It’s a lovely day here in Santa Rosa so I decided to prepare for the start of tonight’s NHL Draft by sitting in the shade and enjoying a nice cigar. As often happens during such reveries, I had an idea. Sometimes the ideas are good, often they are bad. Frequently they aren’t even new. So I apologize if the following idea has already been tried or discussed elsewhere. I’m not a capologist, just an optometrist.
The idea came to me after reading too many blog entries about the struggle of teams to deal with the cap limit. I particularly am annoyed by the Wing’s problem since 2005: it just isn’t as fun when your team can’t spend whatever it wants to get the right players. I have very fond memories of the days when Detroit just went out and got great players even if they cost a lot. But the salary cap is here to stay, driven by a fear of collective fiscal insanity and poor-mouth owners who say they can’t keep up with the big spenders.
What if the NHL made cap space a negotiable asset? Teams already can negotiate the exchange of players and draft picks so why not let teams sell credits against the cap? A team that can’t or won’t spend up to the limit could sell any or all of its remaining space for the current season for whatever consideration another team would want to give: cash, drafts picks, whatever. The team buying cap space credits would increase its upper limit and the team selling the credits would decrease its upper limit by the same amount. The total spending limit would remain unchanged in the league, but a team that could really use a few million more in space could go out and pay whatever it takes to meet current needs. There still would be an incentive to avoid excessive long-term contracts because each year there would be a renewed need to purchase more credits. But lower-spending teams could stockpile cash or draft picks while teams with greater resources could arm themselves better for a Stanley Cup run.
I have not tried to think through all of the consequences, but I imagine this change could provide a nice additional tool for dealmaking at this time of year, and a lively market for rental-players in March. It also could help a team get out of the kind of jam that kept Gustav Nyquist in Grand Rapids for at the start of last season. I suppose that some folks will argue that this would just take us back to the days of dominance by a few rich teams. But the total spending limit would stay the same and nobody could build a $100 million payroll without getting a lot of teams to cooperate every year, at very high cost. Managers would not only be paying a player's salary but also a would be paying a premium for the luxury of signing the player. On the other hand, it might provide an alternative to teams racing to the bottom in order to get a top draft pick, which seems to be the main way to succeed with the forced parity we have today.
Of course, such a significant feature probably has to be negotiated in a CBA and the league would have to be notified of every exchange so that it could keep track of each team's revised upper limit. Anyway, that's all I'm going to write about this because the draft has started.