Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Shuffling pennies and players in the NHL

Pierre LeBrun of the Canadian Press has a fairly indepth article on Canoe about the new NHL and it's fiscal certainty. A situation that has many a young minor leaguer getting frustrated about cross country flights and little ice time and veteran minor leaguers wondering if they'll ever get the call to the bigs again.

Le Brun recounts the bizarre story of the Vancouver Canucks, when Dan Cloutier was injured a few weeks ago many a Canuck observer expected to see Wade Flaherty with the Air Canada ticket on the way to the coast. Instead, it was youngster Rob McVicar who made the journey from Winnipeg to the coast. The reason is simple, if the Canucks had called on Flaherty there was a very good chance he would be snapped up off of waivers and be lost to the Canucks. Since McVicar did not have to clear waivers he was tapped for the trip. It's a strange situation when your most experienced farm hands cannot be called up to help the big team, but that's the way it is with the new CBA.

LeBrun also looked at the paper transactions that dot the NHL these days, players get called up to the big club, but don't play and then in order to keep the salary cap levels low they are returned to the farm the next day. They spend the night at home and then it's back on a plane to big team again, repeat two or three times before the scenario is complete. A smart agent these days isn't negotiating salary, he's working on keeping the frequent flyer points in the hands of the farm hands.

Now that situation might work ok for a team like Philadelphia or Toronto who wisely have their farm clubs in the same town as the big club, but for a team like the Canucks it's a trek half way across the country every time they have a call up.

Brian Burke has said he's not a big fan of making these money saving call ups and downs, but then again there probably wouldn't be much savings in the case of the Mighty Ducks. What they saved in salary cap space they would give up in travel costs, the farm club for the Ducks is Portland and it's not the one in Oregon folks.

Expect the call up dance to continue on for a while yet as each NHL team tries to figure out how to keep their rosters full while factoring waiver and financial issues. There is one positive thing about all of this though, if you're a fan of a farm club you probably won't need a program as much anymore. With your teams' stars sticking around for a while, you won't have to ask who the new guy is on the ice.

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