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Prepare for the worst, hope for the best

Wednesday, 03.11.2009 / 4:00 PM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"Every team knows where they are with the contracts they have moving forward, so the idea is to make a decision based upon that. No one really anticipates the cap going down too much next year; it's after that. So, next year teams have some idea, but beyond that everybody is guessing. Flexibility is the key word."
-- Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero

NAPLES, Fla. - Since nobody anywhere has a crystal ball to predict what the economy will be like in two years, the NHL general managers say they have to operate with a greater amount of cap flexibility starting now.

That could mean less money or fewer years in contracts going forward, but all that remains up for debate as the great economic unknown continues to mystify the entire society.

"We're all operating the same way; nobody knows what two years from now will be like," San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson told NHL.com. "You have some wonderful people who are economists, who know what they're doing, it's their livelihood, and they can't forecast it. If they can't, I have to think in two years it might be this, so I have to operate under that scenario and if it ends up being better than that good for us, more flexibility."

The good news is nobody anticipates a significant drop, if any, in the salary cap for the 2009-10 season. But it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the cap falls by more than just a couple of million for the 2010-11 season.

There are ways for it not to happen, such as if the players decide they don't mind having a larger than expected escrow. But every general manager is expecting the worst and hoping for the best for after the 2009-10 season, when stars such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Rick Nash, Ilya Kovalchuk, Roberto Luongo, Sergei Gonchar and Marc Savard could potentially become unrestricted free agents.

"Every team knows where they are with the contracts they have moving forward, so the idea is to make a decision based upon that," Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero told NHL.com. "No one really anticipates the cap going down too much next year; it's after that. So, next year teams have some idea, but beyond that everybody is guessing. Flexibility is the key word."

Even with all of the economic concerns, Shero doesn't expect this summer's high-end unrestricted free agents, such as Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen, Jay Bouwmeester, Marian Gaborik and the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, to be affected too much.

They'll get their money, he said.

"We can speculate, but come July 1 history proves the good players get their money," Shero said. "Will they get the same term? I have no idea. We can say that might not be there, but that might just be speculation."

To that end, Toronto GM Brian Burke warns anybody looking at signing someone to a long-term deal that they better be 100 percent sure that player is for real.

"If you're signing guys to long-term deals in an economic world where the cap might drop you better be right about the player," Burke said. "It better be a guy that can contribute and not a guy that becomes a millstone."

Lately we have seen Detroit and Philadelphia give out 12-year deals to Henrik Zetterberg and Mike Richards, respectively. Tampa Bay gave 11 years to Vinny Lecavalier this past summer. Washington gave 13 years to Alex Ovechkin last season, and the New York Islanders 15 years to Rick DiPietro in 2006.

"The longest contract I have ever done that I can recall is five years and I don't see any reason to go longer than that especially when you don't know what the cap is going to do," Burke said.

The role players searching for new contracts this summer might be hurt more by the striking economic conditions, but even that is not something anyone can accurately predict now.

"It depends where one specific team may be if they have interest in that one particular free agent," Shero said. "Where are their contract commitments? If they don't have a lot of commitments than maybe it makes sense to go after the guy. That's certainly their call. In Pittsburgh, we have the core of our team signed moving forward so we'll be different from some other clubs."
"We know we're going to lose some players, we just have to decide which ones we want to keep and which ones we want to let go." -- Ken Holland
One team that will undoubtedly be affected by the cap either staying stagnant or going down is the Detroit Red Wings. Hossa, Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson are slated for unrestricted free agency this summer and Jiri Hudler is going to be a restricted free agent.

"We know we're going to lose some players, we just have to decide which ones we want to keep and which ones we want to let go," Holland said.

That's the reality these GMs are operating under now.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.
Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

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