddle around, asking for some floaties, I hear you say, “Wait! Wait! What about Niemi to the Sharks.”

“Huh?” I stupidly ask.

Paddle. Paddle. Follow me on this:

The Sharks lose to the Blackhawks in the Conference Finals; dang it – it was their turn to go for The Cup, and they have to GET those guys so they can go onward and upward next season…

But star goaltender Evgeni Nabokov announces on 7 July he is leaving to play for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL… Ruination!

‘Hey, wait a minute,’ they say – ‘There’s extreme Cap issues in The Windy City, so we can fix ourselves AND attack them at the weak point, all at the same time…’

So on 9 July, they send a rather large offer sheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson, which the ‘Hawks are goaded into matching on 12 July…

That contract for Hjalmarsson stalls pre-Arbitration talk with Stanley Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi who goes to arbitration on 29 July and is awarded less than $3M per year…

Which the Cap-strapped Blackhawks walk away from for a less-than-$2M-per-year contract with free agent Marty Turco, in turn…

Leaving Niemi to be signed by the Sharks on 2 September.

You see? Hjalmarsson’s offer sheet was a ruse to get Niemi under contract who will play for revenge against his old team, beat them, and put the Sharks in the Stanley Cup Finals next year.

Now throw me a line, haul me in and give me a towel, you unhelpful twit – it’s cold in the water…

Three things I say to this one. First off, had Chicago not matched Hjalmarsson’s offer sheet, the Sharks would have taken him and paid the contract because they likely saw him as a future replacement to Rob Blake.

Second, when you lose your star goalie, you need a replacement and Niemi was available.

And third, if they did pick up Niemi to spite the ‘Hawks after they walked away from that Arbitration award, good on ‘em. In case you haven’t really noticed the game, Hockey is combat in a cold place. And ‘All’s fair,’ they like to say.
So here, just hold this anchor I am handing you so you can go down with your theories to the cold depths of, well, you know. You strike me as the kind who watches a terrorist attack unfold against your own troops on CNN and provide running commentary on how the militants could have been successful.


…Conspiracy theories…

…Not even mildly entertaining...

…Of course, they would be brilliant if San Jose could have seen all of the dominoes falling exactly that way. And Lou does remind you of a wily old fox, doesn’t he…

…Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh. COME ON, BREEZE! Just a little puff of air would be nice.
Just to nudge us through to mid-September….

Take me to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

The Next CBA Simulation: What Did We Learn? – The Colonel

In “The Next CBA: Part I,” a new construct for the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement between Management/The League and Players was offered. It was not a complete CBA re-write because, knowing there are some good things in the current CBA, there are things that just do not need to be changed.

Instead, it addressed the one issue standing as potentially the most contentious in 2012. The Kovalchuk arbitration clearly indicates the NHL is out to close the loophole on circumvention of the intent of the Salary Cap. Assuming a formal fix for this issue would be present in any new agreement, the goal of 12,735 words plus 30 charts, in eight blogs over 10 days was to dissect what could be done in order to avert another Lockout over this particular issue.

As a construct to test new CBA changes, recommendations for changing current contract structuring were offered to address Cap circumvention. A ‘simulation’ of sorts then resulted by laying the current salary structure over the top of these changes.

Armed with that information, some conclusions can be drawn about negotiating the next CBA which are offered below. After quickly summarizing the recommended CBA changes, the blog continues to discuss where the bones of contention will arise.

The Proposed CBA

It is not a stretch to offer that the Salary Cap is THE main reason there is exciting parity in the NHL. So for the entertainment value that sells TV/cable/satellite and tickets and allows for growth of The Game, I say the Salary Cap must stay in any new agreement.

I equally stand behind my earlier statements: “…Sew up that loophole tightly, I say. But do it with the least amount of change possible….” That' because revolutionary change, like the current CBA was, is borne out of desperation, takes longer to digest and creates the kind of pause that causes, well, Lockouts. You cannot simply sit down and decide to make revolutionary change to the current agreement after The Cup is raised in 2012. There is simply not enough time over the summer to inform all parties, get in the votes and ratify a new agreement all sides will want to discuss and study in detail prior to signing. If you want a revolution, start now so it can be digested over the next two years.

Instead, the easier solution to get past everyone would be evolutionary change that still includes a Salary Cap while closing the loophole that circumvents the spirit of the Cap right now. Even that change will not be able to pass without compromise from all parties. To that end, the following main points of my proposed CBA were:

1. Maintain a Salary Cap Ceiling starting at $60M U.S. that increases by a modest amount each year

2. Maintain a Salary Cap floor that is never lower than $16M below the Ceiling

3. Every five years, review overall hockey receipts for tickets, merchandise and media monies from any NHL organization and induce a Five-Year Adjustment (FYA) to the base Cap figures

4. Allow for authorized, long-term contracts that can lower overall team Caps for three Franchise Contract Players (FCPs) per team

5. For players not designated FCPs that are under age 35, allow for one-to-three year contracts

6. For players not designated FPCs that are over age 35, allow for one year contracts

7. Set a ceiling for Non-FPC (NFC) contracts, a floor with League Minimum Contracts (LMCs) and a ceiling for Entry Level Contracts (ELCs), all with a predictable, annual salary increase.

8. At the end of FCP, NFC, LMC or ELC agreement, a player becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA)

9. To bridge the gap where current agreements surpass the restrictions on age or term limits, allow for a one-time, one-year exception followed by UFA status to bridge the gap

Regardless of whether or not these are the exact changes put in place, the ‘simulation’ of doing so team by team in the blogs of the last 11 days were illustrative of points of contention for any new CBA with the same desired end state. Taking the points above one at a time shows the discord.

Based On the Proposed Adjustments, What Did The Simulation Show Us?

Here are the pertinent stats from the analysis:

1. There was an average of 8.23 players per team needing contract adjustments:
a. The highest number was 15 players (CHI)
b. The lowest number was 3 players (WSH)

2. An average of 1.43 players lost 3.16 years of term per team:
a. The highest number of players was 5 (PHI)
b. The highest number of term years was 17 (CHI)
c. The lowest number of players was 0 (ANA, ATL, BUF, CAR, COL, CBJ, FLA, LAK, STL and TOR)
d. The highest number of term years was 0 (same as above)

3. Average amount of current contract money back to teams was $16.188M:
a. Most back was $84.966M (CHI)
b. Least back was -$477.5K (ANA)

One look here and at Larry Brooks’ NY Post column on NHL ‘givebacks’ to approve Kovalchuk’s contract, and you might draw a conclusion that a rudderless NHLPA is likely to sink, and sink fast here. The Lockout drumbeat and signal fires are a brewin,’ you might believe.

But in working through a potential, new CBA and its impact on salaries and the Cap, we learned a few things that if known up front, may make working through the process somewhat easier.

First and foremost is the fact that if you are a good enough player, somebody will find a way to sign you. Sounds simple and flippant, but it actually runs as an undercurrent to inflated free agency contracts and why some players continue to skate on into their 40’s. That fact will never disappear from the game no matter what the construct of contracts becomes.

Next is the point that if teams are going to sign 24 players, on average only 1/3 of contracts needs to be adjusted. Sure the Blackhawks had 15 to redo but, respectfully, they mortgaged themselves to the hilt in succeeding to win The Cup. There were still 17 other teams at, or below, the average number of affected players. So no matter how the new CBA is written, it is likely some current contracts will need to be adjusted.

The average number of redone contracts is weighted heavily against long-term, over 32-year-old players. They are established players with substantial salary. They are losing term based on NFC or LMC status and under 35-years-old limits of three years per contract, plus one-year terms for over-35 players. This is the vast majority of money coming back to clubs, but accounts for only about 10% of players. Renegotiated contracts which are likely in a new CBA will RELATIVELY put more money in teams’ pockets. And other-than entry level contracts from now through 2012 may carry too much term after the new CBA is approved.

But in my proposal, the loss of term equates to UFA status and the ability to bargain up to the NFC maximum starting at $5.75M plus bonuses. This is a contract price 90%+ of the NHL already rests under. And in this simulation, the payback was UFA status. If the League and Management get consensus for a similar restriction to term/Caps in place, they will likely do so only with a compromise on UFA status, the one ‘free’ thing they can give back to players.

Another significant hit on contracts that puts money back into the teams’ coffers is the only group that is truly screwed here. There were 23 players with Entry Level Contracts (ELCs) that the proposed structure indicated were overpaid, often in the millions of dollars. While only a handful of these players will still be under an ELC when 2012 gets here, if the ELC system is going to be cut back in total dollars allowed, it should be done now or all parties will need to determine how to grandfather any approved contracts in.

And based on Larry Brooks’ article in the Post, it looks like the NHL is moving RIGHT NOW to limit the counting of any FUTURE contract money past age 40 and the dollars in any years after the first five in the Salary Cap. This, if you want to call it an attack, strikes at Management who wants more than their cake for the sake of producing a winning team, and Players who are willing to sign that kind of agreement. It should be noted these restrictions will likely be a starting point for the next CBA’s negotiations.

And On Another Note…

A persistent burr under Players’ saddles is the subject of escrow money. While legalese is required in the current CBA, it is still difficult to read and sort through both Section 50.4 (d) (“Escrow Account,” “Escrow Percentage,” “Escrow Agent”) and Section 50.11 (Reconciliation and Distribution Procedures). It may not also be acceptable for salaries to increase or decrease based on a sliding scale driven by my proposal’s Five Year Assessment (FYA) review. But the question should be ‘Does the current Escrow system work, or can something else more palatable be done?’ Look at what we in the military like to call Second and Third Orders Of Effect (OOE):

Task: Take money from players throughout the year in case their total payroll is higher than the Players’ overall Players’ Share of Compensation

2nd OOE: Players lose available capital in their pocket on the assumption the league as a whole may make less profit

3rd OOE: Players are angered because they feel that they are being made to cough up money to ensure clubs break even or make a profit

While the 3rd OOE may very well not be true, the perception is put there because of the 2nd OOE. Though the overall intent was to have Players vested in the overall profitability of the League, it is highly likely the goal was not to make players down-right angry.

So if they are feeling ‘punished for a potential crime,’ ‘taxed without representation,’ or the like, perhaps another course of action could be taken. Perhaps the adjustment comes to all salaries the year following a review that indicates payroll was above the appropriate percentage of total revenues. Done in this manner, players can see where the shortage was and then pay their fair share.

No matter what the final system is, a different system will at least be explored and debated as players would like a replacement for the current escrow format.

And As A Whole…

The League needs to be ready to negotiate length of contract terms in the context of some adjustment to the Salary Cap system.

Management will be highly interested in the Cap and Escrow Systems as they affect operations and profitability each and every day.

The NHLPA needs a representative team that will keep them from being thrown under the bus in the negotiation process. Watching the Kovalchuk Ultimatum, I cannot help but hear the screeching tires and expelling air brake gas.

And none of these Salary Cap/Escrow issues are a simple, snap-your-fingers-and-it’s-fixed proposition. It takes a starting position which incorporates everyone’s minimally acceptable criteria for a solution, produces a new course of action, generates discussion and a vote, and goes back to the drawing board if all sides do not agree. For an inch-thick plus CBA, that is going to take a little time.

As for the whole lot of you out there, don’t forget the fan of the Great Game makes the whole wheel turn. (Fan-generated revenue produces Hockey Related Revenue which drives all other capabilities.) In short, gentlemen, start work NOW on an evolutionary CBA that closes the Salary Cap circumvention loophole so come the first week of October in 2012 we have Hockey.

Cause, durn it all, if the Mayan Long Calendar is correct, I, Fan, want my 20+ games before December 21, 2012 rolls around…

Take me to “The Next CBA: Part I

Take me to “The Next CBA: Part II

Take me to analysis for ANA through CGY (U.2)

Take me to analysis for CAR through DAL (U.2)

Take me to DET through MIN (U.1)

Take me to MTL through NYR

Take me to OTT through SJS

Take me to STL through WSH