The always cautious James Mirtle picks up on Bruce Garrioch’s collusion story and adds the following:
“NHL teams know that [players will panic] and for the most part agents think NHL headquarters instructed teams to get as many players as possible to free-agent market to get players fighting against each other [for contracts],” the agent told me via email. “Some GMs have said that ‘we’ll wait until August because we believe we get better deals then.’ None of them will say anything about Bettman instructing them since collusion charges could [come into play].”
I trust the source that said that to me, but I’m still uneasy about spreading rumours that widespread collusion is going on. It would be incredible if all 30 teams were able to agree to not stock their teams as well as possible to further some nefarious league objective.
Even the bright guys like Mirtle seem to be missing the obvious here: the NHL no longer has an interest in trying to keep salaries down. The various agents whispering in the ears of Mirtle and Garrioch may not remember, but the league had a labour dispute a few years back, a minor thing really, and the end result was a collective agreement in which salaries are tied to revenues. If someone wants to do something as crazy as committing $15MM over four years to Nikolai Khabibulin, the NHL shouldn’t really care – the overall dollars are fixed. Say that the NHL somehow succeeded in convincing teams to pay every player in the NHL the minimum salary. They’d just end up cutting a large cheque at the end of the year to ensure that the players got their share of the revenue.
James has, I think, hit on the real problem here:
In short? There’s really not much cash left at all — and that’s a more likely explanation for all of the guys searching for homes than GMs banding together for the greater good. Five to 10 teams could use another piece, but they won’t be spending much, and that’s bad news if you’re either an unsigned player or an agent, whatever the cause may be.
Yeah, this is about right, I think. What’s more, I think that this was pretty foreseeable. I did a post on May 1, 2008 – so before the economic bust – in which I pointed out that if you assumed a cap of $61.9MM, the 196 players signed for the 2009-10 season were already eating up 37.3% of the available cap room and 44.2% of the available salary (assumption being that league revenues would end up matching the midpoint of the team salary range). It would be easy enough for an agent to maintain something similar and keep an eye on the coming market. As deals were signed in the summer of 2008 and the economic forecast got worse, I’d think it’d be pretty obvious that this was going to be a rough summer for some good players.
Of course, that’s not exactly a fantastic explanation to give to your client. The flip side of this, if you’re running a hockey team, is that this would be a heck of a summer to be looking for deals on players if you’ve got some cap room and money. Deals for guys who weren’t difference makers at difference maker prices? Those are probably haunting a few people at the moment, as they look at some of the talent that they could acquire and then look at the guys who they’re stuck paying for another year or two.