The scene is in black-and-white, in a smoke-filled general manager’s office, of a struggling, imaginary team that we’ll call the Hoboken Zephyrs.
It’s a snowy day in Hoboken, and the traffic to the Holland Tunnel is snarled again. GM Jackie Adams is waiting for the daily call from his owner, John James McMullen Norris III. He’s looking at his team, struggling in the standings, and is about at the end of his rope.
Three weeks ago, just before Canadian Thanksgiving, Adams slipped a termination notice under the office door of his long-time coach, Billy Ray, and new coach Bill Snow hasn’t brought the results he’d hoped for. It’s time for another move to try to change the hockey club.
Adams considers his options. The Zephyrs want to acquire a superstar level player to change the room, but they also have several skaters on their current roster who will cause problems with the budget if a star is added.
For instance, take speedy role player George Jetson, checking in at $2.5 million a year for this year, and the next three seasons afterward. Adams signed him under the old rules, hoping that he’d bring the team to the next level. He contributed, but the Zephyrs didn’t make the playoffs.
Adams wants to include Jetson in a trade to the Los Angeles Americans at Anaheim. Anaheim has superstar Alexander Yakushev at $6 million per year, but they don’t want to take on the Jetson salary. What they’d prefer is for Hoboken to pay three-quarters of it, and then a deal would fit within their budget. But that’s against the rules.
Adams is sweating. He’s already put Jetson on waivers, hoping that someone would be willing to take on the $2.5 million salary for the next three-plus years, but he’s just heard from the League office, telling him that no team was willing to pick him up. He can send Jetson to the AHL, but that doesn’t solve his budgetary woes.
Feeling a sharp pain in the pit of his stomach, Adams looks in a mirror, and suddenly sees his haggard reflection next to some crumpled pieces of paper and a bottle of Scotch. He has a flashback to his news conference announcing the Jetson signing, and hears talk of the playoffs. His team isn’t heading that way, now.
Suddenly, the red phone with a direct connection to Mr. Norris starts ringing. Adams looks at the phone and starts screaming at the top of his lungs.
The camera pans quickly to Rod Serling, who is standing in the arena’s loading dock right next to the Zamboni, goalie stick and lit cigarette in his hand. He speaks clearly and deliberately: “Submitted for your approval, one aging hockey executive with a team going nowhere, unable to perform the economic calculus required of him to improve his franchise. He is relegated to the scrap heap of his own previous excesses, and with nowhere else to go, he retreats into the nether world of the Twilight Zone.”
Fade to black. Let’s get back to reality, and the present, as we continue our story.
Yes, the first shoe has dropped in a dance that is likely to continue over the next several years in the NHL. Anaheim has divested itself of Sergei Fedorov and his $6 million salary, and Columbus is now buzzing with the news of his arrival. The Blue Jackets, looking to make a big move this year, have struggled despite the signings of players like defenseman Adam Foote and center Todd Marchant, the latter of whom is scheduled to make $2.5 million a year for this year, and the next three years, guaranteed.
Marchant could have been part of the deal that sent Fedorov to Columbus, but he has a no-trade deal, complicating matters to the nth degree. Not only that, his salary, part of the “old” NHL, just doesn’t fit anyone’s budget, even for a short time. That includes Columbus, by the way. So, the only option for the Jackets was to place Marchant on waivers, hoping that another team (say, Anaheim) would take the contract, thereby getting around the no-trade option.
But no team took Marchant, and he cleared waivers. That puts him on a temporary road back to the American Hockey League, probably to the Blue Jackets affiliate in Syracuse, where it is not likely that GM Doug MacLean is going to want to pay a player $2.5 million a year for the next three years.
Assuming that Marchant is assigned to Syracuse, the next move would be for Columbus to recall him. Why on earth would they do that? Well, it involves one tiny way, and a small one at that, for Columbus to bear some of the costs of a player’s salary for another team – at least, in the way that I understand it.
The step works as follows: Columbus recalls Marchant. In order for him to return to the NHL under these circumstances, he has to pass through waivers again. This time, if a club claims him, the Blue Jackets would have to pay for half of Marchant’s salary for the duration of his contract, and have it count against their salary cap number. The other half would count against his new team’s number.
In other words, Marchant would become available to all 30 teams at half price for this year and for the next three years, or a more justifiable average of $1.25 million a season. At that price, his services are more workable for many teams. Columbus would still be penalized, but it would be possible for them to find a new home for the player and still be within the NHL rules.
The interesting precipitate of such a deal is that it could involve Marchant having to move, even though he has a no-trade clause. That should spark some fascinating fireworks, if the claiming club is not to his liking.
In the meantime, Fedorov will help the Blue Jackets, even though he may not be the player that he was five years ago. He’s still a dangerous player who works hard and loves the game, and that could aid the Blue Jackets in their extremely challenging quest to qualify for the post-season.
Look for more interesting transactions as teams continue to adjust under the new economic system. In the meantime, everyone following the game should remember the old hockey saying: “keep your head on a swivel.”
For Seagate Technology’s In The Crease, I’m Dan Rusanowsky