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BIG SANDY LAKE…. A lot has happened in the world of NHL over the past 14 days. The Stanley Cup has been won, the NHL Entry draft has been held and the NHL version of The Price is Right, otherwise known as the Free Agent signing period have all come and gone. There will probably still be a few more trades and Free agent signings and movement, but most of the biggest shots have been fired, the cannon’s are empty and cold.
For those of you who are fans of the league and have a favorite team or two, you probably already know what that club has done draft-wise and free agent-wise. For the local team, the Minnesota Wild, they are still in the middle of a build-rebuild movement. And with the league salary cap dropping about $10mil for the upcoming season they had to make some moves to become cap compliant. Gone are Cal Clutterbuck, a fan favorite who was always near the top of the league in hits per game and for season total, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, hampered by head injury and post concussion symptoms the past few seasons, solid journeyman Matt Cullen and the ever streaky Devin Setoguchi.
Coming to Minnesota are former Isles forward Nino Niederreiter, (for Clutterbuck) who didn’t pan out for the Isles, but, as the darling of the 2010 World Junior Tourney became a 5th pick overall, Pittsburgh Pengwah pest Matt Cooke (as a UFA), former Gopher D-man Keith Ballard (from Vancouver, waived by) and a host of picks for the future. In my book C-bucks “busy-ness” on the ice wasn’t matching up with his production, PMB had some of the best hands in the Wild’s history, but it was probably time for he and the club to part ways, Seto has this wicked high wrist shot, which was an asset and a detriment, (because that WAS his entire shot arsenal) and Cully, well, out of the whole bunch he is the one I didn’t want leaving the team, this is a player that contributes in a variety of ways. He is the kind of guy you need for a Cup roster.
After the draft and free agent smoke clears are the Wild any closer to having a playoff roster capable of winning a round or two or more? As a fan I jump up and down at the mere mention of the word hockey. As a writer I have to leave emotion out of it. The reality of the situation is no, they are not. Not enough current stars and the future ones aren’t ready yet. The roster depth isn’t much stronger then last year and it would be easy to surmise that after a big free agent spending year and with the cap going downward, that the club would have to sit on it’s hands this summer.
However, if you take the long view the cap will start to go back up (as greedy owners and GM’s will want to enhance their Cup chances) and the Wild’s youngsters will gain experience as they build toward their Cup window. You can’t win a Cup with a team that is too old or too young but has a solid blend of those ingredients. The Wild are slowly working their way there. Stay tuned….
LAST FRIDAY WE WITNESSED just under $400mil in new contracts offered and signed during the annual free agent frenzy. In the past 2 to 3 weeks we have also witnessed several big dollar contract buyouts. Rick Dipietro, Ilya Bryzgalov, Daniel Briere and Vincent LeCavalier will receive roughly $83mil between them over several years to NOT play for their former clubs anymore. Yikes! But this is the kind of madness that occurs when you have a league run by lawyers for lawyers. This is today’s mixed up, convoluted mess of a sports league economy. And while fans are guaranteed there will not be another player lockout until this Rubik’s cube of a CBA agreement expires in 2022, I can all but guarantee you that there will be one then too.
This league is now firmly ensconced in a lockout, agreement, lockout, agreement cycle and I believe the trend will not be broken until someone is big enough to step up to the plate and come up with a whole new way to determine player value and then apply it to contract amount and term. The current setup, even post-lockout and agreement is madness and unsustainable. If you were a business owner could you fathom paying an employee a huge salary to not come to work?
If you were a small market team and you were of the belief that the Cap would bring you into a situation whereby you could compete economically with big market clubs the current phenomena of big contract buyouts renders that to be a moot point. What small market could or would be able to afford this kind of madness? Do these buyouts also render the thought of on-ice competitive parity because of the Cap into fantasy land? Perhaps the parity is really a result of common training and strategy elements rather then that no one can spend more then another on their roster?
The Philadelphia Flyers just dumped 2 players and it will cost them about $35mil. Can Florida, Carolina or Phoenix do that? Not a chance. The revenues the league experienced this year in a shortened 48 game season, if extrapolated out to an 82 game season could have been in the neighborhood of $4bil, which would have been an all time high for the NHL. There are some things that Commissioner Gary Bettman has accomplished that must be noted and he must be credited for. On the other hand there are some economic factors going on that are causes for some major concern. I’ll have more on this topic for next week…. PEACE
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.