September 27, 2010
Both Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports and Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wrote about the 4-year shackles of Wade Redden's(notes) remaining contract, which will pay him $23 million should he see it through.
Both sympathize with his plight. Both rage against a machine that allows teams like the New York Rangers to bury their mistakes to their benefit and the player's detriment. Both wonder if the current rules can't be amended to close this salary cap escape plan.
Let's get the obvious out of the way: Wade Redden signed a contract under the salary cap. He and his agent knew that if the Rangers wanted to make the cap hit disappear for any reason, they'd have several options, including an AHL burial or European transfer.
Redden was neither as bad as his critics claimed; or as good as his defenders claim, when the filter of his annual salary is removed. Either way, he's hardly the poster boy for a "woe are the players" movement to change the rules. There are 23 million reasons why.
Luckily, this is bigger than Wade Redden or Cristobal Huet(notes) or Jeff Finger(notes) or, to cite previous examples of the practice, Kyle McLaren(notes) or Dan McGillis(notes). It's about how accountable bad management should be with regard to the salary cap, and what's fair to a professional athlete whose circumstances change while his contract status doesn't.
Friedman and Campbell have some ideas.
Should Redden, now 33, be forced to wait up to four years for his contract to expire? (Or, even two, when the CBA expires?) Is there a solution? Possibly.
According to current rules, the Rangers cannot entice another team into taking Redden by offering to pick up a chunk of his salary. (Yes, they can put him through waivers and hope someone grabs him for half the salary and cap hit, but that's it.) However, what about this completely made-up scenario:
A floor team (Islanders? Predators? Hurricanes?) decides it is interested. The Rangers offer to pay half the money, but the trade partner gets 100 per cent of the cap space. Wouldn't that interest the owner? You get the guy, you pay half the money, and you don't have to spend as much cash on the rest of your roster. Brian Burke is a big proponent of this, and Kings GM Dean Lombardi admitted his troubles in acquiring Denis Gauthier(notes) convinced him, too. (Lombardi said he could have landed the defenceman sooner, because the Flyers were willing to eat some of the salary.)
Elliotte has the player in mind during his column, and this solution would certainly benefit them. The biggest question here is whether the money or the cap hit would be the most dire issue for a trade partner.
Say the New York Islanders want Wade Redden under this plan. His salary is reduced to $4 million per season, while his cap hit is $6.5 million for the next four years. This means Redden's hit will be on the cap when Kyle Okposo(notes), John Tavares(notes), Josh Bailey(notes), Blake Comeau(notes) and Bruno Gervais(notes) all get their new contracts. It'll be there when the Islanders (god willing) become competitive and seek to sign their own big-ticket free agents. So, in the case of Redden, would the $8 million annually be the greatest concern or the $6.5 million cap hit?
What Friedman's plan does is help the player mightily while giving the team a way out from under the cap hit. Campbell, on the other hand, would like to see these mistakes become a hell of a lot harder to make disappear:
We just watched the NHL go to war with the New Jersey Devils over front-loaded contracts, but if the league is truly worried about runaway salaries and equaling the playing field, one would think it will be pushing as hard in negotiations for the next CBA to have all dollars count against the salary cap regardless of what happens to the player or his age when he signs his deal.
The way it stands now, the only salaries that cannot escape the salary cap are for long-term deals for players 35 and older. But if a younger player signs a long-term deal, there is nothing keeping the team from burying his contract in the minors and taking it off the salary cap books the way the Rangers are sure to do with Redden and the Chicago Blackhawks will do this season with Cristobal Huet.
And we missed a year of hockey for this kind of ridiculousness?
Yep. Add it to the list.
We're torn on this one. Teams should logically be punished for their managerial mistakes, beyond simply being on the hook for the salary. That the Rangers and Blackhawks are able to spare themselves from further cap casualties by wiping their hands of problem contracts is like playing a video game with a cheat code for endless lives: How is that fair to the guy on his last quarter?
Yet there should be some remedy for toxic contracts ... you know, beyond trading them to Darryl Sutter. One Glen Sather or Dale Tallon-like shopping spree can affect a team for the better part of a decade, and after those executives are floating to the ground on a golden parachute. It's not fair to the regime that has to clean up the mess, or to the fans who suffer through multiple years of cap casualties.
It's a tough issue to noodle through. Could the NHL ever place restrictions on who and how teams demote to the minor leagues? Is that the only way to ensure something like Friedman's plan isn't simply an option ignored for the easy way out?
And, in the end, when this loophole benefits the team and its fans, and isn't taking any money away from a player, how vital is closing the loophole anyway? Especially when, you know, these players can refuse to report and have their contracts voided.