Really nice work by Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com putting together a "key issues" post on the next NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement's points of contention, from revenue sharing to "second contracts" for players like Drew Doughty to the Olympics.
But at the heart of the next battle between the players and the owners is the salary cap and the current financial model.
We're written about the war over the salary cap floor before, and that's obviously going to a huge topic for teams losing money (or just keeping their heads above red ink) in the current system.
But LeBrun offered some interesting notes on the other end of the cap: How teams like the New York Rangers (Wade Redden, AHL) and the Chicago Blackhawks (Cristobal Huet, Europe) have been able to stash bloated contracts in places where they won't count against the cap — like a lazy husband who kicks dust balls under the couch instead of vacuuming. (Guilty.)
Essentially, the issue is "cash over cap"; that while the salary cap is supposed to a "hard cap", general managers have found cracks in the ceiling through which they can push through their rubbish. Via LeBrun:
The "cash over cap'' loophole is three-fold: (1) being able to assign contracts off the cap by sending players to minors or Europe; (2) using the long-term injury reserve system to its fullest; (3) front-loading contracts or cheat deals to manipulate the yearly cap hit. It's estimated, for example, that the Philadelphia Flyers have used all three loopholes to put themselves $40 million to $50 million "cash over cap'' over the past six years.
As LeBrun writes, the battle lines in this debate are going to be fascinating. You'll have players who obviously don't want to see anything that reduces wages or teams' ability to pay them exorbitantly. You'll have some rather influential teams that have dabbled in these dark arts — the Blackhawks, Rangers, Devils and Flyers — who could fight to have the right to make mistakes disappear preserved.
But the NHL could argue that by closing the loophole, the League is once again saving its GMs and owners from themselves.
Until, of course, they find the next series of loopholes in the next CBA.
Do you consider "cash over cap" to be a violation of the spirit of the CBA or creative accounting? We generally accept it as the latter because it's an equitable way to ensure a team isn't a slave to a cap number inflated by an ineffective general manager. Which is to say that Stan Bowman shouldn't have had to pay for all of Dale Tallon's sins.