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Want trades? Show GMs the (dead) money

12/22/2006 - NHL

AROUND THE RINK

By Scott Burnside, ESPN.com


The roster freeze is in effect until midnight Dec. 27, but many would argue the freeze has been in effect since the start of the season. One of the hot topics expected to be on the table when GMs meet in February will be a discussion about tweaking the collective bargaining agreement to allow teams to eat a portion of the salaries of traded players as a way of opening up player movement during the season.

With 26 teams within $6 million of the $44 million salary cap, trades have been almost nonexistent since the start of the season. GMs who would like to make moves are often confounded by having to seek out trades with teams who have roughly the same amount of cap room, as opposed to pre-lockout days when teams had the option of absorbing a portion of the salary of a player they were dealing (as the Washington Capitals did when they dealt Jaromir Jagr to New York).

Peter Forsberg

One GM tells ESPN.com the inability to eat salary, an option under the previous system, "is choking the life out of trades." It's believed GMs, some of whom were disappointed not to have been consulted on the issue before the collective bargaining agreement was drawn up, will try to gauge support for such a change in February.

Their proposed changes would be pretty straightforward. If the Philadelphia Flyers are interested in dealing Peter Forsberg, for example, they might have better luck if they are able to absorb some of his $5.75 million salary, provided the "dead" money and the salary of the returning player(s) don't put the Flyers over the cap.

It's believed discussion will include putting some sort of limit on the amount of dead money any team can carry (for example, 10 percent of the cap or a flat amount of $4 million). Because all of the money counts toward league revenues, whether it's on Team A's payroll or Team B's, it's believed the players' association wouldn't be troubled by such a system, depending on the fine details. Some GMs believe it would actually help players – traded players often thrive in new surroundings and thus drive up their value.

Nashville GM David Poile said he hopes the post-lockout, cooperative spirit between players and management will lead to healthy debate on this issue, and others, like salary arbitration.

"I think everyone shares the same sentiment" regarding the difficulty in making in-season trades, Poile said. "It's the offseason and the trade deadline [for deals]. That's the new NHL. There's probably a lot of things that at least should be talked about."

Still, not all GMs believe it's a burning issue. "I've never given it much thought," admitted one GM. It might be a tough sell as the NHL isn't interested in revisiting the subject.

Let's imagine for a moment the NHL did agree to allow teams to eat some of a player's salary via trade. Who would benefit beyond the Flyers, whose challenges in moving Forsberg are caused more by health concerns than cost?

• Tampa Bay: Lightning GM Jay Feaster would be much more likely to move struggling forward Vaclav Prospal if the Bolts could swallow some of the $1.9 million Prospal makes this season and next.

• Ottawa: Sens GM John Muckler will have a hard time disposing of underachieving Martin Gerber and his $11.1 million contract (three years at $3.7 million annually), but might find a team interested in taking a chance on the Swiss netminder at a reduced price.

• Columbus: Lots of teams need help down the middle, but there aren't many that could afford Sergei Fedorov

• Montreal: Speaking of the Habs, Sergei Samsonov doesn't look like much of a bargain at $3.25 million for this season and next, but GM Bob Gainey might be able to find a dance partner if the partner didn't have to take on all that freight.

• Philadelphia: GM Paul Holmgren wouldn't mind shedding Kyle Calder and what's left of his $2.95 million price tag, but good luck given the current economics. Of course, if GMs had their way and could soften the blow, a playoff-bound team might be more than a little interested in the former Blackhawks sniper.

THE POINTS SYSTEM

With the NHL's point allocation system often resulting in both teams in any particular game receiving points, teams can play well but won't necessarily move up in the standings. Case in point: the surprising play of the Columbus Blue Jackets since coach Ken Hitchcock took over.

As of Thursday morning, the Blue Jackets were an impressive 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, including a split this week with Central Division-rival Detroit. But despite all that, the Blue Jackets managed to climb just one spot in the Western Conference standings and move ahead of Phoenix. The Blue Jackets would like to believe their improved play might translate into their first playoff berth, but they remain 13th in the conference and nine points out of the eighth and last playoff berth. While Columbus has been accumulating points, so, too, have most of the teams in the conference. Over the past 10 games (as of Thursday morning), only three of the top 14 teams in the West had a record under .500.

Bottom line: Regardless of how well Columbus, or any team in a like position, performs in the season's second half, the chances of making the playoffs remain slim at best.


--S.B.