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Larry Bird Should Come To Hockey

While what I really want to hear is that everyone’s going to stop acting like children and there’ll be hockey in October and I can get back to work, it’s obvious we need to settle for incremental steps until we get to that point. And what these negotiations have lacked, other than logic or understanding of the world around them, are any creative solutions. Both sides have basically said, “We want money. Give it to us.”

Obviously, for a breakthrough to happen someone is going to have to get creative. Or there’s going to have to be a couple new wrinkles in the CBA to help out. I won’t sit on a hotstove waiting for this one, but I’d love someone to suggest the idea of a Larry Bird Exception in the new CBA.

For those who don’t follow the NBA or are familiar with its salary cap, the Larry Bird Exception is a caveat in the cap that allows a team to re-sign a player that has been with them for three years uninterrupted for a salary that would exceed the cap. Essentially, only a percentage of of the player’s salary counts toward the cap.

Obviously, there are differences between the NBA and NHL. The NBA has maximum salaries for players based on experience, whereas after the entry-level deals NHL players can be paid anything up to the max salary for all. Secondly, the NBA has many exceptions while the NHL has a hard cap. But again, we’re all going to have to get flexible here to get a deal done (so work on that runner’s lunge and supine twists, kids).

What I’d like to see is that if a player has completed his entry level-deal with his parent clubs, and let’s say at least 2/3rds of whatever that will eventually be, he should be able to re-sign with his club with only say 85% of his salary actually counting against the cap. As he gets older and makes more money, that percentage could drop. Or it could drop with a ratio based on age and salary. Maybe anything over $6 million per season only qualifies for this, depending on the age of the player and the length he has been on the team. For example, with Kane and Toews signing their deal at the age of 21 for $6.1 a year, maybe only 5.7 counts toward the cap. When they sign their next deal at the age of 27, maybe it’s anything that’s over 7 or 8 million. Something to that effect.

Will this hold down salaries? No, it won’t, and that’s probably why it’s a non-starter. But the benefits are obvious for all. What would have happened if the Predators could have offered Suter and Weber more than anyone else could have instead of just as much? The Predators wanted to spend to keep their players, but Suter and Weber came to the realization that they couldn’t fill out a team with their salaries on board. What if the Preds had more flexibility even after paying them? Then both players that Preds fans had become attached to and watched grow into the stars they are would be where they honestly belong. How’s that a bad thing?

While the NHL wants a system where teams can benefit from being stupid and just waiting for those who were smart to have to cull players simply due to the cap, it would be better off is players were tempted to stay where they broke into the league and establish bonds with the city and fans. The NHL could do with more Ray Bourques or Steve Yzermans. Yes, I know Bourque was eventually traded, but that wasn’t for money reasons and when you think of him you have that immediate connotation of “Boston Bruins.” It would do wonders for marketing if you could so easily identify players with teams for years on end.

There’s also a benefit for smaller clubs who don’t want to or can’t pay these salaries anyway, and that’s the sign-and-trade. They can glean something out of their free agents longing for the exit door instead of just seeing them walk for nothing. Good drafting and development will still provide benefits even if you can’t keep them all.

But then again, I think everyone would benefit from a straight soccer money-transfer system instead of our American trade-system. So I’m a radical.

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