The drama generated by each new round of CBA talks -- the false drama of sides posturing to make the best impasse case next fall -- is sure to resume later this week. In the meantime, there have been a few articles on salary caps in the NFL and NBA that may prove instructive for fans contemplating the potential impact of a cap on the NHL.
In the spotlight during Super Bowl week are the Patriots and Eagles, two teams that have defied generally accepted wisdom and have been able to win consistently under a cap that forces most other NFL teams to recast themselves every season.
In a very long article in the Star-Ledger, a couple of key passages stick out. "What quickly became clear," write Kimberly Jones and Steve Politi, "is that the old way of constructing teams -- drafting wisely and locking up players for their careers -- would not work. 'Now you can't do that,' [Giant GM Ernie] Accorsi said, 'because you're going to lose [them]. That's the problem.' With good draft picks, you become everyone else's farm system -- unless the talent evaluators recognize the keepers and the capologist knows how to creatively lock them up."
Bill Polian, president of the Indianapolis Colts, had a lot of choice words. "If you drafted well in the old system, you were assured of being on top for a reasonable period of time. If you draft well in this system, you will lose players on a regular basis. What happens is, you either keep some of your stars or more of your role players. You can never, ever, have a complete team. So it's just one Band-Aid job after another, year to year. That's what free agency breeds: movement and lack of continuity. Then when you add the salary cap to it, it forces you to make choices among key, quality players."
Under a salary cap, everyone agrees, these "capologists" become as critical as the talent evaluators that have traditionally been responsible for team building. "Because he knew those 262 pages contained the formula for winning in the NFL," says the article, "[Joe] Banner -- the salary cap expert for the Eagles -- has decoded it better than most. Banner, a 51-year-old former radio producer who admits he enjoys solving complicated math problems, said, 'You have to have the guts to bet on your belief in those players and sign them to long-term deals.'" In other words, forget about drafting wisely, just roll the dice on unknowns after you're forced to let your good players go.
But while the Eagles get the accolades for what they are accomplishing now, they will soon end up like Dallas and San Francisco, teams that locked up their stars when they had them and are suffocating under the cap since losing those players. That's because the one player that puts them over the top, Donovan McNabb, has a "12-year, $115 million contract [that] looks like a cap-killer, the richest contract in NFL history at the time. But Banner structured the deal with a signing bonus and incentives [to] take up only 10% of the cap room." So Banner is a genius today, but in a few years when McNabb is history but still taking up 10% of the Eagles' cap room...
Yeah, that's what the NHL needs. More of the same in a second article by the same two writers, plus a third reporter.
Stephen Smith uses the NBA cap as a touchstone for the NHL's woes in his column. Though he neglects to get into specifics to back up his lengthy whine, he nevertheless makes the salient point that Bettman has forgotten that he helped engineer the NBA's soft cap, and that NHL players would probably be happy with a cap that allowed some flexibility in it.