Sunday, November 25, 2007
Updated: November 26, 4:20 PM ET
Burke believes 'eating salary' option will lead to more trades
By Scott Burnside
We know the new schedule format will be the sexy story of this week's board of governors meetings at The Inn at Spanish Bay near Pebble Beach, Calif.
But there is at least one issue that could come up this week that could have a more significant impact on the game, and we don't mean why the board insists on meeting as far away from an actual NHL game as humanly possible.
ESPN.com has learned NHL general managers will take part in a conference call Monday, when they will try and come to a consensus on the pros and cons of proposing changes to the collective-bargaining agreement that would allow teams to trade players while retaining a portion of a player's salary. The hope is the issue will then get a hearing before the board of governors when they meet Thursday and Friday.
Under the current system, many GMs have complained that the possibility of making trades is near impossible because they don't have the option of eating any salary of a player they might like to trade.
The move is being spearheaded by Anaheim GM Brian Burke, who believes he will have the support of as many as 25 of 30 GMs.
"I'm with Burkie on this. I support his efforts," Tampa GM Jay Feaster told ESPN.com. "I don't understand why it's a problem [to make the change]. I really don't."
Burke believes if GMs were allowed to eat a portion of a player's salary, there would be "in excess of" 20 trades within two weeks of changes being implemented, he told ESPN.com.
"We're paralyzed. It's almost impossible to make deals, and I think trades are healthy for our business," Burke said.
Given the restraints of the salary cap, teams are often forced to make deals only on a dollar for dollar basis, which means fewer trades. If GMs had the ability to eat some of a player's salary, more players would be on the move. In theory, those moves would improve teams and provide players the opportunity to thrive in a new environment.
Beyond that, Burke believes more trades mean more buzz, and more buzz is good for everyone.
If the changes are made, there would be no effect on overall hockey revenues; the same amount of salary is paid out, just paid by two different teams. The players' union isn't likely to object such proposed changes.
The one major criticism has been the belief that the move would benefit big-market, deep-pocket teams, like Toronto, Colorado, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia, who have more financial resources to take advantage of such changes.
Burke's answer to this concern would be to cap the amount a team could eat on any one deal at $2 million and to limit the amount of "dead money" a team could have in any one season to $4 million.
That would mean if the Toronto Maple Leafs tried to move defenseman Bryan McCabe (as they did earlier this season when they asked the Atlanta Thrashers if they were interested in the high-priced defender), they could absorb a maximum $2 million of McCabe's whopper $7.15 million price tag this season. And if they tried to move any of their other bloated contracts, they couldn't exceed $4 million in "dead money."
The bottom line -- rich teams already have the ability to avoid bad contracts by sending players to the minors unless a player has a no-movement clause. New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello buried $5.7 million in salary after the lockout by sending Alexander Mogilny and Dan McGillis to the AHL. The money was paid by the Devils, but didn't count against the cap. Piffling away that kind of money is a luxury many teams don't have, but that's life.
Also, teams currently end up eating half a player's salary if a player is put on waivers and claimed when the team calls him back up on re-entry. Burke's proposed changes would give teams more control over their own assets.
Take Burke's situation a week ago when he put netminder Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers. He was claimed immediately by Pacific Division foe Phoenix (with whom Bryzgalov promptly won four straight games, including a victory over the Ducks). If Burke was able to eat some of Bryzgalov's remaining $1.33-million salary, he almost certainly would have found a taker in a trade and more than likely sent Bryzgalov out of the Western Conference.
Some GMs complained to ESPN.com that they haven't been able to get this topic on meeting agendas. Following Monday's conference call, expect the governors to have a golden opportunity to gauge the pros and cons and suggest that commissioner Gary Bettman take a good, hard look at making a change that seems certain to benefit players, teams and fans alike.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.