By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
Sunshine, swimming, tropical drinks and oh yeh…32 NHL General Managers. Right now, that’s the scene in Palm Beach, Florida. For the first time since 2020, the NHL’s GMs are meeting in-person to discuss the issues of the day…and have some fun in the sun too.
Lest anyone think it’s a vacation for the GMs, it’s anything but. Even when they’re not in the conference rooms or at a special panel, the league’s GMs are hard at work attempting to fix some of the NHL’s bigger issues.
So, let’s dive into a little of what they’re discussing.
This should be fun.
Stop me if you’ve heard this already…officiating during NHL games needs improvement. Drastic improvement. Not robo ump drastic, like what MLB is attempting to use, but improvement nonetheless.
Every year it seems the NHL’s on-ice officials come under fire for the roles they play during games. And every year the complaints grow louder come playoff time.
“Why do the officials call things one way during the regular-season and then differently during the post-season?” is one common complaint. Really it all boils down to one thing.
David Poile (Nashville) and Ron Hextall (Pittsburgh) were two of the GMs to broach this topic with the media on Monday, with both simply asking for clarity and consistency from the officials in regards to the calls they make (or don’t make). We’ve seen time and time again how one call (or non-call) can change the complexion of an entire series.
Is there anything the GMs can do to change this? Other than complaining and demanding changes, probably not.
With the post-season just over four-weeks away we’ll soon see if this year will finally bring about the change and consistency that’s being sought.
SALARY CAP AND LOOPHOLES
Finally, after a couple of stagnant years due to COVID-19, the NHL’s salary cap is going up…well, sort of. Sources confirm the salary cap for next season is due to increase by, wait for it, ONE MILLION DOLLARS.
That’s right…a whole $1,000,000. The salary cap is going from $81.5M to $82.5M.
That’s going to solve everything!
Wait a minute, no it won’t. The $1M increase essentially won’t do a thing. Superstar players will still receive far less money than superstars in other sports. Players on entry-level contracts still won’t make the big bucks. And the players in the NHL’s middle class will continue to feel the squeeze as teams look for younger, cheaper alternatives to take their place.
The NHL signed two new television deals with ESPN and TNT. Sponsorships are now allowed on player helmets and soon they’ll be on the jerseys too. Gambling is now okay in the eyes of the powers that be, so that’s a newish revenue stream.
So, why with all that is the cap not going up by more? Escrow my friends. Escrow. I won’t attempt to explain the complicated formulas that govern this, but I will say that due to the ongoing pandemic the players still owe the owners quite a bit of dough. Therefore, the salary cap won’t receive a substantial increase until that debt is paid in full.
As for the topic of loopholes…
Plenty of people complained in 2015, when the Blackhawks exploited a legal loophole in the salary cap system and went on to win their third Stanley Cup in six-years. Those same people complained when Tampa Bay did the same thing last year and won its second straight Cup.
Now, those people and others are concerned about what the Golden Knights will do should they qualify for the playoffs.
You see, the salary cap limits are removed in the post-season. And due to multiple teams’ strategic usage of LTIR, there are clubs who end up playing in the playoffs with rosters that would never be allowed during the regular-season because they exceed the cap.
One popular suggestion is to allow teams in the playoffs to carry as many players as they want, but the game night rosters would have to be cap compliant. There’s certainly merit to that idea. Although, I’m sure the players would love nothing more than to see the salary cap removed altogether (not going to happen).
Until the league’s GMs close this loophole there’s going to be an overabundance of complaints about the current system.
This is an initiative started by the league to attempt to stomp out the rampant racism, bullying, harassment and other problematic behavior that has too often made headlines.
The GMs sat through a presentation given by Kim Davis (the NHL’s Senior Executive VP of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs) and Sheldon Kennedy (a former NHL player and Co-Founder of The Respect Group) about where the initiative stands and what is still to come.
Of note was that the Winnipeg Jets became the first NHL team to complete The Respect Group’s online training program. The remaining Canadian based NHL teams are on target to do so by June 30th. The U.S. based teams will have to wait a little longer as the program needs to be “revamped” for them.
Regardless of when each team completes this program the most important thing to remember is that this whole initiative is all about changing the culture of hockey and making it so that hockey truly is for everyone.
By the way, “Hockey is for Everyone” is another NHL initiative and it has often been mocked for being a hollow phrase. But if Davis and Kennedy can gain enough momentum with the Respect Group’s program, then, maybe, just maybe, those words will begin to actually mean something positive.
Only time will tell.