Oct 152010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey Devils

Photo credit: nj.com

Steve Simmons wrote earlier this week that the salary cap was hurting the league’s best players by forcing them play with AHL-level grinders.

Noting how the cap has forced the New Jersey Devils to play with 15, 16 players, Dave Hodge argues in his latest Hodgemail that the salary cap should be abolished.

Even before the season started, hockey writers were using the salary cap to suggest dynasties aren’t possible in today’s era.

Just so we’re clear, this salary cap criticism? It’s pure hogwash.

The problem isn’t the salary cap. The problem is the league’s General Managers.

Since almost the beginning of its existence, NHL front offices have been littered with ex-players who “understood the code” or “had respect for the game’s institutions.” These were individuals who could identify talent and knew what it took to play professional hockey. It’s been an old boys club – a fraternity – of likeminded, proud men for a long time.

These men also generally share the following traits: little education, business background or financial experience. Up until the 1980s, the absence of these qualities really didn’t matter, since the NHLPA was powerless, and NHL salaries were controlled. But the salary escalation of the 1990s, and now the salary cap, has made managing the “money game” an increasingly vital part of the GMs portfolio.

Today’s GMs have to be smart. They have to creatively work the salary numbers, follow two-, three- and five-year salary plans, and identify players who can provide greater value than they’re being compensated for.

Thanks to the cap, any mistakes are magnified. (Granted, teams have “capologists,” but with all due respect, they’re not the ones making the final say on any player transaction or contract signings.) The days of trading Player A straight up for Player B have passed. And this is why, in the modern NHL, former “horse-traders” like Darryl Sutter and Glen Sather seem so out-to-lunch. It’s why Lou Lamoriello didn’t address his cap situation through trade or waivers (because, most accurately, it would weaken his club on-ice). It’s also why Kevin Lowe and Bobby Clarke moved up the corporate ladders. The job had passed them by.

There’s a new breed of GM required to navigate NHL waters. Unfortunately, for fans of some teams, league culture is not one that so easily embraces change.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Three games into the season, and Oiler Coach Tom Renney and Captain Shawn Horcoff have both already publicly criticized the length of Taylor Hall’s 50-second shifts. You know what other young star averaged 50-second shifts last year? Patrick Kane. If you’ve got the horses, you’ve got to let them run a bit. Just ask those who coached Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, and a host of other extremely talented offensive players. And what does it say about Taylor Hall that both his coach and captain felt the need to talk about this to the press so early in the season?
  • The loss of John Tavares had most people burying the New York Islanders mere days into the regular season. However, Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey have picked up the slack, with Bailey in particular looking at times like a younger version of captain Doug Weight. The Islanders may not be very good, but they’re building something there.
  • All props to John Tortorella for stressing an up-tempo, pressure style for the Rangers. However, the Rangers can’t be taken seriously in the East until their young defense stops playing giveaway with the opposition.
  • Why should Flames and Wild fans worry just three games into the season? Because each team has only scored one goal at even-strength. Remember, teams that can’t score rarely play meaningful games in April and May.
  • Speaking of worried fan bases, there are troubling signs in Ottawa. There’s an APB out for pointless Alex Kovalev, Pascal Leclaire left his last game – surprise, surprise – hurt, and none of their young players have made any sort of impact yet. Corey Clouston is a solid coach, but this team looks more and more in need of a rebuild.
  • Why is Pittsburgh winless at home? It might have something to do with terrible ice. It looks like Crosby and Malkin are stick handling with a tennis ball on grass out there. Shouldn’t the NHL, in efforts to improve its on-ice product, be investing more into technology that keeps ice firm and hard? Call it the Cialis project.
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