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Cap space, CBA experts play key role at Deadline

by Tal Pinchevsky

Ryan Martin of the Detroit Red Wings traveled an interesting road to his front-office position with the club in 2005. Shortly after the announcement of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between team owners and players introduced a salary cap, the skills developed by Martin during a career as a lawyer specializing in corporate and taxation law proved to be a perfect fit as the Red Wings looked for a leg up in getting through the minutiae of a new CBA.

Now, as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches, front-office specialists across the League, like Martin, are hard at work.

"I did a lot of work with spreadsheets and forecasting and budgeting. I always enjoyed working with numbers. Certainly, when I interviewed with Detroit, that was part of my skill set that I marketed," said Martin, the Red Wings assistant general manager of hockey administration. "In 2005, I think a lot of teams made the push. There were different types of hockey personnel people. Player personnel people, lawyers, analytics people. Front offices that used to be two people are now four and five sometimes."

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Jagr DAL Bouwmeester CGY Luongo VAN
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With this year's salary cap set at $70.2 million, teams looking to improve their roster are sure to keep an eye on their cap situation -- especially with next year's cap coming down to $64.3 million. That unique wrinkle can increase the trade value of players whose contracts expire after this season.

So, it's probably not an accident that the Pittsburgh Penguins' three recent high-profile acquisitions -- Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow -- will all become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

"Every player now is a two-sided coin. Before the cap, he was a one-sided coin," said Cam Hope, the former New York Rangers assistant general manager who currently serves as general manager of the Western Hockey League's Victoria Cougars. "The first analysis is 'how good is he?' The second analysis is 'what's his contract?' Because the initial value of what he's worth to the team is either enhanced by the fact his contract is expiring or hindered by how it isn't expiring and it's going to hurt future plans. It's absolutely a critical consideration."

Salary considerations play a large role in potential trades for teams operating near or at the cap. But for teams operating with plenty of cap space, that flexibility can play a role in seeking out potential trade partners.

"We're over $10 million under the [salary-cap] ceiling. For us, it's a matter of tracking the 29 other teams and getting an idea for where other teams fall and understanding when a player is available, especially with a larger cap hit," said Ryan Miller, the St. Louis Blues director of hockey administration, who like Martin previously worked with player agent Kurt Overhardt. "In terms of spending for a team like ours, it's getting a feel for the landscape of the 29 other teams and also making sure that our roster and the players we have are set to give our coaches the tools to do what they do best."

Cap management is an important aspect of what specialists like Martin and Miller do, but it's far from their only task. For every team dealing with the annual roster expansion that follows the trade deadline, not to mention its injured reserve, a proper understanding of the rules governing all transactions is vital. Team front offices may be poring over each of their own players' contracts as well as those of players belonging to other teams, but they still need to occasionally go straight to the real experts at NHL Central Registry.

"Typically, if a topic is addressed that I feel may have been changed or tweaked from the last [CBA], I'll communicate with Central Registry several times a week," Martin told "To me, the most important thing is not only the cap management. It's managing the rules. Most, if not all, the people that do the job that I do are charged with that responsibility. Understanding all the rules with transactions and waivers and things like that."

"You'd go to lunch and wonder, 'Did I look at that guy's contract right?' You just looked at 37 [contracts] over the past two days, so you're thinking, 'Was there a signing-bonus payment due?'" said Tom Lynn, former Minnesota Wild assistant general manager of hockey administration and legal affairs, who now works as an agent. "The League sends out a fax to teams a few days before [the trade deadline showing] where all the [NHL Central Registry] staff can be reached. A lot of the time, they have to get back to you because they get so many calls."

Lynn was first hired by the Wild in 2000, long before a legal background was an asset for finding work in the NHL. While it was rare, other former lawyers at that time were getting their start doing similar tasks, including current Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, who was working as the Ottawa Senators director of legal relations around the time the Wild hired Lynn.

It's during the Trade Deadline that many teams look to quickly add a player that can help put them over the top. But while teams appear to be looking to the next two or three months when they make a deadline trade, in all likelihood they're factoring in the next two or three years.

"You'd love to make a deal to improve your team now, but if it puts you in a situation where you're going to have to lose two or three players down the road, then that's something you have to do very carefully," Miller said. "You have to be aware of how your cap spending is going to trend over the next couple of years. You'd hate to put yourself in a [tough] spot."

The cap may be a major consideration during the trade deadline, but it's far from the only one. Because whatever cap considerations a team makes, nothing serves an NHL franchise better than a prolonged Stanley Cup Playoff run.

"If you make the right deal for a guy who is on an expiring contract and you pay dearly for him and that move allows your team to go all the way through, what that does for the organization and your young players, in terms of experience, is immeasurable," Hope said. "It's not just what you get out of that player. It's what you get out of the run that you've created by acquiring that player. How that affects all of the players in the organization as a whole. Whatever [Los Angeles] did [last season], what that did for the franchise, you can't put a value on it."

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