Puckin' Around With Spector
by Lyle Richardson on 02/29/12 at 11:58 AM ET
The passing of the final NHL trade deadline under the current collective bargaining agreement raises questions about the potential impact the next CBA could have upon future trade deadlines.
Currently no one knows what the next collective bargaining agreement could contain. What follows is speculation as to potential issues which could affect the trade deadline under a new agreement.
Date for the trade deadline. Under the current CBA, the trade deadline was moved from the 26th day to the 40th day immediately preceding the final day of the regular season.
It’s been suggested the current date falls too early in the season, resulting in too many “buyers” and not enough “sellers’, compared to mid-or-late-March, when most of the playoff contenders have been determined, thus putting more “sellers” into the trade market.
This is unlikely to be a significant issue in the next CBA, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the date remains unchanged.
“Eating salary”. Under the previous CBA, teams were allowed to absorb a portion of the salary of a player they wanted to move as an enticement to teams interested in said player.
That was eliminated under the current agreement, and has been considered a contributing factor to the reduction of trade activity in recent years, not just at the deadline, but throughout the regular season.
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has, in the recent past, suggested the league reconsider this policy, but that request has fallen on deaf ears at league headquarters.
Allowing teams to “eat” a portion of a player’s salary or contract in a trade would not only allow more movement in the trade market, but make it easier for teams carrying expensive players who no longer fit into their plans -hello there, NY Rangers and Wade Redden - to ship them out to interested teams, rather than burying them in the minors.
It would take a significant number of influential team owners and general managers putting pressure upon Commissioner Gary Bettman and his labor negotiators to bring about a change to this current policy.
Given the coolness the league has exhibited toward the suggestion in the past, however, it remains to be seen if this is implemented in the next CBA.
Movement clauses. It’s assumed the league could seek to either abolish “no-trade” and “no-movement” clauses outright, or impose limitations upon which players qualify to receive such clauses (restricting them, say, to those eligible for UFA status), as well as their duration, whether they would be full or partial movement clauses, and so on.
Abolishing the clauses outright could have a noticeable impact upon the trade market, but the NHLPA will fight tooth and nail to retain those clauses, even in a watered-down form.
Even limiting the number of teams a player would accept, or reject, being dealt to could open up the market come deadline day.
Lowered cap ceiling and floor. The league could push hard for this, and will likely get it, though best guess is it could come at the expense of the hated escrow clause to win that concession from the players.
Regardless, a lowering of the cap floor and ceiling is bound to have an effect upon the trade deadlines over the course of the next CBA.
The reduced cap ceiling (which could drop from an estimated $69 million to around $60 million to start next season), could force teams currently with high payrolls to shed salary in the early years of a new agreement, just as several did under the previous deal, provided they haven’t already done so before the start of next season.
A lowered cap floor – the result of a widening of the spread between the cap minimum and maximum, which is currently $16 million - could make it possible for low-spending teams to add more salary nearer the deadline on a short-term basis than they could under the present spread.
The effects of this, however, could be short-term, especially if the salary cap floor and ceiling remain tied to revenue fluctuations.
Eligibility for UFA status. Lowering the eligibility for UFA status from 31 to 27 (or following seven consecutive seasons) has been both a blessing and a curse for NHL general managers.
On the one hand, it has put younger players into the free agent market, giving teams with the cap space and the willingness to spend an opportunity to acquire quality players in the prime of their careers.
On the other hand, it’s resulted in teams paying for potential by signing restricted free agents to longer, more lucrative deals, with the result some teams end up overpaying for players who fail to pan out as hoped.
If the eligibility age is lowered, its impact could be felt by the trade deadline.
Lowering the age will make players more attractive in the UFA market, but could also result in more talented younger players becoming available on deadline day by teams unwilling or unable to re-sign them, possibly resulting in more trade activity.
It could also result in fewer pending UFA players being available, as teams could be more inclined to lock up more of their young talent to longer contracts.
Increasing the age by one to four years probably won’t have much of an impact upon the deadline. As we saw under the previous CBA when the eligibility age was 31, teams were willing to pursue those players - even though they may be at the tail end of their playing prime - as short-term playoff rentals, to be jettisoned once the playoffs are over, or re-signed if they prove invaluable additions.
If the next CBA results in few changes, except for the anticipated lowering of the cap ceiling and floor, and widening the gap between the two, then we can likely expect little change from what we’ve currently seen in recent years at the trade deadline.
While a lower cap could force some teams in the first couple of years to dump salary near the trade deadline, over time as teams become more used to the new rules, there would be fewer instances of higher-payroll teams trying to dump salaries.
Even a restriction or elimination of movement clauses might not have much impact, since more often than not, it’s long term contracts with high salaries which tend to be the main deal breakers. The majority of players with movement clauses are those teams have no desire to trade.
The salary cap itself is the biggest impediment for trades, as teams must ensure they remain within the upper and lower cap limits in the short-term, whilst ensuring they don’t take on so much salary that it hamstrings them in the long term from either re-signing key players or having sufficient space to become competitive bidders in the free agent market.
Perhaps the best option would be allowing teams to absorb a portion of a salary or contract of a player they wish to move, but as long as the league considers that a form of cap circumvention, it’s unlikely to be implemented.
Ultimately barring some unforeseen clause in the new CBA allowing clubs more freedom to move contracts, expect more trade deadlines with fewer activity, rarely involving star players, and no blockbuster deals.
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About Puckin' Around With Spector
I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.
I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.