When Wade Redden clears waivers early Monday afternoon, he’ll be faced with a wrenching, career-altering decision and his employers will essentially be let off scot-free.
Redden will be forced to make a choice between basically burying himself in the minors or Europe for the rest of his career or turning his back on $23 million in guaranteed money for a chance to play in the NHL again for much, much less.
This column will not contain a diatribe on what a complete farce it is that Glen Sather still has a job as a GM in the NHL. That low-hanging fruit has already been plucked numerous times and short of the notion that he has compromising photographs of Rangers CEO James Dolan, nobody outside the organization can figure it out.
We just watched the NHL go to war with the New Jersey Devils over front-loaded contracts, but if the league is truly worried about runaway salaries and equaling the playing field, one would think it will be pushing as hard in negotiations for the next CBA to have all dollars count against the salary cap regardless of what happens to the player or his age when he signs his deal.
The way it stands now, the only salaries that cannot escape the salary cap are for long-term deals for players 35 and older. But if a younger player signs a long-term deal, there is nothing keeping the team from burying his contract in the minors and taking it off the salary cap books the way the Rangers are sure to do with Redden and the Chicago Blackhawks will do this season with Cristobal Huet.
And we missed a year of hockey for this kind of ridiculousness? When the NHL locked its players out five years ago, the battle cry was about creating a level playing surface for all 30 of its teams. We were also told ad nauseam that this new system would separate the wheat from chaff when it came to building teams and that rich large-market teams wouldn’t be able to simply cover up their expensive mistakes.
Well, guess what? Teams such as the Rangers and the Blackhawks, for whom cap space is more important than actual money, it allows them to do just that. Did anyone think the Rangers weren't wildly overspending to get Redden when they signed him to a six-year, $39 million deal two summers ago? The fact the deal would emerge as the absolute worst of the salary cap era probably didn’t cross too many minds at the time, but that is precisely what has happened.
And who makes out here other than the Rangers? The $23 million is really chump change for MSG Inc. and meanwhile they get to pretend the Redden contract never happened. Redden, through no fault of his own other than declining play, now has to either play the next four years in the minors never to see the NHL again or not report to where the Rangers send him, which would void his contract. That would make him an unrestricted free agent and he’d be free to sign elsewhere for a small fraction of the money he’s due to make over the next four seasons.
He can’t even be bought out at two-thirds of his salary because all buyouts go against the cap, while sending a player to the minors costs the team nothing in cap space. And since the Rangers would be on the hook for half of his salary if they ever tried to call him back up and he were picked up by another team on recallable waivers, he’ll be down to stay.
If it weren’t crystal clear by the Ilya Kovalchuk debacle that NHL owners and GMs desperately need to be saved from themselves, the situations involving Redden and Huet should drive that point home like never before. Clearly, imposing restrictions on how much teams can spend is not nearly enough to prevent otherwise sane and experienced hockey people from making absolutely abysmal decisions.
Knowing the NHL and its heavy-handed approach of late, I’d be shocked if this weren’t on the table in the next CBA negotiations in two years. Sather was somehow able to get someone to take the outrageous contracts of Scott Gomez and Ales Kotalik off his hands and lucked out when Markus Naslund turned his back on $4 million by retiring last season. All of which proves Sather is almost as good at covering up his mistakes as he is at making them, but this one was simply not going to go away.
Would he have signed Redden to such a rich contract had he known his organization would be on the hook for the salary cap hit for the six-year duration of the deal? Would any other team have signed Redden to a similar deal if they and everyone else faced the same restrictions?
The guess here is probably not. There’s a pretty good chance Leafs defenseman Jeff Finger will make $7 million playing in the minors for the next two seasons. Good work if you can find it. But the whole concept makes no sense from any perspective and in the case of Redden, will likely end up hurting either his career or his bank account.
It’s another case of a CBA gone awry, largely because those who signed it have spent more energy trying to get around it than they have trying to make it work. So they should be the ones least surprised when the NHL tries to put shackles on them like never before in the next agreement.
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