Chop, Chop, Chop
Had a question the other day about whether Mikhail Grabovski might be able to use the threat of going to play in the Kontinental Hockey League as leverage in his negotiations with the Maple Leafs over a new contract this summer.
|ANDREW WALLACE/TORONTO STAR|
|Alexei Yashin skates in the KHL in November, 2008.|
To me, the threat of this league was always overblown, and the tragic death of Alexei Cherepanov last season during a KHL game, an incident which seemed to question the level of safety for players in the league, sure didn’t help.
Well, the latest news from the KHL suggests this is a league where few agents of quality NHLers will be sending their players in the near future.
But it might also provide a template for the NHL should economic matters deteriorate and begin to cause serious problems.
With the agreement of its players union, the KHL held a “re-draft” today, essentially a tool to allow teams to slash some player salaries.
Here’s how it worked.
Each of the current 24 teams – the league has ambitious plans to expand – protected 15 players. Of those exposed, players that were taken in the first round would have their entire contracts embraced untouched by their new team.
Three players changed teams.
After that, things got a little Stalin-esque.
Players taken in the second round, you see, had their paycheques cut by 20 per cent, and nine players were taken.
Two more players went in the third round when salaries were chopped by 40 per cent. In the fourth round, players selected saw their pay decreased by 50 per cent.
In all, 17 players were picked. The rest of the available players, 42 in total, were then shipped back to their original teams with a 50 per cent pay cut.
The Orwellian explanation for the process was that it was designed to “ensure the future stability of the League.”
Maybe. And certainly cutting costs is both a way to stay alive and a means of attracting other teams and investors. The Canadian Football League would be a decent comparison, and football in general is an industry in which players frequently get their salaries reduced for salary cap or other reasons.
Four years ago, meanwhile, NHL salaries were slashed 24 per cent across the board as part of the new collective bargaining agreement between owners and players.
Drastic times often require drastic measures. It could be that with the current NHL-NHLPA collective bargaining agreement expiring in 2011, around the time when financial hardship could be hitting the NHL, the measures taken by the KHL today could seem mild by comparison.
Here’s a few added questions from our playoff mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
I wanted to hear your thoughts on Mats Sundin. After watching Sundin during the stretch run and the early part of these playoffs, what is wrong with this guy?
I have heard the argument that it's conditioning, but let's be honest, after 35+ games, conditioning shouldn't be an issue. Some of said his skills have deteriorated, along with losing a step, but is it possible for someone to diminish that much in such a short period? I wonder if he's hiding some other injury, because if you watch him play, he's always the first guy off on a line change, which was never the case in Toronto. Secondly he doesn't seem to be taking many slap shots.
Lastly, in his last year in Toronto, he scored the majority of his points using down-low cycle game. Do you think his skills might of eroded earlier, but because of the type of game he play no one in Toronto noticed?
Punji Panicker, Toronto
A: Two things. Sundin was pretty darn good last year, but as Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne showed last season, taking half-a-year off just isn’t kind to NHL players. It takes them a while to catch up.
Secondly, Sundin was featured by the Leafs in every important situation, given every power-play chance with the best players. That hasn’t been the case in Vancouver.
Finally, his reluctance over whether he wanted to play this season always suggested he just wasn’t sure, and in the end he was either convinced to play or lured by the money. Well, this is too hard a league for anyone to compete in who isn’t fully committed to the work and sacrifice at hand.
Q: Hi Damien,
Did the Habs underperform this year or did they overperform last year? Their last 4 seasons have looked like: 93 pts (8th), 104 pts (1st), 90 pts (10th), 93 pts (7th).
It can be argued that they improved last year, but it didn't look like they were improving enough compared to other teams in the east to keep pace. I'll confess, I came into the season thinking they were destined for 6th-8th. Am I just a curmudgeon or could it be that the Habs simply overperformed last year (as opposed to having a break out year) and just aren't that good?
Carl Hill, Toronto
A: Great question, and I’m sure one that Bob Gainey is mulling over. I would still argue this team under-performed, if only because so many of its key players – Carey Price, Alexei Kovalev, Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Komisarek, Roman Hamrlik, Saku Koivu – suffered through inexplicable off-years. These are good players who seemed to wilt as the situation got worse, but they’re still good players. What seemed to be the case is that the balance of the team was wrong, that the addition of players like Georges Laraque and Robert Lang didn’t address the team’s real needs, particularly the need for size and production at centre ice. Things are miserable in Montreal right now, but they at least still have lots of young players and a chance to fix it this summer.
Q: Good to see the Leafs go to the university pool for new talent but as a former NCAA and CIS player it is disappointing that the eggheads and scouts in Toronto and most of the NHL along with the Canadian press give the NCAA so much attention yet virtually ignore the Canadian university scene.
Here we have Matt Gilroy a 25 year old - Hobey Baker winner and great player no doubt - signing a $3.5 million, one way contract with the Rangers yet to my knowledge no contract, and certainly little fanfare for the Canadian University player of the year (Senator Joseph A. Sullivan trophy) Marc Rancourt from St. Mary's. He has a very impressive junior and college career as well as being an academic award winner.
Just surprises me that with the talent level so high in Canadian university hockey there are so few recruited by the NHL. It just seems a missed opportunity. And without the intense media coverage the investment risk in contracts is so much less than the NCAA route.
Hype is a huge reason but any thoughts on this?
Chris Cathcart, Toronto
A: Bit of a mystery to me, although it has always been the case. You’d have to believe there is some talent there, although NHL scouts suggest the level of play just isn’t comparable to the NCAA and that the CIS is populated by far too many players in their early to mid-20s. It’s almost a semi-pro league because of the ages of the players.
Darryl Boyce, a Leaf farmhand this season, is one player who went from major junior to CIS hockey and then to pro hockey, but he hasn’t been a success story yet like Mike Ridley and Steve Rucchin were once upon a time. I’ve always believed that if the CIS wanted to be taken more seriously as a breeding ground for pro talent, it had to address the age issue. The average age of a CIS player is about 23, much older than the NCAA, although that gap has closed in recent years. There are also more teams in the NCAA, and they play longer schedules.
All in all, my experience is that NHL teams will go anywhere in search of talent, and if they believed it was there in the CIS, they’d be chasing it.
Q: Watching the Flames play at the end of the season with 17 because of the salary cap, I wonder what is the penalty for exceeding the cap. I can't find an answer.
Nes Chyz, Windsor Ont.
A: There is no penalty. You just can’t do it. The league won’t register the contract if it takes a team over the cap.
During the playoffs, Damien Cox is answering your questions daily. Click here to submit a question.
**Note: please follow the link above to send a question to Damien. Questions posted in the comments section may not make it to the mailbag. Thanks.**