Overall, the NHL is moving in a positive direction regarding its image and marketability. The Winter Classic brought much of that percolating energy to the forefront as a catalyst for momentum. Yet at the individual market level, despite the salary cap, the flight of stars -- or the fear of their flight -- from one team to another is a trend with wide-reaching ramifications.
Simply look at the contracts signed over the past months as an indicator.
The most recent was Monday's deal in Dallas with
But tendering preemptive offers to unrestricted free agents isn't the most alarming economic trend. That dubious distinction goes to what is unfolding with
Instead of having their young future stars become restricted free agents -- and be susceptible to offer sheets from other clubs -- teams are acting hastily. No one is giving the law of supply and demand a chance to take effect. If the teams allowed the pool of restricted free agents to swell, the demand would wane. But, by depleting that pool before July 1, demand will increase for those not inked to these high water salaries.
See the cycle? Detect the danger? Inadvertently, the clubs have created another class of elite free agents who can now expect max-money.
This is particularly true in the Southeast Division, where the Capitals have
For Capitals GM
So, while there is a delicate balance to strike between team identity and star power on a local level, the league-wide consequences are ongoing. Unlike unrestricted contracts, these high-priced, fear-factor offerings to restricted free agents count as comparables in the arbitration process.
I don't think the NHL had this version of "spread the wealth" in mind when the CBA was ratified.
With the Eastern Conference so tightly compacted, two teams have critical weeks. The Islanders continue their western sojourn by tangling with the Canucks and Flames, only to return east for a Sunday tilt at Ottawa. They've already dropped the first two games of their trip out west, in Denver and Edmonton. Continued road woes could mean falling out of the top eight in their conference.
Meanwhile, the Sabres have lost six straight, plummeting from their high-water mark of fourth in the East a mere two weeks ago. They remain on the road at New Jersey and Ottawa before heading home for a return engagement with the Devils. And while the league looks to further the buzz generated by the Winter Classic, the euphoria of hosting hasn't translated into sustaining the Sabres' early December surge. They need to end their spiral immediately, and given the schedule -- the Sabres are in a stretch of 11 of 13 on the road -- someone needs to step up as the leader of this team.