Itâ€™s 46 days until the draft, 55 until Free Agency, but itâ€™s also 131 days from the expiration of the CBA.
What a terrible summer to rebuild a bad team. An expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement there hasn’t been any negotiations on is a pretty big elephant in the room for teams looking to scratch and claw their way out of the basement.
Enter the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that failed to recognize the new direction after the last CBA. A team that has remained devoted to spending to the salary cap and a team that has no foreseeable long term planning beyond the acknowledgement that younger players are the best option when youâ€™re not yet ready to seriously contend for a Stanley Cup.
The next CBA could potentially provide even greater challenges as the league is more focused on closing cap loopholes than allowing any form of free spending ways. Below are ten possible scenarios that could come up in the CBA and how the potential fallout could affect the Leafs.
Scenario 1: Status Quo
Simple enough, the league and the players association ratify their current agreement, the cap goes up about 5% and we all carry on our merry way.
This is a good thing for the Leafs in that contracts can still be buried in the AHL, so potentially Colby Armstrong and Matthew Lombardi will be joining the already exiled Colton Orr to run out the final year of their contracts in shame. It likely means the Leafs can add one or two solid players if the opportunity comes up, and we all get the chance to stomp around pouting about how the 10-year deal that someone offered Zach Parise is stupid and unfair.
The downside is that those 10-year deals still exist and Toronto will still be propping up other organizations through revenue sharing so that financially challenged teams can be using Leafs profits build teams that routinely defeat Toronto.
Scenario 2: Burying Contracts in the Minors is Abolished
Presumably, all deals would count towards the cap at all times. It also seems unlikely that the NHL would institute this policy without (A) increasing the cap to allow for a greater number of contracts continually counting against the cap and (B) some form of buyout amnesty.
Obviously this is mainly a negative scenario for the Leafs as burying contracts in the minors seems to be a CBA loophole that Brian Burkeâ€™s personal code of ethics allows. Arguably you still send Colby Armstrong and Matthew Lombardi down to the Marlies because they havenâ€™t been playing at an NHL level, but the only relief you get is from not seeing Lombardi fire a weak wrist shot from the point into the goalies chest.
The potential silver lining is if the cap can be inflated to close this loophole, or if there is a possibility to use buyout amnesty on several players. Any window for the Leafs to rid themselves of their mistakes is a good thing.
Scenario 3: Long Term Deals Capped
If Salary can be capped; itâ€™s possible that contractual term can be capped as well, though I donâ€™t see this going away anytime soon as the NHLPA will be fighting for job security and guaranteed income more than anything else at the negotiating table. Iâ€™m sure these deals will be leveraged by either the NHL or the PA to get something else they want if we actually see these deals disappear.
If the deals do disappear it doesnâ€™t really change much for Toronto. Burke wasnâ€™t offering these deals anyway and it will only level the playing field a little in Free Agent negotiations. It doesnâ€™t change the fact that Toronto often doesnâ€™t have the cap space for big name free agents and most players want to join a team thatâ€™s winning.
Potentially this establishes some balance in long term, and personally Iâ€™ve felt these deals evidence GMs wanting the option to tag players as Franchise Players.
For those unfamiliar with this rule it essentially gives exclusive negotiating rights with a player to the team that currently employs them. The benefit for the team is obvious; Phil Kessel would only be able to negotiate with the Leafs despite being an Unrestricted Free Agent. The benefit for the players is a little more blurry. Itâ€™s giving them some leverage in contract talks as this something you would presumably only give to your star player. It also gives some job security, though the use of the Franchise Player rule in the NFL makes me question how much.
Scenario 4: Salary Cap Lowers
If this is happening it is most likely that we will be missing a few months of hockey so we can pretty much count this one as not benefitting anyone. This would be lead by the fact that there are more teams close to the cap floor than near the cap ceiling. Presently itâ€™s pretty evenly distributed.
If thereâ€™s a silver lining for the Leafs it again comes back to buyouts. Also from a long term stand point it may finally force the organization to change its antiquated approach to team building by throwing gobs of money at middling talent.
The downside of course is that a big explanation point will appear behind the sentence â€œBuild through the draft!â€
Scenario 5: Salaries are Rolled Back
I still canâ€™t believe this happened during the last lockout, and if owners push for this again weâ€™ll all have a year to reflect on what a miserable sport basketball is. The only way something like this could ever come about (again) would be through the elimination of escrow, and Iâ€™d wager thatâ€™s number one at the top of the players agenda (gasp, itâ€™s not the Olympics or Players Safety.)
Of course thereâ€™s some benefit for the Leafs, as some of the Leafs’ awful contracts might fall into price ranges affordable by other teams.
Scenario 6: Teams can Trade Cash
This, much like the bear hug rule, is one of Brian Burkeâ€™s babies. Heâ€™s mentioned his desire several times to have the ability to pay for the players heâ€™s trading to play elsewhere. What this would look like is Komisarek and enough money to pay him would be traded to any organization willing to take his cap hit on paper for anything theyâ€™re willing to give.
This isnâ€™t too bad from a Leafs perspective, and certainly the players wonâ€™t have a problem with it as it will likely keep them in the NHL and guarantees theyâ€™re still getting paid.
The downside is that some owners are going to have a hard time getting behind this, and will (rightfully) see this as a leg up for the well-to-do teams of the league.
The question is – are there enough teams in the league willing to pay their players to play elsewhere and enough teams willing to take these underachieving players to pass something like this in the face of teams who have enjoyed the parity of the cap era?
Maybe the better question is, â€œshould the teams who are receiving revenue sharing have a choice?â€
As a Toronto fan, I selfishly hope that this comes about, and it will make for interesting summer reading as items like this are regularly debated throughout the negotiations.
Scenario 7: Change in the RFA/UFA ages
Iâ€™m including this one despite not truly believing it will have much impact. It would be much more impactful if the NHL attempts to pile on a number of additional restrictions regarding term and salary for restricted free agents, and that could potentially happen. The Unrestricted Free Agency year, if lowered, certainly makes for a more interesting July 1st, as it would mean more players in their prime would be available. If the age is increased it becomes more of an exercise in filling out your roster than trying to land a true impact player.
The impact on changing these rules around shouldnâ€™t impact Toronto in a substantial way. The Leafs have always had the means to retain the players they have, and overpay for the ones they want. Depending on what could happen with the UFA age it would be a shift in quality. Using the 2012 Free Agent crop as an example, if the UFA age was lowered a year Corey Schneider, Shea Weber, and Mike Green would be available.Â If the UFA age was raised a year Ryan Suter and Zach Parise would still be RFAs.
Scenario 8: Salary, not Average over Term dictates Annual Cap Hit
I havenâ€™t really seen this throw around a lot, but it potentially cripples teams that heavily front load contracts and closes a CBA loophole. At the same time on those 35+ contracts it often alleviates some of the pain of the last few years of the deal.
I canâ€™t recall why the NHL went with the Average over term to begin with my assumption is that it was to balance out signing bonuses, which wasnâ€™t a horrible idea, though a quick look at Ilya Kovalchukâ€™s contract on Cap Geek makes it clear that Average over Term is being abused.
The benefit to the Leafs is that Burke never went out of control on variance in salary and cap hit, but plenty of Eastern teams like the Devils, Rangers, and Flyers have. There would be a huge benefit to some the Leafs if these teams were locked against the cap or had to purge players because of these deals.
The downside for the Leafs would be if Brian Burke ever gets fired as GM, this would be a nice loophole for the next GM to potentially exploit, though if they ever used it on a goalie Iâ€™d strap them to a rocket bound for the sun.
Scenario 9: Luxury Tax
This is another one that hasnâ€™t been thrown around nearly as much as I like, but I think it warrants some consideration as it is 100% something the Leafs could exploit. Assuming the NHL follows a model similar to the NBA (when have they ever done that) it would take the form of:
â€œIf a team exceeds the luxury tax threshold, they must pay one dollar to the league for every dollar that they are over the limit. The resulting total is then distributed to the remaining teams that are under the tax threshold. However, the luxury tax penalty is only applied if the league average payroll exceeds a separate threshold.â€ [Source: Sports City via Wikipedia]
So the Leafs, Rangers, Habs, Flyers, and Canucks spend to their hearts content and the other teams receive increased revenue sharing. Not to mention the players have increased potential for higher income. This seems like everyone is winning.
The problem again comes back to parity and for that I canâ€™t see something like this ever coming about unless utilized with a second cap that would prevent teams for exceeding more than X number of dollars in Luxury Tax cap space.
Scenario 10: Net Salary Cap vs. Gross Salary Cap
My apologies if this conversation has taken place somewhere and Iâ€™ve missed it, but this is the Scenario that is near and dear to my heart because it just seems to be universally fair.
I would like the Salary Cap to be based off Net Income rather than Gross Income, and the reason is quite simple. Florida has an income tax rate of zero. Quebec has a rate of 24%. All of Canada is above 10% and every State that presently has an NHL franchise is below 10%.
That certainly seems to be an unfair advantage for some, and can help explain the fact that 5 out of 7 Canadian teams failed to make the playoffs.
The advantage for the Leafs is that they can compete fairly with any team in the league on pay without having to inflate salary (though Ontario is far from the worst province on taxes.)
This disadvantage for Toronto is that moving in this direction benefits Montreal more than any other team in the League. That being said, I still like this idea as it doesnâ€™t harm the parity of the league and in fact closes yet another of the CBA loop holes.
Without any movement being made on the CBA to date, itâ€™s difficult to predict the direction that league is going in and that puts the Leafs, along with every other team in the following situation: wait and see what the next CBA holds and stand pat for most of the summer or conduct business as usual and hope they havenâ€™t shot themselves in the foot.
The Leafs need to consider different courses of action depending on the player or position involved. Connolly, Lombardi, and Armstrong would surely fall into the wait and see category as they are low risk with only a year remaining on each of their contracts. Counter to that is the goaltending position. The Leafs do not have the luxury of waiting and an aggressive push to solve this problem remains the most prudent form of action.
In looking at all the different ways the CBA could turn out it seems clear that there is the potential to further cripple the Leafs roster, and the potential to jump start it in the right direction. Embracing the uncertainty isnâ€™t a bad thing, and itâ€™s best we have faith in the fact that the richest team in the league is going to walk away with at least one thing it wants.
And now some links:
Brad Ross is a sour pain in the ass. I have been watching him a lot lately in the WHL Finals and you can probably expect my $.02 on him at some point in the near future. SPOILER ALERT: I love this kid.
A lot of Leafs fans seem to view Alex Galchenyuk as the ideal pick at the number five spot. The problem is he seems to be moving up the rankings. Hereâ€™s Jason Gregor making a case for Galchenyuk as the first overall pick.
Rick Dudley and the Leafs draft plan are on their way to Montreal. Nothing bad can come of having your Player Development guru leave, right? Kidding aside, the writing was on the wall that this was happening and thereâ€™s nothing wrong with having a few allies in front office positions around the league and Burke is doing what he can to keep Dudley away from the Canadiens until after the draft.
The Kings remind us that having strong goaltending makes a difference. Counterpoint: either the Devils or Flyers will be in the Conference Finals despite their Toskalosian goaltending.
Komarov thinks heâ€™s going to be a Leaf. I think the Leafs are running out of contracts to give awfully fast, but I certainly like him as a place holder in the agitator role until Brad Ross is ready for the NHL. Iâ€™m also not complaining about anyone who is cheap and is pushing Colby Armstrong out the door.
Swedish hockey fans care as much about the World Hockey Championships as I do. This tournament really needs to be moved to the summer.