Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Isles Contracts & The Salary Cap

With quite a few player contracts ending this season, I asked the GM how or if the salary cap would affect his negotiations. Always the stickler for details, he corrected my question when I incorrectly used the word “renegotiate” because I was thinking of those who already had contracts expiring. The Islanders have six RFAs that need to be dealt with: Moulson, Bergenheim, Schremp, Tambellini, Reese and Kohn. They have five UFAs: Sim, Park, Weight, Jackman and Meyer. Six if you add in Marty Biron and the Goalie Trifecta question. (Although Biron is doing so well as an announcer during these playoffs that he may want to think about changing careers.)

“We can’t RE-negotiate contracts,” he chuckled. “It’s negotiate.” The voice in my head said we were pressed for time, so I blew right over my mistake and just kept going, “So how will the salary cap affect your upcoming contract negotiations?” I repeated.

“It won’t really have any effect. We don’t find out what the cap is going to be until June. But for the situation we’re in, it won’t have any bearing on what we’re going to do, whether it’s signing restricted free agents or signing unrestricted free agents.”

While the NY Islanders are currently sitting at the salary cap floor, the NHL may increase or decrease the salary cap. (Rumor has it, it will go up by about $900,000.) The regular season numbers showed only a small decrease in average attendance this past season but growth in other areas. However, with the NHL still looking for a new owner for the Coyotes, and other clubs requiring revenue sharing, who can be sure where the cap will go?

“That being said, we will be fiscally responsible,” he continued as I was heading into another question. The Islander fan in me reared its head and I blurted out, “Yeah, when aren’t you?” I pushed my fan voice back inside quickly and tried to pretend it didn’t happen.

Even Scott Cullen of TSN ">wrote on May 3rd,
“Given the ongoing financial troubles of the organization, it's quite possible that any moves this summer will be of the tweaking variety. It's not easy to expect the Islanders to drastically increase payroll, since they have tended to linger closer to the salary floor…”

Call it “sticking to the plan.” The term “fiscally responsible” is also the answer to fans asking why the Islanders haven’t signed any big-name, high-priced free agents since the short-lived Captain Canada experiment. But adding at least ONE big-name defenseman may help the young core of Islanders immensely. The questions are WHO and HOW MUCH? If I’ve learned one thing about this team, it’s never who everyone says it should be. So prepare for a possible surprise by July.

I asked our GM how he felt about the long-term contracts, which seem to be more commonplace now in the NHL. Do their financial benefits outweigh the potential problems?

“I think it’s a case-by-case situation. My outlook on it is if you have a young player, any player for that matter, that you see as part of your core, I don’t have any problem offering a longer term contract.”

Perhaps the lesson of 15-year contracts has been learned, but certainly contracts in a 7- to 10-year range will still be offered up for key players just about coming into their prime. Think -- Kyle Okposo. Would the Islanders not want to keep him around for as long as possible?

The salary cap has done exactly what it was designed to do - create competitive balance. If it didn’t, we would not see so many teams bunched up in points fighting to make the playoffs, nor would we see the eighth seed knock off the first seed in the first round of the playoffs. So the extended contract lengths and how they affect the cap hit is a tool to keep franchise players. But should the state of the NHL take a turn for the worse, they will come back and bite them in the rear when other players can’t be signed because their payroll is being eaten up by a few star contracts. I suppose it’s a risk some general managers are willing to take.

The Islanders currently don’t have that problem. The fans may grumble over cap money applied to contracts that have been bought out, but that is how this business works and about the only cap issue the Islanders have to take into consideration this off season.

According to Brian Burke, anything other than making the playoffs is failure. But a rebuilding team will fail repeatedly until they get it right. It’s a hard pill to swallow for everyone involved. The usually outspoken Burke has also said if a GM really doesn’t like his team in March, he didn’t do a very good job in July. So when I read in the same TSN article,
“Owner Charles Wang has high expectations anticipating a playoff berth next year, telling Newsday, ‘Everyone in that locker room who we bring back has to be better than they were this year.’”
You better believe he means it.

In any case, Garth Snow has his work cut out for him this off season identifying the "core" and maintaining them while trying to find the right pieces that fit best to achieve the goal that he shares with Charles Wang: getting into the playoffs and ultimately the Stanley Cup.

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