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When the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement was implemented in July, it was widely assumed by pundits and fans that it would have a noticeable impact on players salaries and how they were negotiated.

The much-ballyhooed salary cap, starting at this coming season at $39.5 million, combined with the 24 percent salary rollback,was supposed to impose constraints upon those players negotiating new contracts for the remainder of the summer of 2005.

Gone, we were assured, were the days of big money contracts. Gone were the days of free agent spending frenzies. Gone were the days of overpaid players being used as comparables by those heading for salary arbitration. Gone were the days of players "holding their teams hostage" by using the threat of arbitration or free agency to land better deals.

Now, a month having past since the start of the unrestricted free agent market, and with the start of the 2005-06 season only a month away, very little has changed despite the so-called constraints of the new CBA.

The first two weeks of August saw a frenzy of free agent signings, spurred in large part by the number of teams with considerable cap space on their payrolls and equally considerable roster gaps to close.

One could argue that this is merely a "one-off" scenario, that next season there won't be as many free agents nor as many teams with holes in their rosters and lots of cap room to go shopping.

Perhaps, but then again, we don't what teams might decide to get into salary dumping by the trade deadline or the June entry draft to free up space to get into bidding wars for those available UFA players next summer, when the age limit for unrestricted free agents drops to 30 and those with over seven years of active NHL service can also become eligible.

Sure, next year's list doesn't contain such marquee names as Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Marian Hossa or Martin St. Louis, but there are bound to be some attractive UFA players available who'll attract considerable attention from other clubs.

Indeed, if anything we've seen how the threat of early free agency can be successfully used by a player and his agent to their advantage when negotiating a new contract with their team.

And don't forget, in subsequent seasons, the UFA eligibility age also drops to 27, and there are undoubtedly some players who are under contract now that are keeping this in mind, especially when they see how successfully some players have managed to use that threat of early free agency to land lucrative long-term contracts.

Ah, but at least the players aren't signing for the big money of $8 million, $9 million or $10 million per season that they would've gotten under the old CBA, when salaries were spiralling out of control.

Actually, that's not the case at all.

Most of the top players who signed contracts this summer are still getting the same kind of money they would've received under the old CBA. They're just getting that cash spread out over a longer term under the new one.

Take, for example, the six year, $30 million contract Martin St. Louis signed in late August to remain with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Under the old CBA, St. Louis might've argued for a three or four year $30 million deal, based on his Art Ross-Hart-Pearson season as a member of the Stanley Cup champion Lightning.

Sure, it's unlikely he would've gotten that deal, but then again, it's not out of the realm of possibility, especially if some of the usual free-spending clubs had been unrestrained by the salary cap.

Remember, we're not that far removed from the Rangers signing Bobby Holik to a deal worth an average of $9 million per season, the Washington Capitals signing Jaromir Jagr to $10 million per season, or the Islanders grossly overpaying Alexei Yashin.

Instead, St. Louis gets the same money only over six years instead of three or four. At the end of the day, he still got a deal worth $30 million bucks, which will be used as the benchmark for other comparable players in the future. It's not what they make per season, but over the life of the deal.

As for salary arbitration, that certainly did nothing to prevent Marian Hossa from getting the kind of money ($6 million per season) he was seeking out of the Ottawa Senators, who then dealt him off to the Atlanta Thrashers, who happily accepted that contract.

Hossa raised howls of indignation when he used Calgary's Jarome Iginla as a comparable. However, once the Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed Vincent Lecavalier - a talented but statistically lesser player - to a long-term contract worth a whopping $6.7 million per season, it was obvious even to Sens GM John Muckler that he didn't stand a good chance going into arbitration of getting a favourable result.

And let's not forget, had the Senators and Hossa gone to arbitration, he would've only received a one-year deal, thus making him eligible for UFA status next summer, putting even more pressure on Muckler to get Hossa under contract.

Speaking of Lecavalier, Lightning GM Jay Feaster may be clearly gambling on the talented Montreal native taking his game to the next level in the coming four seasons, but it was still a shocker when he signed Lecavalier to that hefty contract.

Sure, Feaster got Lecavalier locked up for four seasons thus keeping him out of next summer's UFA market (and if the Montreal media was to be believed, out of the hands of the Montreal Canadiens), but that signing had a significant impact upon Hossa's arbitration hearing, as well as those to come.

Now, a promising young forward with equal or better stats can point to Lecavalier's contract and say, "I deserve at least as much as what he gets".

That'll make it tough for his team to make the argument that he's not. And if that player is eligible for UFA status in a year or two, the pressure gets ratcheted up even higher.

Even a team taking a player to arbitration has the potential to go against it in the long run, as the Florida Panthers - Roberto Luongo arbitration case indicates.

Sure, Luongo didn't get the big bucks he feels he's deserving from the arbiter, who awarded him a one-year, $3.2 million contract. OK, that's big bucks for we average joes, but for a goaltender who's been statistically among the best in recent years, with a losing record the result of the poor team in front of him, that's not anywhere close to his true worth.

Still, even Mike Keenan, the Panthers GM, had his famous iron will waver at the last minute, offering Luongo a five year, $25 million contract. Luongo's subsequent rejection of that deal, and the fact he can take the Panthers to arbitration next summer and then become a UFA in 2007, seemingly sets the stage for his departure from the Panthers.

Luongo's critics are quick to point out that his spurning the Panthers last-minute offer could blow up in his face. They claim he'll have a difficult time adjusting to the new size restrictions on goaltender equipment, especially pads, and that could have a detrimental effect on his future performance and earning power.

But Luongo could just as easily adapt, even excel, with the new equipment, and if he continues to post up impressive numbers behind a struggling Panthers team over the next two seasons - provided Keenan doesn't trade him - he could become perhaps the most valuable player in the 2007 UFA market.

If that occurs, he'll stand to make far more than a five year deal worth $25 million. Think Nikolai Khabibulin money. Don't laugh, because even if he doesn't backstop the Panthers to a Stanley Cup by 2007, he could have a strong enough reputation by that point that there will be teams happily lining up to bid for his services in two years time.

So much for salary controls on the highest paid players.

So much for no more wild free agent spending.

So much for sensible contract signings.

So much for more restrictive arbitration.

Under the new CBA, as it was under the old CBA,

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was...


Truth be told, I'm ripping off that heading from a recent post by blogger Jes Golbez, who's also ripping off a Prince song, but it suits the theme of that post and this one.

Golbez, whom main stream media god and fellow blogger James Mirtle considers one of the best hockey bloggers out there (a sentiment I share), recently posted on the fate of several NHL teams' 1999 prospects.

Jes (I call him Jes, you can call him "Mr Golbez") was using the 1999 Hockey News Yearbook as his reference, and while I found the post to be quite enlightening (as you will too!), I also wished that he'd gone through the remainder of the NHL teams.

So I figgered, hey, I've got a copy of the 1999-2000 Hockey News Yearbook, since I can't bring myself to throw anything away and now my den is filled to overflowing, so why don't I give it a go and fill in the rest.

Thus, here's a look at the teams not covered by the inimitable Golbez. Enjoy this stroll down memory lane and see how your favourite team's prospects from 1999 panned out!


1. Vitali Vishnevsky

2. Maxim Balmochnykh

3. Mikael Holmqvist

4. Jay Legault

5. Anntti-Jussi Niemi.

6. Niklas Havelid

7. Stephen Peat.

8. Viktor Wallin.

9. Jesse Fibiger

10. Mike Leclerc

1999 First round pick - Jordan Leopold.

Spector's Note: Three NHL'ers out of the bunch, with Vishnevsky having the most success as one of their top defencemen. I believe they gave up Leopold as part of the trade that landed them J-S Giguere, so one could be tempted to call that a wash. Havlid and Leclerc started with the Ducks but are now with other clubs.


1. Patrik Stefan

2. Jason Botterill

3. Andreas Karlsson

4. Tomi Kallio

5. Scott Langkow

6. Sergei Vyshedkevich

7. Petr Buzek

8. Dean Sylvester

9. Randy Robitaille

10. Alexei Yegorov

Spector's Note: Ewww. Good thing for the Thrashers they did better in subsequent drafts (Kovalchuk, Heatley, Lehtonen, Coburn). Stefan is now considered a bust. Buzek had promise but injuries forced him out of the league. And hey! Whatever happened to Dean Sylvester?


1. Cameron Mann.

2. Jonathan Girard.

3. Ben Clymer.

4. Landon Wilson

5. John Grahame.

6. Bobby Allen.

7. Andre Savage.

8. Lee Goren.

9. Jay Henderson

10. Johnathan Aitken

First round pick 1999: Nick Boynton.

Spector's Note: A lot of marginal talent among the Bruins top ten. Grahame may be poised to become a starting goalie but with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Fortunately their first round pick in 1999 was Boynton, who's become a top four blueliner for the B's.


1. Maxim Afinogenov.

2. Martin Biron.

3. Cory Sarich

4. Dmitri Kalanin

5. Mika Noronen

6. Brian Campbell.

7. Norm Milley.

8. Henrik Tallinger

9. Jaroslav Kristek

10. Darren Van Oene.

Spector's Note: Seven out of ten are now active NHL'ers, and most of them still remain Sabres. Still, none can be considered "stars", let alone franchise players. They've teased with their talent but they remain second-tier at best.


1. J-P Dumont.

2. Mark Bell.

3. Kyle Calder.

4. Ty Jones.

5. Dimitri Tolkunov.

6. Ben Simon.

7. Remi Royer.

8. Kent Huskins.

9. Sean Griffin.

10. Radim Bicanek.

Spector's Note: Dumont's gone on to become a regular forward with the Buffalo Sabres, but Bell and Calder remain and are promising Blackhawks regulars. They may be poised for bigger things now that the 'Hawks have finally invested in depth.


1. Marc Denis.

2. Alex Tanguay.

3. Martin Skoula.

4. Scott Parker.

5. Dan Smith

6. David Aebischer.

7. Samuel Pahlsson

8. Yevgeny Lazarev.

9. Ville Nieminen.

10. Yuri Babenko.

Spector's Note: Denis has gone on to become the shell-shocked starting goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tanguay has become a legitimate scoring star overshadowed by his more well-known teammates. Aebischer has emerged as a steady starting goalie following Patrick Roy's retirement. Parker, Skoula and Nieminen have moved on to other clubs.












Spector's Note: Turco is considered one of the league's top goalies and Morrow one of the best two-way forwards. Lyashenko had a promising rookie season but failed to play well enough to remain in the NHL and committed suicide a couple of years ago. Four others are marginal NHL'ers.












Spector's Note: It's a good thing Fischer turned into a top four NHL blueliner otherwise the Wings 1999 prospect list would've been a bust. Wallin's bounced between the Wings and the minors, while Kuznetsov was peddled to the LA Kings where he's also bounced between the big club and the farm.












Spector's Note: What's notable about this list is how many players have gone on to various degrees of success with other teams. Boyle, who emerged as an All-Star and the top defenceman for the Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning, is the most notable. The Panthers seem to have trouble retaining their prospects.












Spector's Note: Three players of note stand out from this list: Blake, Papineau and Belanger. The first two are now with the NY Islanders, where Blake is a valuable member of the Isles offence and Papineau is still struggling to establish himself. Belanger is now a checking line center with the Kings.












Spector's Note: The Canadiens were a struggling hockey team in 1999 but three key pieces of their future were on their prospect list. Theodore is now considered among the game's elite goalies. Markov has established himself as a top four defenceman, while Ribeiro finally broke out in a big way offensively in 2003-04 to lead the Habs in scoring.












Spector's Note: Legwand appeared to be having his breakthrough season in 2003-04 until sidelined by a season-ending injury. Arkhipov had a strong rookie year in 2001-02 but has now fallen so far out of favour with Preds management that he's decided to remain in Russia this season. Several others either moved on to other clubs or returned to Europe.












Spector's Note: One look at this list confirms the Devils longstanding reputation for drafting well and developing talent. Gomez, Gionta, Madden, White and Rafalski are all key members and stars of varying degrees for the Devils and all have Stanley Cup rings for their efforts. Van Ryn is now one of the Florida Panthers top four blueliners and Mitchell a regular mainstay on the Minnesota Wild defence corps. Without question, this is the best prospect list of all NHL teams for 1999.












Spector's Note: GM Mike Milbury has shown a stunning inability to retain prospects. By 1999, only Luongo remained of a stellar group of prospects and young Islanders that once included Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, JP Dumont, Zdeno Chara and Eric Brewer, yet he too would be dealt away by Milbury for the Panthers first round pick, first overall, which Milbury used to select Rick DiPietro, a good young goalie, but not in the same class as Luongo.












Spector's Note: The Senators are another club with a well-deserved reputation for drafting and developing players. This prospect list wasn't as deep as in previous years, yet Fisher and Neil would become key members of the Senators roster. Perhaps more notable for that year was the kid they drafted in the first round, 26th overall, in the 1999 draft: Martin Havlat.












Spector's Note: Another team with a reputation for drafting and development, this list is notable for one bona fide star, Gagne, and not much else. Boucher's become an established goalie with Phoenix but his performance has been uneven over the years. Still, when your list includes a true gem like Gagne, it makes up for the lack of depth elsewhere.












Spector's Note: Another club that's saw one of it's best prospects, in this case Esche, go on to star with another team. Vaananen had established himself as a stay-at-home blueliner with the 'Yotes but got dealt at the March deadline to the Colorado Avalanche.












Spector's Note: GM Craig Patrick has a reputation for drafting well, but this list of prospects certainly won't go down in Penguins history as his best crop. Roszival, Kraft, Dome and Aubin all failed to live up to expectations, while Ference has managed to establish himself with the Calgary Flames.












Spector's Note: Nagy, Reasoner, Hecht and Johnson have become established NHL'ers but with other clubs, as the Blues dealt them away to acquire veteran stars in hopes of becoming a Cup champion. Unfortunately, they fell short, but at least they retained Backman, who shows a lot of promise. And their first round pick, 17th overall in 1999 was eventual Calder winner Barrett Jackman.












Spector's Note: This list is perhaps the second-best prospect list of 1999. Stuart, Hannan, Cheechoo and Toskala have become established stars for the Sharks. Bradley played three seasons with the Sharks and is now with the Capitals. It's quite possible the best of the bunch could be Kiprusoff, who's gone on to stardom with the Calgary Flames. The Sharks have been drafting and developing well for years, yet have been unfairly overlooked in this regard. It's high time that opinion changed.


In my last Soapbox, I questioned how Canadian small market clubs like the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers could afford the salaries under the first year of the new CBA that they previously couldn't or wouldn't spend under the last one.

The Hockey Rodent was particularly curious about this, considering Canadian teams, especially Edmonton and Calgary, were previously recipients of a form of revenue sharing from the US based teams called the Canadian Assistance Program (or CAP as Ro' called it), something that was abolished under the new CBA. He wondered what happened to their CAP money and if it went on salaries as it was supposed to.

It was something that bothered me a little. After all, both clubs (the Oilers ownership especially) claimed they were struggling to spend into the $30 millions in payroll under the old system.

Suddenly, they're happily spending into that range without a problem, retaining key players or bringing in "name" ones. Obviously, that raises an eyebrow at this end of the keyboard.

Of course, I overlooked one key reason why that's possible; the strengthened Canadian dollar.

As several readers pointed out, the Canadian dollar has significantly improved against the American dollar over the past two years, rising from an average of twenty cents against the Yankee greenback during that time.

Since Canadian teams earn revenue in Canadian dollars but pay salaries in US dollars, that's a significant improvement, which in turn makes it much easier for the Oilers and Flames, along with the other Canadian franchises, to spend the money needed to retain their best players or to sign/trade for others.

The Flames in turn are also helped by the profit made from their 2004 Stanley Cup playoff run, surely part of which had to have been earmarked for payroll.

Still, I'm left wondering why, in this new CBA world, the Oilers and Flames are willing to spend as they are.

After all, the Oilers ownership claimed for some time that it was increasingly difficult for them to maintain payrolls over $30 million US.

One factor, of course, is the salary cap has limited what big market clubs can spend on payroll. A good number of those clubs were already close to being maxed out when the new CBA was announced or are close to it by now.

That's meant that, for this season at least, many of those typical free-spending clubs have been unable to scoop up most of the better free agent talent, or woo away top talent from other clubs either seeking to dump salary or unwilling to pay.

This has led to an interesting theory by blogger Jes Golbez, who suggested a couple of weeks ago that previous small market clubs like the Oilers and Flames could afford payrolls well over the $30 million mark, but didn't bother to invest the money in retaining or pursuing top players because they ultimately knew they'd lose the bidding wars against unchecked free-spending clubs.

It's also possible, depending on where they place in the standings this season and how much they spend on payroll, that they could qualify for revenue sharing, which of course will go toward payroll for the 2006-07 season.

So for this upcoming season, the Oilers and Flames are able to bid and trade competitively.

Good on them, I say. After the lean years for both during the period of the previous CBA, it's nice to see these clubs are finally able to get back into the game again and seriously contend for the playoffs, perhaps even stage a serious Cup run.

Indeed, nothing would thrill me more over the next six years (other than the Montreal Canadiens winning their 25th Stanley Cup) than the Oilers and Flames becoming vibrant, highly competitive clubs again.

But that's for this season. What happens next season, or further down the road?

Will both clubs be able to keep pace with their big market peers when league revenues inevitably increase, which will result in increases in the cap limits?

Will they be able, or willing, to spend upwards of over $40 million in payroll in a few years?

If they have the success they anticipate over the next couple of seasons, will they still qualify for revenue sharing?

Will they still be able to bid or trade as competitively in future off-seasons as they did this summer?

The last one is the key question, as it'll also determine the other aforementioned factors.

As we've seen, the new CBA has thus far done little to dramatically decrease the cost of the league's best players.

Suppose in three years time, Jarome Iginla demands $8.5 million or $9 million? Don't snicker, because if rising revenues drive the salary cap toward the mid-$40 millions range, there'll be plenty of teams out there more than happy to pony up that kind of money...and many of those will be in the big markets.

Or how about if Miikka Kiprusoff carries his strong 2003-04 season over the next three NHL seasons, and decides he's worth more per season than Nikolai Khabibulin? Gaurenteed, if the Flames don't wanna pay it, there will be others who'll happily do so.

Supposed Oilers forward Ales Hemsky puts together impressive numbers over the next three or four years and feels he's worth as much as Marian Hossa? There will be plenty of...well, you get the picture.

Time will be the determining factor in whether or not the new CBA has truly helped the Oilers and Flames, as well as how much they'll be willing or able to spend.


- If you came here to check out the article referenced by James Mirtle in the latest "Carnival of the NHL" click here. I'm the opening act!

- So lemme get this straight: under the old CBA, Canadian teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were teetering on the brink of collapse, unable to compete with big market teams, particularly those in the United States.

But now, with the elimination of the Canadian Assistance Program under the new CBA, these two teams are spending far more money than they would've dared for players they wouldn't have been able to sign or would've struggled to re-sign.

So what did the Flames and Oilers do with the money they received under the old assistance program?

Now I'm a Canadian, and Buddha knows I didn't want to see the Oilers and Flames go belly-up or become the Portland Flames or Houston Oilers. While I'm happy to see these two teams suddenly stronger, I find their recent actions more than a little discomfiting.

The Hockey Rodent has a nice piece that goes further into detail on this and asks the question, "what happened to that CAP money that went to Calgary and Edmonton under the old CBA?"

- Tom Benjamin has an interesting thread going on his blog regarding the possibility of teams signing players to deals that could circumvent the salary cap.

This has been something that I commented on many times during the lockout, specifically on how the NHL was going to prevent teams from doing such a thing.

According to Tom, there's an article in the new CBA (apparently eight pages long citing eleven seperate examples) that addresses this issue of circumvention, and the penalties players and clubs could incur for doing so.

Looks like the league did its homework, which should strictly curtail attempts at circumvention. Still, if a savvy GM or player agent can find a way to legally skirt the cap over the next six years, I still feel they'll exploit it.

I'm hopeful of obtaining a copy of the new CBA in the near future and when I do, I'll post the most notable excerpts with my comments on how they could or could not work.

-D'Arcy Jenish of the Alberta Business Edge believes the new CBA is gonna prevent big market teams from buying free agent at outlandish prices:

Wealthy, impatient owners in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Colorado and Toronto were relying on bucks rather than brains to acquire the talent necessary to reach hockey's equivalent to the promised land - a Stanley Cup championship.

That sure sounds like the Rangers and Maple Leafs, but not the Flyers, Red Wings and Avalanche, who also relied on smart trades and shrewd draft picks to build the core of their rosters. It worked for the Wings and Avs, and got the Flyers close.

They were buying free agents at outlandish prices and the small-market teams - both in Canada and south of the border - couldn't compete. As a result, the Jets fled Winnipeg for Phoenix. The Nordiques left Quebec for Colorado.

Wrong. Both clubs fled south because their home cities refused to build new, bigger arenas for those clubs. Free agency had nothing to do with the relocation of these clubs. The Nordiques became the Avalanche prior to the implementation of the last CBA, and the Jets relocated early into that CBA before salary escalation really took off.

The new CBA checks this destructive cycle. Henceforth, success in the NHL will belong to those teams that employ smart managers and good scouts, not those that are prepared to meet the demands of roving mercenaries and their ruthless agents.

Not based on some of the signings we've seen thus far in this month's UFA market.

Hockey fans in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver can watch the world's best players competing on a nightly basis in their rinks and, with a little luck, one of these franchises may even win the Stanley Cup.

The Flames have an excellent shot, thanks to management retaining their core players. The Canucks less so as there's now questions about their second line scoring depth, as well as their blueline and, of course, their goaltending. The Oilers brought in two big names in Chris Pronger and Mike Peca, but they too face similar questions about the overall depth of their roster as the Canucks.

I will concede one point to Mr. Jenish, and that's the fact that it'll take smart GMs and good scouts to be successful under the new CBA, but more so on the general managers. Whichever GM can successfully play the salary cap game - maintaining and adding to his roster without suffering significant player losses - will be successful under the new CBA

- Some of my readers have written in wondering about the validity of the rumours of the Montreal Canadiens trading Jose Theodore and possibly Michael Ryder to the Florida Panthers for Roberto Luongo.

There is no validity to these rumours. The Habs have made re-signing Theodore their top priority, while the Panthers are taking Luongo to arbitration in hopes of getting him at a cheaper contract over the next two years than what the goalie is seeking.

- Mike Chen asks a very interesting question on his blog: Did Vinnie Kill the Lightning Dynasty?

Of course, he's referring to the recent big contract Lecavalier signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, which threatens the Bolts chances of re-signing Martin St. Louis this year, as well as Brad Richards next year.

Both players have been better than Lecavalier over the past three NHL season, yet both may have to consider taking less money to remain with the Bolts.

As the St. Petersburg Times recently observed, St. Louis options are limited. He can hold out for more money, but if he's not re-signed by December 1, he's ineligible to play this season. He can demand a trade but there are few teams willing to pay more than $5 mil per season for his services.

The Times also suggested there would be few clubs willing to pay that money next summer should the cap decrease due to lowered revenues, but I disagree with that point.

Just as there were teams with available cap space to go shopping this summer under a $39 million cap, there will also likely to be clubs out there willing to pay Lecavalier-money to St. Louis, especially if he has another season as good or almost as good as 2003-04.

If you don't think the NY Rangers could resist bidding for St. Louis, you don't know Jim Dolan and Glen Sather.

As for Richards, the Lightning won't have to worry about retaining him for this season, but he's up for a new contract next summer and you can bet he'll want a deal comparable, possibly even better, than Lecavalier's especially if he continues to outplay his good buddy Vinny.

If the Bolts can't or won't pay, they'll face potentially the same scenario they could be facing now with St. Louis: signing him to a one-year deal and then potentially losing him to the UFA market.

Richards is eligible for UFA status in the summer of 2007. It's a good bet that NHL revenues could either stabilize or be on the increase by then. That'll raise the salary cap, which will free up more cap space for clubs willing to sign the -then 27 year old Richards.

It's entirely possible, therefore, that Lecavalier's contract could have a hand in breaking up two-thirds of the Lightning's terrific trio, as well as potentially derailing the Bolts chances of becoming, if not a dynasty, a true power in the NHL.


While the signings of unrestricted free agents have caught most of the attention in this summer's free agent market, it's become apparent that the status of those eligible for early UFA status is already having an effect on the NHL landscape.

Under the terms of the new CBA, it was determined that the qualification age for unrestricted free agency would remain at 31 for this year, but would drop in successive years until it reached 27, where it would remain for the remainder of the agreement.

However, there was also a stipulation that, starting next summer, players who reach seven years of active NHL service would also become eligible for unrestricted free agent status .

While that stipulation doesn't apply for this summer, it's obviously having an effect on the dealings some teams are having with their restricted free agents.

One example is the recent re-signing by the Tampa Bay Lightning of forward Vincent Lecavalier to a four-year, $27.5 million contract.

More than a few eyebrows were raised over the Lightning signing Lecavalier to the salary equivilant of a franchise player. While Lecavalier has demonstrated much improvement over the past three years, he placed fourth in team scoring and placed 27th overall among the NHL leaders in points.

That hardly qualifies him to earn what appears to be the going rate this summer for a franchise player.

To make matters worse, the Bolts only have so much cap space this year, and still have to get 2004 Art Ross-Hart-Pearson winner Martin St. Louis under contract.

Lightning GM Jay Feaster reportedly believes he can re-sign St. Louis to a multi-year deal worth between $4-$5 million per season. Feaster may have been able to do this earlier in the month, but after the Lecavalier signing, he'd be trying to convince St. Louis to accept roughly two million per season less than a teammate that he's outperformed over the last three NHL seasons.

There aren't many options right now that the 30 year old St. Louis can use to his advantage to increase that amount, which could force him into next summer's UFA market.

So why did Feaster do commit so much money to Lecavalier?

There's probably several reasons, the most noteworthy being the opinion Lecavalier still has plenty of upside. One shouldn't rule out Feaster's concern about possibly losing Lecavalier via free agency for nothing or via trade if unable to re-sign him before next summer.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators are finding it very difficult to re-sign Marian Hossa, their top offensive forward , to a long-term contract. The Sens and Hossa are slated to go to arbitration next week unless a deal can be struck.

Hossa use the Calgary Flames Jarome Iginla as a comparable in seeking close to the same three-year, $21 million contract Iginla signed with the Flames.

Senators GM John Muckler probably could've convince an aribiter that Hossa wasn't worth the same salary as Iginla, but given Lecavalier's new contract, which is very close per season to Iginla's, the arbiter may find that statistically Hossa is worth as much, perhaps more, than Lecavalier.

You can bet Muckler probably cursed Jay Feaster for signing Lecavalier to that four year deal.

Hossa of course is eligible for UFA status next summer. If the Sens are unable or unwilling to re-sign him to a deal comparable with Lecavalier's, he'll play out the one year contract the arbiter awards him and then "test" the UFA market next summer, where he'll undoubtedly be one of the most prized players available.

It's a safe bet he then won't have any trouble getting the contract he wants, for as this summer's UFA signing frenzy has clearly shown, the new CBA isn't going to prevent teams from going out and spending big bucks on players they really want.

Down in Florida, goaltender Roberto Luongo feels insulted by the Panthers unwillingness to meet his demands to be among the highest paid netminders in the league.

Luongo and his agent are certainly justified in seeking that kind of salary, given the young goalie's stellar performance on an inexperienced Panthers roster over the past three years.

Panthers GM Mike Keenan has apparently decided to carry his "Iron Mike" persona from his coaching days into the general manager's chair, as he's taking Luongo, the Panthers best player, to arbitration.

Luongo's agent is now hinting that once his client plays out his next two years at whatever figure the arbiter awards him, he could very well head toward the UFA market in 2007.

Keenan may feel that over two years time he'll be able to come to better terms with Luongo and prevent the netminder from heading off to free agency, but it's a dangerous tightrope to tread.

Luongo is only in his mid-twenties and just entering his prime. Should he continue his strong play over the next two seasons, there are bound to be clubs lining up to pay him top dollar in the summer of 2007.

A lot can happen in two years, but players - and their agents - have long memories.

And finally there's Joe Thornton, who was originally offered a three year, $5.5 million per season offer from the Boston Bruins. Some of this summer's UFA signings undoubtedly had some influence on the Bruins upping their offer to the three year, $6.6 million per year deal Thornton eventually signed, but so too was the threat of his walking away next summer as a free agent.

There was lots of speculation the Bruins might shop Thornton, and if there were any truth to it, they would've been swamped with offers, salary cap or no. The truth was, the Bruins understand Thornton's worth as a franchise player. They didn't want to lose him now and they certainly didn't want to lose him next summer.

Unrestricted free agency was a factor under the old CBA, but at least under that deal, teams didn't have to worry about that until a player turned 31. They held the rights of a player from the time they drafted them at 18 until the age of 31, unless they traded him, bought out his contract or released him.

But under the new CBA, teams now face the prospect of losing players after only seven years of service. That's going to be of particular concern for teams whose best players have been active with them since they were under the age of twenty.

Three notable examples include the Atlanta Thrashers (Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk), Minnesota Wild (Marian Gaborik) and Columbus Blue Jackets (Rick Nash).

The Thrashers and Wild now have to face the prospect of Heatley, Kovalchuk or Gaborik to unrestricted free agency at the tender age of 25.

The team owners obviously had no problem with this stipulation when they voted to ratify the new CBA, some of them no doubt rubbing their hands in anticipation of the hot young UFA players they could sign up to stock their rosters, once they had the cap space to do so.

But as we've seen this summer, the prospect of early unrestricted free agency is causing problems for some clubs, either forcing them to spend more than they wished, or into facing the bleak decision of moving that player at some point between now and July 1, 2005, or risk losing them for nothing.

As Tom Benjamin recently noted on his weblog, "it is not the salary cap that is changing the NHL landscape. It is early free agency".

Given the effects we're already seeing before the lowered free agency age even kicks in, things are obviously going to become very interesting starting next summer.

POSTSCRIPT: My thanks to Kelvin Ng for pointing out the following: " I just want to point out that unrestricted free agency transition from 31 years old to 28 years (with 4 seasons) or 8 accrued season next summer, not 7 as written in your blog. It'll be 7 in 2007."


When the new CBA was officially implemented last month it was expected that there would be lots of play movement, especially those with plenty of salary cap space.

Several "small market" clubs, including the Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins all helped themselves to "name" players that in previous years were unavailable to them.

Thanks to the salary cap, many of the traditional big market clubs found themselves in the awkward position of not only losing players they would've preferred to retain, but then having to settle for less expensive leftovers, much to the delight of fans of small market clubs.

Yet even a handful of those teams still availed themselves of some of the cream of this year's UFA talent.

The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, two big market clubs not known for their spending ways, launched themselves big time into this year's market to replenish their deplenished rosters.

Even the Philadelphia Flyers, thanks to a depth of core talent, still found the cash to successfully hook some big names this summer.

Yet despite the actions of these clubs, it remains to be seen just how well their new acquisitions will work out. Can they adapt to their new clubs? Will too many roster changes affect team chemistry? How will some of these acquisitions make out under the new NHL rule changes?

Of all these clubs, it's the Calgary Flames that have been catching a lot of attention lately.

GM Darryl Sutter has managed to keep his team's core intact, and at the same time, make some key acquisitions who for the most part should fit in well with Sutter's aggressive, hard-working defensive game.

It's apparent by their moves in recent weeks that everyone within the Flames organization weren't satisified with having made it to within one game of winning the 2004 Stanley Cup.

If anything, the experience seems to have whetted their appetite to not only return to the Cup finals next season, but also to win the big mug.

Look at the key restricted free agent signings. Within three weeks, Sutter re-signed his team captain, his starting goaltender, several key defencemen, an important two-way center and a second line forward.

In order to fill gaps in areas he found lacking, Sutter went out and signed gritty forward Darren McCarty, veteran scoring winger Tony Amonte and defenceman Roman Hamrlik.

Two of these three signings could be considered questionable.

Amonte played reasonably well for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2003-04 but it's obvious that offensively his best days are behind him. He might be rejuvenated in Calgary but for now he's no longer considered first-line material. Still, given his affordable pricetag and experience, his presence certainly won't hurt the Flames.

Hamrlik comes with plenty of baggage regarding his work ethic and injury history. Indeed, his signing was a shock because he's not seen as a "Sutter player". The Flames GM covets his big shot and offensive skills, so if paired with the right defence partner he might work out.

McCarty, on the other hand, will wear his work clothes every day and should have no trouble fitting into the Flames system.

Yet these acquisitions weren't considered as big as those of other clubs, including the Flames provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers.

They didn't need to be.

This year's version of the Flames is pretty much the same version that nearly won the 2004 Stanley Cup.

Sutter didn't waste time re-signing captain Jarome Iginla, whose contract right now stands to make him one of the highest paid players in the league . The reason it was no problem was for two reasons: 1) Iginla genuinely wants to remain in Calgary and 2) the Flames were now willing to spend the kind of money required to retain him.

Turning to Miikka Kiprusoff, there's some outside questioning as to whether or not he'll return to his strong form of last season. Evidently, Sutter isn't worried about it. He's known "Kipper" since their days together in San Jose, and traded for him early in 2003-04. He knows what he's got and believes in the Finnish goalie.

The Flames blueline is perhaps the most impressive part of their roster. Even without the addition of Hamrlik, it boasts a good mix of rising young talent and established veterans that should make this club absolutely miserable to face.

If there's a weakness for the Flames, it's their seeming lack of scoring depth up front.

There's no question that, as Iginla goes, so goes the Flames, yet the additions of Langkow and Amonte could help to address part of the problem. If Marcus Nilson can follow through on the strong play he demonstrated coming over from Florida late in the 2003-04 season, and if Steve Reinprecht has fully recovered from the injuries that shortened his '03-'04 season, the Flames may no longer have to rely on the Iginla line for most of their offense.

But if offense is still lacking, don't be surprised if Sutter dangles one of his extra defencemen as bait.

Of course, it's easy to sit here and write this about the Flames when we have no idea what the upcoming season will bring. Injuries could wallop them, Kiprusoff could struggle, Hamrlik could become a bust or they could still struggle with their scoring depth.

But it also looks quite likely that this club is going to be very tough to play against, one that may not become a "one-year wonder", but instead could be very much for real.

And if the Flames as a team can carry over the lessons and experience and work ethic they obtained in their amazing 2004 playoff run, they could well become one of the top teams, perhaps even the best, in the Western Conference.


Florida Panthers GM Mike Keenan may have made a serious error in taking RFA netminder Roberto Luongo to salary arbitration.

Luongo, the Panthers franchise player who on many nights during the 2003-04 season was the only reason the club was competitive, was upset over this action, calling the move by Keenan "disrespectful".

Keenan disagrees, claiming it's the only way to settle the current salary negotiations. He says the new arbitration system won't be as harsh or humiliating to Luongo as it would've been under the old system.

That remains to be seen, but it's still taking a helluva chance with the Panthers best player.

Luongo's agent claims he was initially seeking a five-year deal worth $4 million per season. That's considerably lower than what Luongo was rumoured to be seeking (I'd heard figures between $5-$6 million per) and is in fact quite reasonable for a goalie of his calibre.

The Panthers countered with a two-year deal worth $3.4 million per.

Obviously the disagreement isn't with the amount per season since they're not that far apart, but rather the term of the deal.

If Luongo were in his early-to-mid thirties seeking a five-year, I'd commend Keenan for only offering up two years rather than tie up salary down the road on a depreciating asset.

But Luongo is only 26 and is entering his prime right now. He's progressively improved over his five NHL seasons, posting up impressive numbers while backstopping inferior clubs.

In 2003-04, he was runner-up to Martin Brodeur for the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender. He's played so well that he's earned spots with Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey and the World Hockey Championships.

To me, it only makes sense to lock up Luongo at four million per for five seasons. He'd be considerably cheaper than other netminders like Nikolai Khabibulin, who's earning $6.75 million per season with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Jose Theodore, who'll likely make around $6 million per with the Canadiens over three to five years.

By the last two years of the deal, Luongo should be considered among the very best netminders in the game, and could even have a Vezina Trophy or two under his belt. That would make that $4 million per look like a bargain, and would earn Keenan accolades for having the foresight for signing such a deal in the first place.

Should the Panthers improve over the next five years as anticipated, Luongo could mean the difference between going to the Stanley Cup finals or being simply another mediocre playoff club.

Even if the Panthers fail to significantly improve, Luongo's performance isn't likely to deteriorate during that time. He should still be the Panthers best player, giving them a chance to win every night.

I understand that Keenan is probably under a tighter budget than most clubs and is probably seeking to keep salaries under control as much as possible, which is certainly commendable if that's the case.

But it simply doesn't make any sense to me to take your best player to salary arbitration, rather than avoid that prospect by locking up your best player for a reasonable rate for five seasons during a period when he's in his prime.

Despite Keenan's claims that the arbitration process will be better this time around, it still comes down to the Panthers trying to justify their opinion that Luongo isn't worth what he's seeking.

If they fail to make their case respectfully, they'll have one pissed-off goalie on their hands, one who'll be counting the months until he's eligible for UFA status.

If the arbitration process goes badly, or if Luongo still feels disrespected once the process is finished, Keenan may have sowed the seeds of Luongo's departure within two years, either by trade or free agency.

That won't do anything for Keenan's reputation as an erratic general manager, and could cause possible harm to the club's long-term plans.


- Wayne Gretzky as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes? All I can say is, good luck, 99, you're gonna need it.

Now Gretzky's desire to coach may be genuine, but I can't help but wonder just how much of this might be a ploy by the Coyotes to increase ticket sales. If it is, the 'Yotes are in more trouble than we've been led to believe.

The Great One will have two able assistants in Barry Smith and Rick Bowness, but he has zero experience behind the bench. The Coyotes still have a lot of young players who need a steady, experienced hand, one that can work well with the young players and develop them into quality NHL players.

I'm not convinced that Gretzky can be the kind of coach those kids need.

Traditionally big stars rarely make good coaches, so the odds are long against Gretzky. I hope he can pull it off and turns the Coyotes into a winner on the ice and at the gate, but I have my doubts.

- As Tom Benjamin recently noted, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean is likely catching hell from some general managers around the league for his recent re-signing of Rick Nash to a five-year, $27 million contract, particularly those GMs with comparable talent to re-sign.

What the Nash signing has done is set the market value for comparable players, most notably the Atlanta Thrashers' Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk.

In previous articles I anticipated that those two will probably get multi-year deals worth an average $5 million per season. The Nash signing merely reinforces that opinion.

- Todd Bertuzzi's limbo for his brutal attack on former Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore has finally drawn to a close as the NHL has reinstated him for the upcoming 2005-06 season.

I'm still of the opinion that the NHL should impose strict rules that suspends a player who deliberately injures another for as long as that player is sidelined, but obviously the league lacks the parts to go that far.

After all, it would certainly go a long way toward preventing the kind of thuggery Bertuzzi inflicted upon Moore.

Some Canucks fans may feel the urge upon reading this to write in and say Moore only got what he deserved since he injured Markus Naslund with a questionable hit first and that Bertuzzi most likely was only doing what he was told by his coaching staff.

That simply doesn't matter. Bertuzzi's actions and subsequent suspension were a black eye on the league at a time when it didn't need any more negative press.

I know the league, the Canucks and Bertuzzi want to put this sorry incident behind them. A pity Steve Moore probably won't be able to.

The big question is, did anybody learn anything from this? Or will we see another act of on-ice brutality in the near future?

For the sake of everyone who loves hockey, I hope not. The next time could be worse.

Much worse.

- Seemingly lost in the blizzard of free agent signings and trades last week was news that both the Russian and Czech Ice Hockey Federations have rejected the recent NHL/IIHF player transfer agreement.

To date I've yet to hear the reasons why the Czechs rejected it, but the Russians did so because they'd prefer to negotiate player transfers directly with NHL teams, rather than through the IIHF, so that they can get more money.

If there is no new deal in place, that could jeopardize NHL players participating in the upcoming Winter Olympics.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has gone to Europe to personally get involved in negotiations. This should be worth watching over the coming weeks, but ultimately I think both sides will reach an accord whereby European clubs get more transfer payments for their players from the league.

- Fans of some big market teams that were traditionally big spenders in the UFA market are gritting their teeth as they watch small markets that usually never got involved in the bidding wars of the past pluck away much of the top talent available.

I say to those fans, don't feel too bad about it. After all, what we're seeing now is unique to this summer, because everybody's operating under the new CBA and still trying to figure things out, and there were quite a few clubs who had far more cap space than yours did this summer.

Instead, focus your eyes on the next several summers, when your clubs will have more cap space, potentially even an increased cap ceiling, with which to get involved in UFA markets that could be stocked with younger talent.

- I've gotta give credit to the NHL front office for one thing, that being their pursuit of a new television deal in the wake of ESPN deciding not to re-up the option year with the league.

The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday reported the league was on the verge of signing a two year contract worth in excess of $100 million with cable giant Comcast, the same company that also owns the Philadelphia Flyers.

It's been speculated for some time that Comcast wants to step up its sports coverage, possibly as a potential national rival in the United States to ESPN.

If the league approves the deal, it will give ESPN the opportunity to match the deal. It remains to be seen if ESPN will do so, but I think it would be a big mistake to allow a potential rival to gain a foothold, especially if the NHL product actually improves over the next two years.

So thumbs up, Gary Bettman and company. Now, ensure that your product improves so that whoever you have a cable contract with doesn't cast you aside in the future.


When the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified and implemented last month, many fans and pundits claimed this was a major victory for the league and the team owners.

After all, the players had supposedly given back so much and gotten back so little in return, that it was proclaimed that this deal would severely restrict how much would be spent on player salaries.

Now I'll be the first to admit that it's far too soon to start declaring this new CBA problematic, but only one week into the 2005 UFA market, we're already beginning to see some potential problems that, left unchecked, could make this new CBA as "unworkable" as the last one.


First is the kind of contracts presently being signed by UFA players.

With all the activity thus far in this summer UFA market, more than a few hockey fans have been scratching their heads over some of the signings made.

There's been a lot of long term contracts, notably over three years, something that wasn't seen as much in the past under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement.

As CP's astute hockey writer Pierre Lebrun recently observed, what we're seeing this summer is the players and the agents using the rules of the new CBA to their advantage.

What's that? Players and agents using the new CBA to their advantage? But...but...that's unpossible!

Gary Bettman and the owners promised us that, under cost certainty, salaries would be under control. Heck, their media cheerleaders assured us that, by golly, we needed this new CBA to stop the insanity of high salaries.

Surely this new CBA is working the way it should! Why, look at the signings! Most of the players are accepting less money than they would've under the old deal.

Sure, that's how it seems, but look more closely and you'll see that it's not.

As Lebrun noted, the players and their agents understand that there's a set limit as to what they can earn per season. But rather than focus on the salary, they're focussing instead on the length of the deal.

For example, rather than Alex Kovalev signing for, say, three years at $18 million with the Montreal Canadiens, he signs at four years for that amount. He's still making $18 million, it's just taking him a little longer to get it.

Now I can hear some of you say, "But Spector, because of the cap, his salary is now spread out longer and therefore more affordable".

True, considering how he was making $6.6 million in 2003-04, his $4.5 million is cheaper, but again, he's now making almost what he would've made if he'd signed with Montreal for the same amount over three years.

Under that deal at $6.6 million, over three years Kovalev would make $19.8 million, so really, Montreal's only saved themselves $1.8 million in salary. That's a lot of money to fans, but not that much of a savings under an NHL team's payroll, and certainly not what was envisioned under this new CBA.

It's also not that much of a savings when one considers Kovalev, who turns 33 in February, is a depreciating asset. It would've been a better deal for the Habs if they'd signed Kovy to a two-year contract so they wouldn't then be saddled with him for an extra two years if it's determined over the first two that he's no longer worth that kind of money.

That doesn't apply just to Kovalev, but to most of the UFA signings we've seen this summer.


Another potential flaw exposed by these signings is that escrow may not be quite as bitter a pill for the players to swallow as originally believed.

The escrow clause in the new CBA is intended to have the players give back a certain percentage of their earnings if their salaries should exceed league revenues. If salaries don't exceed revenues, the players get their money back.

It was originally thought that the amount would be 15 percent, but apparently it will be determined by quarterly audits, thus the figure could be as low as one or two percent or possibly even higher than 15 percent.

So let's use Kovalev's salary again (no, I'm not picking on him, Habs fans, just using him as an example). He makes $4.5 million per season, but let's say he pays roughly $500K into escrow over the course of the season He still retains $4 million bucks, but if overall salaries don't exceed revenues, he gets that 500K back.

Perhaps the best way for the players to look at this is to not even count the escrow money they're paying as part of their salaries, but rather consider it potential bonus money they could get back at the end of the year.

That would explain why a lot of these signings, as bloggers like Tom Benjamin and Jes Golbez were observing last week, were much higher than anticipated. The players want to ensure that there will be plenty of money available on their salaries for these escrow payments in order to ensure that it doesn't affect their "base" salaries.

Here's my take on it on Tom Benjamin's blog:

I'm wondering if the agents aren't using escrow to their advantage here with these negotiations. They tell the GM they'd love to sign a three year deal worth $4 million per, but you know,there's that little business of escrow, which would actually drive down the "true" worth, so why not make it, say $4.5 to $5 million, since after all, Mr. GM, you're most likely to get that 15% or whatever it may be back from escrow.

And if salaries don't exceed 54% of revenues, the players keep the full amount, which would be like a nice season-ending bonus for them.

Indeed, I think that's possibly how this was spun to the agents and players. Don't look at escrow as a potential gouge to your salaries, but rather, look at it as a bonus at year's end if salaries don't exceed 54% or whatever the figure is at each given year.

Looks like escrow could end up a paper tiger.

I think that's partially why salaries are staying quite high. The agent makes the GM believe he stands to get a deal here because, if he signs a player at, say, $5.5 million, a certain percentage of that could return to the team, which would make that player's true worth to be between $4-$5 million per.

Meanwhile, the player accepts that lesser figure, which is still subtantial and which, not too long ago, was considered too high for small market clubs, but then stand to face a nice season-ending raise, depending on if salaries exceed 54% of revenues, and if so, by how much.


Turning to the teams involved in this summer's UFA signing frenzy, it is quite noticeable that, as expected, a good number of the teams involved were clubs that in previous years never got into the UFA bidding wars for big name players.

Atlanta, Calgary, Florida, Pittsburgh, and Columbus have thus far made news with their UFA signings. Ditto the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, big market cities who for the most part refused to engage in the wild free agent spending sprees under the old CBA.

The Edmonton Oilers also made news, not for their UFA signings, but for their trade acquisitions of Chris Pronger and Michael Peca from the Blues and Islanders, two teams that because of cap limitations couldn't afford to retain those players.

There's been lots of rejoicing by fans in these cities, even some schadenfreude ,as they gleefully watch their clubs scoop up players previous unavailable to them whilst listening to the whining of fans and pundits in big market cities that are suddenly restricted by their current payrolls and a cap ceiling.

Yes, it seems as though the new CBA has levelled the playing surface, that finally the little guys are gonna get their chance to compete with the big boys, and thus create more parity in the NHL.

But is this really the new CBA at work, or merely just a situation unique to this summer?

Anyone who paid attention to the CBA negotiations understood that the aforementioned clubs would likely be very busy in this summer's UFA market. Most of them had the most available cap space, in part because they'd dumped a lot of salary prior to the lockout in anticipation of more affordable player salaries.

Nobody, however, expected these teams to land many of the players they have thus far, or at how much most of them would spend to do so.

As Tom Benjamin noted regarding the Edmonton Oilers, they pled poverty for years, their owners and management all but begging Gary Bettman not to accept anything that didn't put a hard cap tied to revenues into place.

We've heard for years that the Oilers simply couldn't afford to pay big money for name players, hence the reason so many stars left the Oilers over the past ten years.

Yet in just one week, they've acquired two players in Chris Pronger and Mike Peca who'll eat up over $10 million of their payroll this season. This comes with league revenues expected to drop this season and with the Canadian assistance program eliminated.

So why have the Oilers, and other small market clubs like them, suddenly gone spend-crazy?

What might help the Oilers is the improvement in the Canadian dollar, and they could be eligible for revenue sharing, provided they don't have a lengthy playoff run.

But as Jes Golbez observes, it may well be that the new CBA has eliminated the fear of spending money in those teams. They always did have a considerable amount to spend on player salaries, but under the old CBA, they knew they could never win a bidding war against unrestrained free spending big markets, so why waste the cash.

But now, they have the opportunity to spend, only instead of perhaps investing more wisely, as Golbez points out, they cannot contain themselves and are spending like crazy.

It's like a poor man winning the lottery, but instead of spending wisely to improve his lot in life in the long term blows it all on things previously denied to him.

Bill Wirtz and Jeremy Jacobs were the owners leading the charge for cost certainty, but now that they've achieved their dream, now that they seemingly have the players right where they want them, they're suddenly spending as wildly as their formerly freespending rivals that they used to disparage.

The Blackhawks invested $6.75 million per season over four years in Nikolai Khabibulin, a good goaltender whose stock increased dramatically based on one strong playoff season.

The Bruins, meanwhile, just gave Alexei Zhamnov a three year contract for the same amount of money ($4 million) he earned over the past three years and re-signed Glen Murray to a nice long term raise over his previous salary, plus invested $4 million in one year for a fading Brian Leetch, a player their management bad-mouthed for years when he was a member of the free-spending NY Rangers.

I'm certainly not begrudging these teams desire to improve by pursuing the best talent available, but what's troubling is that they're spending as wildly as most of the big markets did under the old CBA.

But for all the joy in these cities this summer, it could be short-lived.

Remember, these were the teams that had the cap space available to spend in this year's market.

Next year, and subsequent years, could be a different story, particularly if the players they signed up this summer were for deals of three, four or five years.

It'll be interesting to see what these clubs do when they're the ones with limited cap space, especially if revenues decline more sharply than expected and drives down the cap ceiling.

Furthermore by next year teams that have been quiet, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, will have more room available, which could prove more beneficial if there's younger and potentially more affordable talent in next summer's market.

What'll be even more interesting will be what these teams do when (not if) revenues increase over time to the point where the cap ceiling reaches or exceeds the mid-40 millions range.

Will they have have the available cash then? Or will, once again, they find themselves being outbid by teams able and willing to max out at a cap of, say, $45 million?

I'll bet those fans in small market cities won't be singing the praises of the new CBA then!

RESTRICTED FREE AGENCY DEADLINE. Another potential flaw in this CBA could be the December 1 cut off date for signing restricted free agents.

Under this rule, a player must come to terms with his team by that date or be declared ineligible to participate in the remainder of the hockey season.

This was meant to prevent players from holding out for longer that half a season, or perhaps force their teams into agreeing to their salary demands or trading them away to a club that would.

But what tweaked me about how this could be a flaw was an unsubstantiated report last week of the Toronto Maple Leafs sending an offer sheet to Detroit Red Wings RFA forward Henrik Zetterberg.

The Leafs and Wings of course denied this, as did Zetterberg's agent. But what if Zetterberg is still unsigned as December 1 approaches? What if the Leafs should somehow free up some room on their payroll and send Zetterberg an offer sheet and he accepts?

That gives the Red Wings only 72 hours to match it. Now obviously one would hope there would be a stipulation in the new CBA that sets a time limit for teams to make offer sheets to players by no later than 72 hours before the December 1 cut off date.

Now suppose Zetterberg and the Wings remain far apart in negotiations and now this offer sheet comes from Toronto that's more than the Wings are willing to pay, or has the potential push the Wings over the salary cap?

What do they do?

The Wings would face either letting Zetterberg go and accepting a package of draft picks (which I believe for a player like him would be a first, a second, and a third round pick under the new deal) from the Leafs which likely aren't to be very high in the draft, or matching the offer and then scrambling to dump salary elsewhere to retain him.

In the past, it wasn't a worthwhile endeavour for a team to make offer sheets to another team's RFA because the offer would be matched. But now, matching that offer could push a team over the cap, and if that team can't free up the space, they'd be left with no choice but to watch that player go to the bidding team and accepting draft picks in return.

And if you're a team like the Maple Leafs, which tends to dump draft picks in trades anyway, it's not going to bother you to do this. You get a promising, established young forward like Zetterberg, and all it cost you was two or three draft picks which may not have landed you a player of his calibre anyway.

That could make the RFA holdout game a lot more interesting, and could result in more offer sheets flying around than under the old CBA and potentially more RFA players on the move.

That in turn will put more pressure on teams to re-sign their RFAs as quickly as possible, which would give the players and their agents leverage in salary negotiations.

As I noted earlier, it's still far too early to fully evaluate how this new CBA will work out, but it's possible the moves made thus far could be an ominous harbinger of things to come.


I was doing my usual early morning surfing for the latest hockey rumours, when I came across this poem in the Toronto Sun from a frustrated Maple Leafs fan.

Lament of a Toronto Maple Leafs fan

By Joan Xepappas

The Leafs had a team

They were contenders for the Cup

It came time to sign up their men

They dragged their feet and gave it up

No one knows the logic

No one knows the reason

From a fan's point of view

It almost looks like treason

We fools, the Leafs followers

Fill the stadium every year

We get the shaft when it comes to the draft

And we're out on our ear

Just once we'd like to see

A management who cares

Forget the buck, go for the luck

And get the Cup this year

You think only for the owners

You see only your own plans

"For Pity's sake," we're getting tired

Take the plunge for "us," the fans

It's nice to sweeten the pot

We agree without a doubt

There has to be a compromise .

Now I'm sure the poet is a nice person, and it's obvious that she cares a great deal about the Maple Leafs, but what's just as obvious is that she knows squat about the business of hockey.

"They were contenders for the Cup?" In a fantasy league, perhaps.

Sure, they've had a terrific regular season record since 1998-99, and they've made the Ottawa Senators their bitch every springtime, but two short-lived appearances in six years against supposedly weaker opposition in the Eastern Conference finals doesn't make anyone Cup contenders.

I know it's been almost 18 months since any of us saw NHL hockey, but I seem to recall an aging, banged-up Leafs team getting bounced in the second round of the 2004 playoffs by a younger, stronger Philadelphia Flyers team.

What's this nonsense about the Leafs "dragging their feet" in signing up their men? I assume she's referring to Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Brian Leetch signing elsewhere as free agents.

I'm sure if GM John Ferguson Jr had the cap space available to retain them, he would've done so. Instead, he's been forced to endure harsh criticism this past week, not just by fans, but by some media folks who should really know better.

Bottom line, Joan: the Leafs didn't have enough room in their payroll under the new salary cap system to re-sign three fossils and at the same time re-sign their younger restricted free agents. I hope that explains the logic to you.

It wasn't "treason" that forced Ferguson to do this, it was economics.

"We fools, the Leafs followers", don't leave yourself open like that, Joan. I could come up with a hundred punchlines, but that'll be too easy. I'll leave this and move on.

Joan's comments about getting "the shaft when it comes to the draft" is the only true statement in her poem. No question, the Leafs have a lousy draft record, although they've been able to pluck a few good players in the latter rounds over the years. It also doesn't help when their management trades away first, second and third round draft picks.

Still, during the past six years, even with that lousy draft record, the Leafs have been one of the better clubs in the Eastern Conference. Money won't buy you a Stanley Cup, but in the Leafs case, it does buy you a perennial playoff club.

"Just once we'd like to see a management who cares." Perhaps you'd like to return to the warm, fuzzy days of the Harold Ballard regime, where GMs were hamstrung at every turn by "Pal Hal"?

Cliff Fletcher brought back pride and class to the Leafs in the early-to-mid 1990s and rebuilt the club into a strong hockey team. Pat Quinn spent millions to make the team one of the top clubs in the Eastern Conference.

Did those guys not care?

Ferguson could've sat back, re-signed his RFA players, made no effort to bring in any outside help and blamed the new CBA for tying his hands.

Instead, he traded for a proven, affordable scoring winger in Jeff O'Neill, picked up Jason Allison on the cheap (a deal that could prove a steal if he regains his high-scoring ways) and re-signed popular enforcer Tie Domi.

All these players wanted to come to Toronto, and all could turn out to be good pickups for the Leafs next season. If O'Neill and Allison regain their form, Ferguson's critics will be singing his praises.

Best of all, Ferguson will have considerably more cap space for next summer's UFA market, which will be stocked with younger talent. Guys like Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier or Jose Theodore could be available next summer if they don't re-sign long-term contracts with their current clubs, and the Leafs will have plenty of room on their payroll then to bid competitively for their services.

But you and your fellow Leafs fans keep believing management doesn't care, Joan. Enjoy wallowing in your pity party.

"Forget the buck, go for the luck and get the Cup this year".


You make it sound as though Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, after years of tossing around big bucks in the UFA market, suddenly turned into Ebenezer Scrooge.

It ain't that they won't spend the money, Joan, it's that they can't.

That might actually be a good thing, since it'll force the Leafs to give more icetime to younger players like Matt Stajan, Carlo Colaiacovo and possibly Alexander Steen. Who knows, those kids might actually turn into really good hockey players if they're given a chance, rather than be buried behind the fossils as is what usually happened to young Leafs in recent years.

The rest of Joan's poem is just more of the same self-pitying tripe, about uncaring management and poor, long-suffering fans getting screwed around.

Now I'm not taking Joan to task for being critical of the management decisions of her favourite hockey team. As a fan, she has every right to do that.

What I am taking her to task for is complaining without first researching the facts.

If anything, her poem serves as a perfect example of what epitomizes a whining, unknowledgeable fan.


Love him or hate him, one thing is certain about Philadelphia Flyers general manager Bob Clarke: he's one of the best in the business.

The facts speak for themselves, as via a combination of free agent signings, savvy trades and shrewd draft picks, Clarke has kept the Flyers among the elite teams in the NHL for ten years now.

Yet Clarke was always dogged by a weakness, for as good as he was in stocking his forward and defence lines, he was seemingly inept in either drafting or signing a quality starting goalie to take his team all the way to the Stanley Cup.

From Ron Hextall to Garth Snow to John Vanbiesbrouck to Brian Boucher to Roman Cechmanek, the Flyers were seemingly done in at every turn by their lack of quality goaltending depth. Sure, these guys displayed various degrees of success, but were never quite good enough or consistent enough to take their respective games to the next level.

In recent years, however, it appears Clarke may have finally addressed that weakness.

Current starting goalie Robert Esche is considered one of the best American-born goalies and was outstanding for the Flyers in the 2004 playoffs, but it's Finnish prospect Antero Niittymaki, the hero of the Philadelphia Phantoms AHL championship, that has Flyers fans drooling. This tandem could become the best in Flyers history.

Clarke's goaltending weakness may be resolved now, but there's another, more disturbing one that could prove just as limiting: his gambling big money on veteran "name" players past their prime.

It started with Vanbiesbrouck, whom Clarke signed as an unrestricted free agent in 1998. "Beezer" had a great reputation at the time, and in fact was only two years removed from carrying the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup finals.

Unfortunately, Vanbiesbrouck was a spent force by 1998, but Clarke opted for him, buying into his reputation, when a clearly better goalie in Curtis Joseph, then at the top of his game, was available.

Passing up "CuJo" for "Beezer" would come back to haunt Clarke, as Joseph's strong goaltending pushed the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Flyers and an occasionally shaky Vanbiesbrouck in six games in the opening round of the 1999 playoffs.

Clarke later overpaid to retain one of his best players, John LeClair, in 2001 when it was clear that back problems might rob the big guy of his effectiveness as the league's top power forward.

It's understandable to a degree, given all that LeClair had done for the Flyers since Clarke stole him from the Montreal Canadiens in 1995, but perhaps sentimentality ruled out over common sense when he re-signed LeClair.

That contract would prove an albatross around Clarke's neck, to the point where he couldn't even give LeClair away when he tried to trade him in 2003, and ultimately wound up buying him out in 2005.

Then there was Clarke's trading for Tony Amonte in 2002-03. Once a consistent 30-40 goal scorer in Chicago, Amonte was clearly on the decline when the Blackhawks let him go via free agency, where he signed with the Phoenix Coyotes.

But Clarke must've believed that Amonte's struggles weren't due to age but rather that he'd played for two inferior hockey clubs. He must've believed Amonte would regain his form if he came to the superior Flyers.

Amonte played reasonably well in Philly, but if Clarke and the Flyers were expecting the Tony of old, they were disappointed. So much so that, like LeClair, Clarke was forced to buy out Amonte.

And now, Clarke has gone out and signed hulking defenceman and former Dallas Star captain Derian Hatcher to a lengthy and expensive contract.

Now his reasons for this were clear, as he wanted to bring more grit to his blueline. And if this signing had occured, say, four or five years ago, it would be a worthwhile signing for the Flyers.

But Hatcher hasn't been the same since suffering that knee injury early into his short-lived tenure with the Detroit Red Wings, especially in the Wings series against the fleet-footed Calgary Flames in the 2004 playoffs.

Now it may be that, like most knee injuries, it takes some time for recuperation and having had over a year off, Hatcher might be good to go and return to form this fall.

But even so, there's a distinctive risk involved, especially with signing Hatcher to an expensive three-year contract. What if he doesn't come back to form? What if the new NHL rules to open up the game has a detriemental effect on Hatcher's game?

The Hatcher signing is a gamble, but the Forsberg one is even bigger.

No question, when he's healthy, Peter Forsberg is one of the very best players in the game, a true superstar whose worth to a team is immeasurable.

Problem is, Forsberg has been hampered by numerous injuries in recent years, most ominously, concussions, the latest of which he sustained playing in Sweden last season during the lockout.

Nobody doubts Forsberg's toughness and his high pain threshold, but his injury history is a concern, and at a time when cap space is a concern for all teams, signing a guy to a big deal with the injury history of Forsberg is a big risk.

If any team should know about the headaches of concussion injuries, it's the Flyers, given what happened to one-time franchise player Eric Lindros.

Under the old CBA, the Flyers could carry the salaries of injured or washed up players they'd overpaid without concern as to how it would affect their ability to re-sign players or pursue other free agent additions.

That's changed under the new CBA, and if Hatcher and Forsberg become shadows of their former selves, they'll be eating up a lot of space on the Flyers payroll.

Of course this could all work out for Clarke. Hatcher and Forsberg could turn the Flyers into Stanley Cup champions and Clarke will look like a genius.

But as in years past, he's clearly gambling on players whose best years might be behind them, and there's a real possibility that these latest gambles might blow up in his face like the previous ones.

Flyers fans should pray that this time, Clarke's gamble pays off.


- Biggest surprise of Saturday's draft: the Montreal Canadiens selecting goalie Carey Price. The TSN staff ripped GM Bob Gainey for making this selection considering their "other needs" in the words of Pierre McGuire.

But taking a closer look, the move does make sense. First, outside of Sidney Crosby and possibly Jack Johnson (whom the Habs were rumoured to be very interested in obtaining), there really wasn't anyone in this year's draft who could step in right away to address the Canadiens needs.

The Habs already have a proven starter in Jose Theodore and a capable backup in Cristobel Huet, plus they also have another promising kid in Yan Danis.

Price was the best goaltender available in this year's draft and was tutored last year by Olaf Kolzig, and the book on him is that, in additional to tremendous skills, he has strength of character and a strong work ethic, two qualities he'll certainly need if he one day becomes a Canadiens starter.

It takes time, however, for goalies to develop into true NHL starters, so the depth between the pipes certainly doesn't hurt. Theodore won't be the Canadiens starter forever and at some point in the coming years, they'll need a replacement, preferably an affordable one they've developed themselves.

And don't forget, the more depth in goal for the Habs, the more they can use that depth to make trades to address other areas, as witnessed by last year's trade of Mathieu Garon to the LA Kings for center Radek Bonk.

Looking up front, the Canadiens have plenty of depth in promising young talent. They've already got Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder who've proven themselves as NHL scorers. They've also got Alexander Perezhogin, Andrei Kostitsyn, Chris Higgins, Kyle Chipchura, Tomas Plekanic, Corey Locke and Marcel Hossa, several of whom could crack their roster this season, and all of whom should be in the NHL within the next two or three years. Scoring won't be a problem for the Habs in the coming years as it was in the recent past.

The one area they need help is on the blueline. Beyond established veterans Sheldon Souray and Craig Rivet, they do have two talented young d-men in Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek, and it's hopeful that Ron Hainsey will also step up next season. After that, the depth in their system drops off, although Ryan O'Byrne does have some promise.

With their depth up front and now between the pipes, the Canadiens are in good shape should they opt to go shopping to address their defensive needs.

One final point about the Habs selecting Price: that doesn't mean the Canadiens aren't going to re-sign Jose Theodore, nor does it mean that, if they fail to do so, Price is Theodore's replacement.

Some dum-dums have floated that ridiculous suggestion, which only underlines their ignorance.

If the Habs weren't going to re-sign Theodore, the last thing they'd do is draft a young goaltender and then throw him to the wolves. They'd trade for one of equal calibre or shop for one in the UFA market.

Right now, there's nobody to trade with, and the only UFA goalie as good or better than Theodore is Nikolai Khabibulin. Good luck winning a bidding war for his services!

Remember, this is general manager Bob Gainey we're talking about here, the man who built the Dallas Stars into a perennial Stanley Cup contender and champion, and head scout Andre Savard, the man most responsible for building the Ottawa Senators into an Eastern Conference power.

They're not idiots, people. They know what they're doing, and what they're doing is keeping an eye on the future, which - gasp! - is what a smart front office does for their team at the draft.

And don't forget, there are other rounds in the draft beyond the first one. The draft is a crap-shoot at best, and sometimes it's those selected in the later rounds who make it to the NHL. What may be a blueline deficiency in the Habs farm system could turn into a strength in a few years.

- By the way, folks, Gilbert Brule was NOT born in Quebec nor is he a native of La Belle Province, ok? He's a North Vancouver boy, and last time I checked, that's a long way from Quebec.

That's why he spoke about how much he enjoyed playing in last winter's prospects game "in front of the hometown crowd" in Vancouver, not because he plays for the WHL Giants.

I know, it's an easy mistake to make, given the French-Canadien name and all, but a little research doesn't hurt.

- Oh, and for some American-based hockey bloggers, here's another tip: a kid with a French-Canadien name isn't necessarily a product of Quebec.

There's Acadiens from the Maritime Provinces and Metis from Canada's Western Provinces. They're as fiercely proud of their heritage as any Quebecois, and some of them would consider it an insult if you called them a Quebecer.

Just because their name is French doesn't mean they're from Quebec. Believe it or not, there's a lot of Francophones throughout Canada. There's also a lot of Canadians with French names who don't speak a lick of the lingo.

And finally, just because a player is French-Canadien, or a Quebec native, doesn't mean he's automatically heading to Montreal once he becomes a free agent (Vincent Lecavalier), nor does it mean the Habs even want him (Pierre Turgeon).

Just thought some American-based bloggers would find this helpful. And no, I'm not slamming all of you since most of you know already know this stuff, so don't write in bitching about how I'm slamming all American-based hockey writers and bloggers, OK?

If what I wrote doesn't apply to you, then you've got no reason to feel insulted. If it does, consider the above an quick educational lesson designed to prevent you from making the same mistake again.

- What was most noteworthy about this year's draft was the lack of player movement compared to previous years.

The big reason why was the new CBA and the limited amount of time general managers have had to absorb it. All teams are now under a salary cap, and each cap determines what moves can or cannot be made, compared to years past.

The free agent market will be much more active, for given the gaps on the rosters of all 30 NHL clubs, there will be lots of signings and re-signings going on this month.

But as far as trades go, we may have to wait a while, possibly into the last half of this month, when teams have filled out most of their rosters and can determine how much cap space they have left, before we'll see an increase in trade activity.