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Facilitating Trades: Eating Salary

December 1, 2009, by

In baseball, when a team attempts to trade a player with a big salary, a main discussion is how much of the salary the team is willing to eat to trade the player. In baseball, the more salary you eat, the better the return package (generally). This is why you see some big players changing teams as early as June, instead of waiting for the deadline.

Ever notice that very few major trades in the post-lockout era occur before the trade deadline? The last big trade before the deadline was the Joe Thornton trade. NHL general managers are not allowed to eat a player’s salary, even a portion of it, to facilitate a trade. Despite Brian Burke’s best attempts, the NHL doesn’t seem to agree that it would be good for the game:

The league’s concern is that allowing money to be kept in deals would create “dead money” in the system, and the league doesn’t want that.

The league’s argument is, in short, flawed. The current CBA already creates dead money in the system via the buyout. How do you think the Tampa Bay Lightning feel about Vinny Prospal’s amazing season? Or how the Islanders feel about Alexei Yahin’s $3 million cap hit? Talk about dead money. Plus, what’s the problem with picking up some salary so a smaller market team can pick up the missing piece in a playoff run? If anything, this would create more parity. Imagine what St. Louis would have been able to do if they were able to pick up someone like Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline. Think that series would have ended in a Vancouver sweep then?

Creating this fictitious dead money isn’t the only problem the NHL has. They seem to be extremely strict on this cap, which includes the “moving of money”:

“We decided [at past meetings] that it’s not a rule that’s going to be changed before the next collective-bargaining negotiation at the earliest,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told via e-mail Saturday. “Moving money around by definition ‘loosens’ the cap, and affects how talent is distributed around the league ultimately, we believe, in a negative way.”

This is just utterly ridiculous. The current CBA allows for the NHL to receive more money via the escrow account as teams spend more money. Since a trade like this would increase one teams’ spending while marginally decreasing another teams’ spending, it means more money in the escrow, and more money for the league. The ability to assume salary actually helps smaller market teams.

Burke, on the other hand, is at least trying to reason with the league to find a way to make both parties happy:

Burke, however, proposes a cap on the dead money per deal and an overall dead money cap per club. It would certainly lead to more trades earlier in the season instead of waiting until the March deadline every year.

Without sounding too much like a Burke lover, this idea is one of the better solutions to the debate. The NHL would do well with some sort of salary movement allowed, but clearly they don’t want it to get outrageous to the point where teams can eat an inordinate amount of salary just to get the trade going. The ability to eat, say, 20% of a player’s salary, with a max of $5 million on the season is a good start. Don’t forget, that amount is a cap hit for the trading team too. It’s definitely a good start.

If a percentage and dollar amount isn’t enough, why not add a total number of trades that this is allowed? Maybe you can eat salary on a maximum of two trades a year, with the total not to exceed five trades in three years. It adds some strategy to the wheeling and dealing, as GMs really need to consider when it would be worth it to eat some salary. Looking to dump Aaron Voros? Sure, but you have to eat salary, and then you can only eat salary on four more trades over the next three seasons.

I still don’t know why the NHL is so opposed to this idea, it’s not as outlandish as say, giving Chris Pronger $500,000 to play hockey in his age 43 season. But that seems to be kosher with the league. There is nothing wrong with considering a logical idea that would create more strategy behind the business of the sport.

Categories : Business of Hockey

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