Chris Pronger (Getty Images)
Chris Pronger will almost certainly go into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a member of the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes got him so they could inch their way up to the lower limit of the NHL's salary cap floor.
FORT LAUDERDALE – All right, let’s see if we have this straight. If the Arizona Coyotes can somehow keep their disputed lease in effect, the good people of Glendale will be giving money to a team that is paying a guy $575,000 to not play for them and another guy making $3 million who will actually play for them. That will cost them $3.6 million total, a little more than the $3.2 million they were paying to the guy they traded away, who will likely get paid by his new team to not play for it. The guy making $575,000, by the way, will likely be elected into the Hall of Fame in a couple of days and he now works for the league, while still being paid by the teams who are paying him to not play for them.
Only in the NHL. Shortly after the draft wrapped up Saturday, the Philadelphia Flyers and Arizona Coyotes consummated a convoluted trade that saw defenseman Nicklas Grossmann head to the desert in exchange for Sam Gagner and the rights to Chris Pronger. The reason for the deal? The Coyotes will gain $1.5 million to help them get up to the salary floor, since Pronger's deal is for $575,000 each of the next two seasons in real money and $4.94 million against the cap, and the Flyers will get some relief at the upper level. Pronger will also become the first player in history to be taken off the league's long-term injury list without actually being activated.
Carry on, then.
Pronger is just the gift that keeps on giving, now, isn’t he? The soon-to-be Hall of Famer has had more rules bent for him by the NHL lately than a Third World dictator and everyone just seems fine with all of it. Pronger, you’ll remember, has remained on the payroll while working in the league’s player safety department. This is ridiculous. And you know what the culprit is in all of this?
The salary cap, plain and simple.
It has long been the contention of your trusty correspondent that over the past 10 years, the salary cap has caused more problems than it has solved. By a mile. Just to review, let’s see what the salary cap has brought to the NHL:
Well, there’s the two lockouts, one of them that lasted an entire season. There are the back-loaded contracts that Pronger signed in the first place, a contract that was effectively quashed in the last collective agreement. There are the ridiculous machinations that go on as teams try to get under the upper limit and up to the lower limit. There are good teams having to part with players for no other reason than they cannot fit their salaries into the structure. There are small-market teams that are spending up to the floor, which is far more money than their budgets can justify and far more than they’d ever spend if they were left to their own devices.
And really, is the parity we’re seeing in the NHL these days really the result of a salary cap? The Chicago Blackhawks became a power, not because of a salary cap, but because they changed their business and player development models. Did it manage to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta and will it keep the Coyotes in Arizona in the long-term? Does it keep teams with a lot of money from throwing it around, the way the Toronto Maple Leafs did when they offered Mike Babcock a $50 million deal to go along with all the off-ice personnel they’re paying not to work for them?
The answer to all those long-winded questions is a resounding no. You have teams that are devoting more energy to finding their way around the salary cap than they are trying to make their teams better. Let’s face it, when the league and the NHL Players’ Association agreed to the cap 10 years ago, it didn’t do it so teams like the Coyotes could pull of cockamamie deals just to get up to the minimum-spending threshold.
Before Bob Goodenow was betrayed by the same players he made multi-millionaires, he told the players in the 2004 lockout that they should be prepared to sit out two seasons in order to avoid being subject to a salary cap. The former executive director of the NHLPA was clearly onto something there. The players are no worse off, but the game is. And that’s because the league needed to save the free-spending teams from themselves.