Always acquire the player.
When the Vegas Golden Knights landed Jack Eichel in this year's biggest in-season trade, the question asked among experts and fans was: how are they going to fit his eight-figure salary into one of the league's tightest salary structures?
Let us all give our heads a shake. Because there's always a way.
Cap constraints be damned, Eichel will make his debut Wednesday versus the Colorado Avalanche on what happens to be a major nationally-televised game in the United States.
Appointment viewing, this one has become.
Unfortunately, as one star makes his return, another has to go, and Golden Knights captain Mark Stone will, rather conveniently, exit the lineup for the foreseeable future to tend to a back injury simultaneous to the most-anticipated return in the NHL this season.
For it is a dollar-in, dollar-out league with the hardest of salary caps.
One of the best arguments for a luxury tax with meaningful revenue sharing in the NHL. The idea that the hard cap system leads to “competitive balance and parity” is Gary’s illusion, a fallacy…a total joke. Open the system to a luxury tax to even the playing field. https://t.co/xyStYF3UBL
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) February 14, 2022
It's impossible to not call shenanigans on this one, even for the most naive. Vegas's next-highest-paid player compared to Eichel, Stone has been a fixture in the lineup and eating up salary allocation dollars all season. He most recently appeared and participated at the all-star game on home ice without restriction. While it's possible Stone is nursing a back ailment of some level, it's clearly been manageable to this point, and has only become both urgent and long-term with Eichel ready to come off long-term injured reserve.
Which leads us to the master plan, one would presume: to have both featured in the lineup in the postseason when teams can ice rosters with a combined salary over the regular season limit.
Anyone who thinks Stone and Eichel, barring something unforeseen, won't be in the postseason lineup is only fooling themselves.
This sort of circumvention is a story as old as time.
The Tampa Bay Lightning stashed Nikita Kucherov on long-term injured reserve for the balance of last season after a well-timed surgical procedure before injecting a former Hart Trophy winner into their lineup. The Chicago Blackhawks have taken advantage of this loophole previously, although perhaps less brazenly, while others have done the same on smaller scales. It's gotten to the point now where teams that aren't exploring options to add surplus dollars, and talent, even semi-honestly, like timing a specific surgery, aren't doing everything in their power in order to field the best possible lineup.
It seems like only a matter of when the NHL will address this issue, though it's impossible to police under the current rules of the collective bargaining agreement.
But until something is changed, the league is actually better off for it.
Why wouldn't we want to see major transactions and super teams being built for postseason runs? Most hate the salary cap, so who's rushing to close the loophole that allows teams to dodge it?
NHL executives have so few advantages nowadays, but there's one for teams to exploit.
So if you're an executive, and you're not gaming the system, you should ask yourself: if I'm not cheating, am I really trying?
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