Watching it Unfold
When you consider that Christian Ehrhoff is going to get $18 million in the next two hockey seasons, and Ilya Bryzgalov will be paid $10 million next season, it's worth asking the question that has come up repeatedly over the past six years.
Did the owners really lay the hammer down on the players after the last lockout?
Good players are getting great money. A very good player, Brad Richards, is going to get superstar money today or tomorrow. Heck, average players - Tomas Kopecky - are getting very good money, which was supposed to be the vicious cycle the owners were getting out of in the last collective bargaining agreement.
But what has always been true still is true; there's always an owner, or owners, willing to put competitive needs and impulses ahead of any sense of the greater good. Really, that's the way it should be. You want owners who want to win, and how tremendous for Buffalo Sabres fans that after John Rigas, bankruptcy and money-concious Tom Golisano, they now have in Terry Pegula and Mark Cuban-type owner willing to pony up the dough to try and get better in a hurry.
When you see the Ehrhoff deal go over 10 years and work down to $1 million in salary in the final year, you understand the owners really weren't scared off one bit by the Ilya Kovalchuk ruling and subsequent punishment last year. Circumvention of the cap is a subjective issue, but it's quite clear the Ehrhoff contract, just like the Kovalchuk contract, was primarily designed to get a lot of money into the hands of the player as soon as possible while stretching out the deal to keep the annual cap hit down.
Perhaps Jersey went too far. But the philosophy is the same, and while you'll hear chatter that the Bettman administration will want to clamp down on this stuff in the next CBA, the fact is that the owners are the ones either dreaming up these deals or allowing agents to come up with them as a means of getting their players to certain teams.
It's not a question of right or wrong, really, but in this case, if the Devils were wrong, so are the Sabres. But it won't matter, because the league and the union reached a side deal on this kind of contract and the Ehrhoff contract falls within those rules.
In a larger sense, the notion that the owners are spending themselves into bankruptcy isn't quite right because no matter what, the players can only get 56 per cent of the gross. If the money that's going to be spent today and this summer pushes the players over that percentage, they'll all have to give more back via the escrow cheques they hate.
Of more interest is what this does to the competitive balance of the league, and quite frankly, if the Sabres can better compete with the big money teams in Chicago, Philly, New York, Detroit, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, that's great. Moreover, what Pegula is doing with Ehrhoff, the likes of Ed Snider, Jeremy Jacobs and Rocky Wirtz have done previously with their players.
The trickier part of understand is how teams are potentially tying themselves up for the future by signing good or average players to big money deals that go on for 10 years or more. In Buffalo's case, how will Ehrhoff impact their situation if after next year the players share of the gross is negotiated down and the cap goes down?
Hard to say. Right now, Buffalo is trying to win now, which is music to the ears of Sabre fans.