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The NHLPA and salary cap.

High-earning players try to save the vets who they drove out of town.

Bridgestone Winter Classic 2020 Press Conference

“NHL salary cap squeezing out veterans.”

This was the headline in a Yahoo article today, as Ryan O’Reilly and Jonathan Toews talked about how veterans are not being signed and young players are taking their spots due to the salary cap.

On Sept 15, the NHLPA agreed to let the CBA run out in 2021. This article was the first volley of the players since then against the owners. This is a daring tactic by the union to try and create sympathy. “Hey fans, our team(s) could be better without the salary cap. Veterans who cost more will give us a chance to win a cup. The owners are bad for having a cap and you fans are paying the price or their greediness.” The use of the term “Middle class player”is especially telling when it comes to how the NHLPA is trying to paint the picture of how one segment is being taken advantage of by the owners. (And not the “high” class players)

Like I said, it’s a daring tactic since they know the owners will never drop the salary cap. Without the cap, the parity that has been created to a certain degree would disappear and teams would revert to owners who will spend and those who won’t.

This argument by the players is like a magician with a sleight of hand trick. The issues for guys in the union is escrow with the salary cap and the effect of those things on the players who aren’t making the big bucks.(ex: 3rd & 4th line vets) Players want a raise over time to help soften the blow of escrow. Star players are definitely incorporating the 15% hit into their salaries and the team is using any cap space to pay star players. Vets then may not get the rise they want and some will be replaced by a younger, cheaper player.

Top stars demand high pay which takes up a percentage of the team cap. The Leafs top three players take up 40% of the team cap. Jason Spezza cap hit was $7.5 million last year and this year it will be $700,000 to play on the Leafs. The Leafs will have 6-7 roster players making below a million dollars so that the team can stay below the cap.

You could blame the salary cap for that, or you could blame the players that know their salary’s will create this environment. There are many talented NHL players that won’t crack a roster this year because they won’t take a pay cut or teams just don’t want to spend to the cap.

I’m not sure that getting rid of the cap and escrow would benefit the NHLPA. Right now some owners are forced to spend a certain amount of money on players, which they might not do. And as I mentioned earlier, the creation of parity has helped the league itself create interest which can only help owners and players in the future with increased revenue. Getting rid of a salary cap would create strong teams with owners who spend and weak teams with owners who want profit, not championships. Getting rid of a salary cap may hinder young players from getting into the league as the old belief that vets are better than giving a young skinny kid from Sweden a chance, would hinder finding those new young stars.

I think escrow percentage will be the main issue in negotiations. The NBA holds 10% in escrow instead of the 15% the NHL. This 5% difference may keep some more vets in the league. There are always going to be greedy stars, but a 5% change in salary might keep some more of the vets in the league. The salary cap era continues to evolve in ways some foresaw and other they couldn’t. Players can complain about the shortcomings to their members, but they also refuse to change their actions.

To me the NHLPA complaining about what type of player they want, sounds childish. The choice of the stars to try and get as much money as possible will have an effect on the business of hockey. Trying to revert back to the old days of no cap will create dynasty hockey and won’t necessarily bring back “middle class” players.

Anyone taking odds on a strike in 2021?