Welcome to cap nightmare

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

All right, NHL fans, here's a message from NBA fans everywhere: Welcome to our nightmare.

To be fair, there are some things about a salary-cap system that hockey enthusiasts are going to like, now that the owners and players have agreed in principle to a new contract.

But the fact is, after close to 90 years, NHL fans must alter their thinking in terms of how their favourite teams operate.

Are you paying attention, Maple Leafs fans? You know all the bitching and moaning from Raptors fans that you have managed to tune out over the past decade? Well, pretty soon you will be feeling their pain.

You've heard the term "salary cap" a million times. But only now, in the coming days, weeks, months and years, will you truly come to grips with what it means, in practise rather than merely in theory.

For example:

NO BIG DEALS

Get prepared for fewer big trades, but more trade rumours. Those two things wouldn't seem to go together. But they do.

It's true that salary caps make trades harder to make. In the NBA, there even is a rule that the combined salaries of players being swapped have to match, plus or minus 15%.

Now that the NHL has a "hard" cap, and most teams will be spending about the same amount of money, it essentially will have the same effect as a 15% rule. The salaries coming and going in trades usually will have to be comparable.

So won't that mean fewer rumours? Not by a long shot.

Every runny-nosed 14-year-old with a calculator and a reasonably accurate list of players' salaries will know what works and what doesn't. In the NBA, trade rumours pop up all the time and can come from just about anywhere.

A fan, or a reporter, or a team employee will float the idea of a trade that could work, from a financial point of view. Fans get talking about it over the internet. Media members start debating the merits. The next thing you know, it's a full-fledged trade rumour that general managers are being asked about, even though there may have been absolutely no discussion between the two clubs that have been identified.

Say goodbye to the notion of talent-for-talent being the driving force in most trades. Say goodbye to the notion of trading a current star making a lot of money for a bunch of draft picks. It's all about salary-for-salary now. Get used to it.

The NHL wanted a cap system, but here's something the league quickly will discover: GMs will be under far more scrutiny.

Leafs GM John Ferguson, you might want to wander down the hall and have a chat with Raptors GM Rob Babcock.

If you're a hockey GM, from now on everyone will know your budget, or at least the parameters of your budget. Thus, there will be less of a focus on how much money a team spends, and more of a focus on how a team spends its money.

Theoretically, every club is on even financial ground, which means the competence of the various front offices will be laid bare. No more crying poor from the Edmontons and Pittsburghs of the world. And the rich teams, like Toronto, can't hide behind mysterious and mystical long-range plans. Everyone's plans and possibilities for the future are in the public domain.

Depending upon your point of view -- and, presumably, depending upon which market you're in -- that notion of every team being on an equal footing actually is a good thing.

And here's another thing hockey fans will appreciate: With the contracts of top rookies now being regulated by a league scale, rookies won't hold out anymore, or hold teams hostage for monetary reasons. If you're Sidney Crosby and you get picked first overall in the draft, the money will be the same whether you're going to the Detroit Red Wings or the Nashville Predators.

But generally speaking, from a fan's point of view, following hockey just became far, far more complicated. If you don't take the time to learn the ins and outs of the new CBA, you're going to find yourself constantly chastised and frustrated as some math nerd explains to you why the Leafs can't trade Mats Sundin for two prospects and a draft pick.

As NBA fans would say, welcome to our nightmare.

Is nightmare too strong a term?

Well, at the very least, welcome to our world.


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