Starting to Make Sense
It's fair to say that NHL teams and executives are still getting their heads around the salary cap system, a change to the league's way of doing business six years ago that simply hasn't resulted in the kind of new practices one would think.
Perhaps the Ryan Smyth transaction from the weekend, along with a few other moves, is a sign general managers are finally seeing they can't do business the same way anymore.
Smyth, still a useful veteran player capable of scoring 20 or more goals in the league, was moved from the Kings to the Oilers essentially for nothing. The fact that he comes with a $6.2 million cap hit is the most important point in the transaction, not whether he can still play or how good he is.
The Oilers had the cap space and the need for some immediate help, plus Smyth is a popular figure in the city. The Kings had the player, but could demand little in exchange; in practical terms, their gain in this deal was to delete this cap hit from their payroll, nothing more.
Last summer, we saw the Blackhawks for for winning the Cup by losing a chunk of their roster because of cap concerns. Good players walked out the door. So far this summer, the Flames have waved goodbye to Robyn Regehr and the Flyers peddled Mike Richards and Jeff Carter primarily for cap reasons, although in the Philly situation, there were other factors.
Look at the Regehr deal. To move $7.5 million worth of cap space in Regehr and Ales Kotalik, the Flames basically got little to nothing back AND had to throw in a second round draft pick.
Regehr's the only player in the deal, maybe the best stay-at-home blueliner in the Western Conference. But to get out of salary cap hell, Calgary had to all but give him away.
This was always Brian Burke's theory, that eventually teams with cap room would benefit when teams pressed to the limit on payroll would, in effect, have to pay other teams to relieve them of that cap pressure, or at least simply give players away.
That's what happened with Smyth. This summer, with some teams in need of acquiring big salaries to get up to the cap floor and other teams increasingly mindful that the current collective bargaining deal ends after next season and could result in a significant reduction in both the players share of the gross and the cap, we could see all kinds of transactions that have more to do with salaries and contracts and very little to do with hockey.