The Contrarian – Optics of it All

by Demetri Fragopoulos on August 28, 2016

Should the recent Panthers/Coyotes trade force changes to salary cap rules?

Earlier this week the Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes decided to help each other with a trade. A couple of draft picks going to the Panthers in exchange for Dave Bolland and Lawson Crouse.

This deal makes Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen feel that this somehow tarnishes the rules of the salary cap system.
 


He states, “There are some bad optics here, particularly for an Arizona organization that the NHL has repeatedly propped up financially,” and continues, “The latest trade continues a trend over the past few seasons that has seen the Coyotes load up on young prospects in exchange for becoming a dumping ground for bad contracts.”

We all know about Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Pronger. If we forgot, Warren does the math for us, “Add it up and the Coyotes will be paying an eyebrow-raising $11.575 million next season for a trio of players who may never play a game for them.”

Gasp!

“In the big picture, though, you’ve got to wonder how well some rival NHL teams are stomaching the Coyotes’ moves,” says Warren.

His concluding line, “We’re guessing it’s not exactly what Gary Bettman had in mind when he talked about competitive balance after the current CBA was signed.”

But it was and it still is.

I am going to dissect these thoughts.

One thing that I find odd with the article is that Warren places a negative tone on Arizona but a positive on Florida.

The Panthers got rid of Bolland’s contract and young prospect Crouse. They make more room for future contracts without losing much. However, they basically sold their former first round pick for a little over six million dollars, per season over the next three seasons (add Bolland’s $5.5 million to Crouse’s $0.8 million).

Florida’s roster is deep enough now, so they decided to switch from holding on to cap filler contracts like Marc Savard (trade to New Jersey this summer). This is what Arizona will be aspiring for in the near future and they are doing it also by collecting a series of early-round selections.

Instead of trying to outbid the large markets, the Coyotes are using their leverage of having lots of cap space to assist other teams when they run into cap trouble.

How is that any different from stockpiling on defensemen and then swapping a prospect for an established forward? Space within your team salary structure is a commodity and should be viewed that way by all teams.

In his article, Warren does admit that both teams are playing within the rules and that other teams in the league have made similar moves in the past.

So to answer one of his earlier questions, these other teams are wishing that they had the opportunity to make similar deals.

What about the extent of the cap space money being warehoused?

I have done a rough calculation of last season’s cap, looking specifically at those players who were on injured reserve, cap recapture and any overage penalties placed on a team.

Montreal, Florida, and Toronto had salaries that topped over $10 million dollars in those three categories alone. It does not include any retained salaries, buyouts, or buried contracts.

My point being that Arizona’s "eyebrow-raising" value this season is nothing new and hardly the extreme amount that is suggested by Warren.
 


Well, what about the fact that Arizona had been in financial distress and needed help from the league? That is also part of the rules within the section regarding revenue sharing. While not quite what the NFL does, at least there is such a mechanism in the NHL to assist its have-not teams.

The last time the Coyotes averaged more than 14,000 in attendance was the 2008-09 season. In between they had a few playoff runs, but attendance never rose above that mark.

If taking on some dead-cap-salaries means they pick up some young talent that will develop to play alongside their current core, then their history of asking for handouts will be short lived. Everyone in the league will be better for it too.

In his own words, “The Coyotes are now a team to watch on the ice, boasting an impressive corps of young players, including Dylan Strome, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair.” Therefore, I fail to see how their maneuverings are such a bad thing to the league. It will bring competitive balance.

That leaves us with the question of what Bettman thinks. The focus in Warren’s article is slightly skewed to thinking that what Arizona has done is boarding on circumvention to illegal, but why should we perceive it this manner and in this way?

What Bettman would have wanted was for all teams to spend below the salary cap levels. Each team restrain their spending and leave some breathing room, yet we all know that teams, especially the ones that make lots of money, are greedy and want to flex their muscles by spending right up to the very top of the cap. They do this because they want to win.

There is no way Bettman could ever stop clubs from spending money because it would be collusion to holding player salaries down.

What the league cannot do by explicit rules or behind-closed-door agreements, the system has provided a mechanism for teams with limited budgets to capitalize on their empty space.

However, it is up to each team to maximize and leverage that dead space and turn it into young players with potential that end up being not only affordable but also importantly reinvigorating.

Look at your fantasy league’s rules and investigate where you can push the limits. There could be legitimate ways you can improve your team right at your fingertips, but you choose to only do what has become comfortable and normal.

It is not as sexy as drafting the next Connor McDavid, but you will not care when you are crowned champion of your league.

Optically, that would be a good thing.