Brian Burke Is Right: NHL Teams Should Be Allowed To Trade Salary

February 18th, 2010 No Comments

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke is often looked upon as a bully in NHL circles. His crass demeanor and aggressive nature with the media makes Burke one of the most feared general managers in NHL hockey.

Let’s face it, nobody is under the impression that the “P” in the middle of Brian Burke’s name stands for Penelope, however, you may find more than a few people in NHL circles that are willing to bet it is a five letter word that rhymes with “slick”.

To be fair, Burke’s gruff nature is up for debate—I for one love his demeanor and swagger. One thing is definite, Burke is an innovator, the type of GM that looks outside the box for answers, the type of GM that is always willing to take calculated risks, and a guy that is always trying to find a way around the NHL rules.

Not long ago, Burke suggested that he felt that hockey trades would be a lot easier to expedite if NHL teams were able to trade salary cap dollars. At the time, the comment barely made any headlines, but it was an interesting thought, one which the NHL should take a closer look at.

On Sunday, with the help of the Calgary Flames, Burke orchestrated a blockbuster trade, one that saw a total of seven players traded, with millions of dollars being exchanged.

The NHL has become dormant when it comes to trades. The fact that Burke was able to pull off a trade of this magnitude is akin to a minor miracle. Today’s salary cap restrictions do not create an environment in which NHL teams can pull off the big trade anymore.

With that in mind, why not take a page out of Burke’s book and allow NHL teams to trade salary for players and/or draft picks?

The Chicago Blackhawks would love to add some insurance for their playoff run, but, due to the fact they are mortgaged to the hilt in terms of cap spending they will have to deal away potential future stars in order to make room for a rental player.

The San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, and a few other NHL teams are all in similar situations—arguably in need of an injection of depth, with little to no salary cap room to get a trade done.

If the NHL were to relax their rules and allow teams to trade unwanted/unused salary cap space for players, draft picks or prospects, not only would teams be able to bolster themselves for a playoff run, lesser teams would benefit from the addition of helpful pieces to tomorow’s puzzle.

I am not suggesting that teams be given the green light to approach teams asking for tens of millions of dollars in cap room. What I am suggesting (and what I think Burke was saying) is that, when the trade deadline rolls around, teams should be given the opportunity to acquire unused cap dollars form teams so that they can position themselves to pick up some useful—sometimes high-priced, players.

For example—Team A approaches the Boston Bruins about a trade. The Bruins like the player that is being offered, but, due to salary cap restraints, cannot pull the trigger on the deal. Everybody loses, and it could be easily remedied.

By the time the NHL’s trade deadline day rolls around, most of the player’s salary has been paid. With that in mind, only a small portion of a player’s salary may still be on the books, meaning it may only take a couple of hundred thousand dollars in cap dollars for a team to be able to make the trade.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the NHL chooses to allow teams to acquire an additional $1 million in cap space at the deadline, how would that be bad for hockey? Sure, the old adage “the rich get richer” may come into play, but the poor (non-playoff teams) would also benefit greatly where, as things are now, they cannot.

We are not talking about a huge amount of money and the salary cap relief for said NHL team would only apply to the current season, so the long-term ramifications would still be top priority for teams and GM’s alike.

No question about it, it is important to keep that ever present “protect the GM’s from their own spending” safety net in place but, by putting a cap on what a team can acquire in cap room via trade and when you can acquire it, the GM’s should be safe from themselves.

A surplus of up to $1 million in cap space via trade would ignite the trade market, making it possible for teams to send expiring contracts packing, bringing back valuable draft choices and prospects in return. It’s a win-win situation.

Overall, I believe the salary cap has it’s merits. It helps ensure a level playing field for all NHL teams, something the likes of Major League Baseball could badly use—just ask the Toronto Blue Jays!

That said, allowing teams to trade away valuable cap dollars would be a move in the right direction for the NHL. It would spark interest in teams both in the playoffs and those that were looking to re-tool. It would allow players who were just going to go through the motions with their non-playoff teams for the rest of the season to switch gears and join a winner, with the possibility of landing a Stanley Cup ring.

When everything is said and done, the NHL and its teams are the big winners here. The overall numbers do not increase, just the names of the endorsement on the cheques.

No doubt about it, the NHL should look closer at Burke’s comments, there might just be some genius in his words.

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