Ken Campbell, The Hockey News' senior writer, is in his second tour with the brand after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native once tried out for the Ontario League's Wolves as a 30-year-old. Needless to say, it didn't work out.
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. I am not comparing junior hockey teams to sweatshops. That would be ridiculous. But it seems the arguments we’ve been hearing lately to keep junior hockey from paying its players minimum wage has some parallels to those who defend sweatshops.
There are those who will point out that as bad as sweatshops are, they’re a lot better than the alternative for a good number of people. Pulling a rickshaw or working the land for even less money than people make in a sweatshop can make the case for them a little more compelling. There have been those who have opined that some people in Third World countries are, in fact, better off because of the existence of sweatshops.
The most notable exclusion from the 24 players who filed for salary arbitration Tuesday was Petr Mrazek, but that doesn’t mean the Detroit Red Wings goaltender won’t be included in the process. Sources have told thn.com that the Red Wings will take Mrazek to arbitration before teams are required to file at 5 p.m. (eastern time) Wednesday.
This is a bit of a chess game here. Had Mrazek filed for arbitration, the Red Wings would have been able to choose either a one- or two-year reward. With the Red Wings filing, Mrazek will now have the choice of a one- or two-year award. Regardless, it means Mrazek is guaranteed to have a deal with the Red Wings for at least one season and will be available to the Red Wings for the start of the season. Mrazek is expected to be the Czech Republic’s No. 1 goaltender for the World Cup of Hockey.
So let’s say the SM Liiga in Finland, along with its players’ association, wanted to start a World Cup of Hockey of its own. And let’s say that in exchange for getting NHL and NHL Players’ Association approval and sanction, it was offering each of them $500,000 plus the ticket revenue from one pre-tournament game.
Suffice to say that after the negotiators from the NHL and NHLPA got back onto their chairs and recovered from their laughing fit, they’d probably walk out the door, never to be seen again.
But that’s exactly what’s happening, in reverse, in the 2016 World Cash Grab of Hockey™. The event is expected to generate about $130 million in revenues and $65 million in profits, which will be split 50/50 between the NHL and the players. The federations that have developed the players and will be allowing the World Cash Grab™ to use their logos and players, meanwhile, will be receiving a pittance.
It’s early July, so obviously there’s another important day coming up on the hockey calendar. Coming up next: the deadline for restricted free agents to file for arbitration, which is on the docket for Tuesday.
This will likely be a procedural day for many players because so few actually end up going the full distance in arbitration, but one thing it will do is tell us which players will definitely be in uniform for their teams at the start of training camp in the fall. That’s because arbitration forces a ruling on both sides, meaning the player is under contract for either one or two more seasons.
Contractual obligations force your trusty correspondent to declare the definitive list of winners and losers from the first day of free agency at a time before the ink is dry on all of the contracts. Who knows who won the day? After all, Thomas Vanek hasn’t even been a healthy scratch as a Detroit Red Wing yet.
With that in mind, we present our Winners and Losers from Canada Day, better known as the Start of Silly Season. If you subscribe to the theory that is held by a number of GMs that more mistakes are made on July 1 than any other day of the year, then perhaps the biggest winners are the teams that did nothing. Maybe it was the Colorado Avalanche, who picked up two players who were not extended qualifying offers and another who was bought out for a total cap hit of $5.3 million.
But that’s no fun. You, dear readers, demand Winners and Losers. Please keep in mind that everyone overpays. So here goes:
For most high profile free agents, July 1 is the day they cash in. For Eric Staal, it was a day to take an enormous haircut. It wasn’t long ago that people were talking about Staal as one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. But when the dust settled, he took a 58 percent cut in his average yearly salary on a three-year deal. A three-year deal.
If you’re looking for the newly signed free agent who has the most to prove and should be most highly motivated in 2016-17, Alexander Radulov is probably the first who comes to mind. But not far behind will be Staal, who will be on a quest to prove he’s still an elite center in the NHL. He certainly hasn’t looked like that since the lockout shortened season in 2012-13 and is coming off the most miserable season of his career.
Opposing centers in the Atlantic Division might want to start stocking up on Advil right about now, because they’re going to need it. If you don’t play for the Boston Bruins, David Backes is coming for you, and it’s going to hurt.
The Bruins not only replaced a lot of the physical identity they had lost when they signed Backes to a five-year deal worth $30 million, they also loaded themselves down the middle and have one of the most imposing center ice corps in the NHL. Backes joins David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron as the Bruins top three pivots. “You want to number them, that’s up to you,” Backes told TSN after he signed his deal.
For too long, the Edmonton Oilers have been an easy mark. For too long, their young players have been in a losing culture and have learned their lessons well. For too long they’ve been too complacent, not physical enough and seemed to accept losing a little too easily.
That ends. Now.
Signing Milan Lucic to a seven-year deal worth $42 million will instantly transform the Oilers dressing room from a country club to a boot camp. Lucic will be to the Oilers what Gary Roberts was to the Carolina Hurricanes, a veteran player with some snarl and a pedigree that will come in and make his young teammates accountable. In short, Lucic gives the Oilers an identity.