Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions on the Maple Leafs and the NHL. This week: the cap, to no-trade or not to no-trade, and MLSE's goal.
Q: Hi, Damien, I love reading your opinions on hockey and wanted to know what you think about the perceived lack of interest in winning on the part of MLSE.
Many of my fellow Leaf fans think that the executives of the team just want to squeak into the playoffs every year and fill the building every night. That irks me because the team has consistently been in the top 5 in player spending for years, and has boosted scouting in this salary cap era. I'm going to put forward the bold assertion that not only does MLSE want to win, but no one spends more than they do to try and accomplish that goal.
Is that reasonable, or am I just a lemming-like Leaf junkie?
Matt Dumas, Kingston, Ont.
A: No, you’re a fan that wants his team to win, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think the concept of an organization “wanting to win” is overused. It’s really more about the combination of being willing to make sacrifices necessary to win and putting personnel in place that understand what is required to win.
MLSE, let’s face it, is a wildly successful company. If it was a publically traded company, it would be a popular stock, and the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund sure likes to have its money in the company. That said, it has never struck me that the organization has been willing to sacrifice – i.e., forgo profit – to pursue a Stanley Cup. Moroever, it’s record of finding the best hockey personnel and letting them do the job is spotty, at best.
So does Larry Tanenbaum want to win? Sure. I’m certain he’d love it.
But is he and the board willing to sacrifice MLSE profits to win? And do they have the faintest idea how to achieve ultimate victory in the NHL?
There’s precious little evidence of either.
Q: Hi there, hypothetical question that maybe you have answered before, but I'll ask anyway: What would happen if a team actually went over the cap?
Are they penalized financially, or would the player(s) signed/acquired who made them exceed the cap not be eligible to play? For example, what if JFJ decided the Leafs were going after Joe Sakic, cap be damned (I wish!) - and they traded away a 2 first-rounders and the remaining rights to Bob Halkidis for him, despite his salary then putting the Leafs way over the cap. Could Sakic play and the team just pays the league a fine, or would he not be allowed to play? What rules are there to stop the wealthier teams from doing things like that?
A.D., Belleville, Ont.
A: Simple answer. During the season you can’t even make a deal that puts you over the cap, or even call up a player from the minors that puts you over the cap. You can’t play a game with a roster that exceeds the maximum allowed payroll. No fines or penalties – you just can’t do it.
So re your hypothetical Sakic deal? Without clearing the requisite salary cap room first, the league wouldn’t approve the trade.
Q: Hey Damien, what are your thoughts on the Senators as we head towards the playoffs? In the past couple seasons when they were "supposed" to win it always seemed like there was an impending doom waiting and for good reason. Perhaps it’s the struggles they went through early in the year and digging out of that, plus they seem to have a goaltender with a bit a "swagger" where in the past this has not been the case. Seems like they are lurking in the weeds this year and may surprise, not unlike the Indy Colts did in the NFL. Thoughts?
Don Richardson, Mississauga
A: I agree. I like the Senators more this year than in other seasons when they sat higher in the standings. Their grit is underrated, and flying below the radar has been a very good thing for Bryan Murray’s team. Moreover, having a little less talent – no Chara, no Havlat – has made the Sens understand they can’t get by on talent alone, which seems to have made them a more focused team. Ray Emery needs to worry about playing goal more than fighting and the first round is really all about matchups, but I like the Sens as much as anybody in the Eastern Conference right now.
Q: Hi Damien. Hockey players are extremely well compensated for their services. Given that a team invests millions of dollars in a single star, why would a team also handicap itself and agree to a "no-trade" contract? What's wrong with just paying the star the millions of dollars?
David Goldberg, Toronto
A: Great question. Moreover, given that players with no-trade clauses in their contracts routinely waive those rights these days, it seems like a pointless exercise. That said, having a no-trade clause gives a player some degree of control. Even if the team he signed the deal with doesn’t want him anymore, it at least allows him to control his destination if he is to be moved.
Lowering the age of unrestricted free agency has given more players more leverage, and therefore more of them are pushing for everything they can get in a deal. The old days of secret agreements and unusual bonuses are over, so no-trade clauses are in hot demand and teams interesting in keeping players are finding themselves forced to meet that demand.
Q: Damien, I heard that the Leafs are playing Wozniewski tonight against the Flyers. I don't get it. Brendan Bell has been with the team all year and I think has played fairly well. Why would the Leafs/Maurice play with Bell's confidence like that? Kubina is out, Bell is the 7th defenceman, case closed. Let Wozniewski get a spot back in camp next year. Too close to playoffs to screw around with line-up. It's not Paul Coffey they are putting back in the line-up with Wozniewski.
Rocky Crupi, Ottawa
A: Obviously, Rocky sent this question before Bell was dealt to Phoenix at the trade deadline. But I think the issue is still interesting in that no matter what Bell did or how he performed, he couldn’t seem to get the confidence of the coaching staff. Conversely, Leaf management loves Wozniewski, and so does Paul Maurice. I’m not sure why that is, based on his few NHL appearances, but they believe he’s a legitimate NHL regular.
Q: Do you think Sundin would resign with the leafs at a much loser rate to allow the team to sign more talented players?
Tara Rehsi, Hamilton, Ont.
A: Now there’s a question and my answer would really be just a guess.
It really comes down to whether Sundin wants to stay in Toronto above all other considerations. Darcy Tucker clearly could have got more than $3 million on the free agent market but didn’t want to uproot his family. In New Jersey, Martin Brodeur is paid much less than other NHL netminders, but he’s in the first year of a six-year deal that guarantees he’ll still be getting paid by the Devils when he’s 39 and he knows he doesn’t have to worry about being forced to move away from his four children, who live with their mother.
Sundin’s a bit of a wild card in this respect because he doesn’t have a wife and children and spends most of the off-season in Europe or at least away from Toronto. So my guess – and it’s a guess - would be that he wouldn’t take a substantial discount to help the team recruit new talent. Maybe a small one, but not enough to make a difference.
Q: In response to your blog on "Fighting Logic" and the protection of Sidney Crosby, you propose that strict enforcement of the rules is enough. However, last couple weeks, Sid the Kid was speared, high-sticked and butt-ended, while not a single penalty was called. Furthermore, no one on his team went to his aid in any of these situations. Either this is an internal problem on the Penguins, or fear of getting the instigator penalty played a part.
Right now, it seems like the rules are not being enforced and if they were, would it really be enough? Do you not agree with the assertion that Gretzky had more room to move about with Semenko and McSorley riding shotgun? And by more room, I mean that players were less apt to look for the legal, but bone-crunching check on Gretzky, because if you did, you knew Dave or Marty would come looking for you.
The worst thing that could happen to the NHL right now would be if Ovechkin or Crosby were injured; injured because the players cannot effectively police themselves and/or the league isn't calling the game tight enough.
So then, what is the answer?
Jeff Danchuk. Toronto
A: You know, I watched an old playoff game featuring Gretzky and the Oilers the other day and I was surprised how little hitting there was, and how much room Gretzky created for himself by his awesome skill level. Did Semenko help keep the barbarians away? Sure, and Wayne certainly says he did. But this is such a negative way to look at sport in general and hockey in particular, that it can only be played properly with goons hovering above the scene.
Maybe I’m an idealist, but I believe hockey is better than that. Just as a running back can go through the line, take a tough hit and then jog back to the huddle, hockey at its best features players who understand contact is part of the game, whether they’re stars or grinders. Where the NHL has let itself down over and over has been its inconsistent application of the rules, and when that happens, teams want to police the game themselves.
It’s a failing of the sport, really, and I’m not sure it’s getting better soon. Obviously, the Penguins bought into the thinking enough that they went out and picked up Georges Laraque at the trade deadline.
In your recent article “Salary cap or is it cheatin' cap?” (Feb 21, 2007), you said:
“Under the new CBA, teams are not allowed to trade cap space or trade a player away while still paying part of his salary, which has teams exploring new ways to get around their cap issues.”
So this would preclude the Leafs from trading away Pavel Kubina to some team, but keeping 2 million of his salary on the Leafs’ books counting against the Leafs’ cap while the other team would only have 3 million on their cap.
However, what if you traded Kubina to another team with enough cap space, where that team would take on his full salary and cap allotment, but the Leafs included money in the trade, i.e. 6 million up front (averaging 1.5M/yr). The argument could be made that the Leafs are paying his salary, however, the players cap space wouldn’t be split between the teams.
Is that still ‘cheating’?
Matt Ferraro, Guelph, Ont.
A: You can’t put money in trades any more. No longer allowed.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
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