Since the lockout, the NHL has been as much of a mental game as a physical one. The introduction of the salary cap has required a team’s administration to be card-carrying Mensa members in order to succeed. The limitations that a cap generates makes the off-ice game very interesting, yet very complicated. Every general manager is wearing the same set of handcuffs, and one over-spending club is starting the feel the pinch.
The parity that hockey higher-ups envisioned with the implementation of a salary cap has had mixed results. The past two Stanley Cup Finals have featured the same two teams trading championships. I suppose in some morbid way, there is some parity there, but what the hockey world will soon figure out is that a grade-A “capologist” is about as valuable as a first-line centre. The way you balance and manage a roster is as important as the names on it. Chicago is one team that knows this all too well; if they hope to remain competitive, they need to find themselves a dance partner.
The trouble began when Dale Tallon, then GM of the Blackhawks, got a little cocky. Tallon did an excellent job of pulling his best Jeffersons’ impression by taking the Hawks franchise and movin’ on up. He drafted Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, picked up other key players like Patrick Sharp, and signed Brian Campbell. Unfortunately, a wealth of talent also requires a wealth of, well, money. It’s simple math. Good players get paid good salaries. The more of them you have, the more you’ll pay. This was all good and well, considering such stars as Kane and Toews were relatively making peanuts. What Tallon lacked was foresight, and his short-sightedness has put Chicago up against a dangerous wall.
Cristobal Huet was signed to replace an aging Nikolai Khabibulin. Right then and there, Tallon dedicated $12 million to goaltending alone. All the while, the clock was ticking on Toews and Kane, two franchise players that would command star salaries in only a few years. Needless to say, the Huet experiment was mediocre at best. Khabibulin outplayed him and then signed in Edmonton, leaving a gaping hole in goal, and massive amounts of cash being dished out to a small amount of players. Throw in some restricted free-agent mishaps and a lifetime contract to a broken Marian Hossa, and suddenly the war chest wasn’t only empty, but stripped and sold for parts. Needless to say, the mighty had fallen, and Tallon was “demoted.” The franchise looked to a Bowman for help &- Stan, that is &- but the real help is located on an island. A long island.
The Blackhawks are choking on their cap situation. They have absolutely no room to budge. This is not the most helpful of negotiating stances, but with as many assets as Chicago has, parting with some talent is the only way to right the ship and preserve their cap’s health. The first team Stan Bowman should contact is the New York Islanders. Patrick Sharp and Cam Barker for Martin Biron, Matt Moulson- a first round and a second round pick. Seem crazy? Not at all. In fact, this is probably the most logical trade in the NHL right now.
New York has had their share of mistakes. Their biggest was a guy named Mike Milbury who traded away guys like Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, Zdeno Chara and Todd Bertuzzi for some magic beans and a banjo. Not to mention that they’re still paying Alexei Yashin about $4 million annually to basically leave them alone. So why not start building now? New York has the potential to be the next Chicago and turn things around; this trade will start things on the right foot.
By dumping Sharp and Barker (an under-used, underestimated defenceman) and picking up Moulson, Biron, and the draft picks, Chicago alleviates $5 million in cap space to dedicate to more important figures like Kane and Toews, solves their floundering goalie issue and stocks a cheap, decent prospect. New York, on the other hand, picks up a scoring forward who is defensively responsible, acquires another puck-moving and solid defenceman, and rectifies their horrible decision to stockpile number one goalies as if they were a new cure for swine flu. Everybody wins. New York can continue to build around John Tavares, but this time he’ll have someone decent to pass to, and an extra defenceman who can get the puck through the neutral zone. Chicago will have an answer for their porous goaltending, some breathing room to play the market and some extra draft picks.
It is all theoretical, sure, but with a little reflection you can see that this is a solid trade. The salary cap has given a new dimension to the game, and judging from the pre-lockout shenanigans, no one wants to work for anything less than the maximum value. Until NHLers are satisfied by good deeds and fairy tales, they’re going to want money. So wheeling and dealing seems to be the only way we’ll all stay one big happy family – until the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires that is. Then we’ll go back to hating each other.