September 2, 2012
NHL trade, contract talks on holdNo trades as GMs wait for new CBA
By BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency
All talk, no action.
As Canadians sit back, relax and enjoy the last long weekend of the summer, the hockey world is surrounded by uneasiness and inactivity as the NHL tries to get a CBA in place with the Players Association before the deal expires Sept. 15.
While all eyes are on talks between commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Donald Fehr, league business has come to a standstill as the 30 GMs sit nervously waiting to find out the parameters of a new CBA.
"It's eerily quiet," said a league executive last week.
With training camps scheduled to open Sept. 21, there are a lot of teams with plenty of work to do, but with no CBA many GMs are finding trying to sign players or make trades virtually impossible because nobody is sure what is going to happen.
There is no question the rules are going to change once Fehr and Bettman find common ground. But, since the free agency period ended and cases were settled before they went to arbitration, there has been little business done.
"This is just like 2004: We got to July 15 and basically nothing was done," said a high-profile agent. "It has pretty much gone the same way this year. You haven't really see anything, with the exception of some contract extensions."
The contract extensions -- like the deals signed by Philly's Scott Hartnell, Edmonton's Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall -- are being done in case the rules change and deals are actually limited to five years in the new CBA.
"Teams are saying, 'We'll give this to you now because we're not sure what the rules are going to be down the road.' In most cases, the players are jumping at the chance to get the security," said the executive.
The only free agent with any glamour left is centre Shane Doan. He has a four-year, $30-million offer on the table from Buffalo. Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and the N.Y. Rangers are all willing to offer four-year, $24-million deal.
His No. 1 choice is to sign an extension with Phoenix, but the team is undergoing a sale process that isn't showing any signs of being concluded soon. He'll sign somewhere before the CBA expires, however, he might the only UFA who doesn't have any concerns about getting a job.
The role players usually get squeezed during CBA negotiations and that's what is happening here. Many looking for work are guys who are third- or fourth- liners or sixth and seventh defencemen that teams can bring in for depth.
Right now, teams don't want to spend unnecessary money because GMs aren't even sure there is going to be a salary floor in the new CBA. The players available aren't going to be holding out for big money.
"After Shane Doan the free-agent pool falls off quite a bit," said another league executive. "You're not going to be able to find many players there who are going to make a difference."
Trying to make a trade is even more difficult. Anaheim GM Bob Murray was shopping Bobby Ryan around at the start of the summer and looking for a king's ransom in return. The Ducks have since backed off and may not move him.
Then, there's the case of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. Vancouver GM Mike Gillis is dealing from a position of strength because even though Luongo has a lot of term left on he only has a "no trade" clause not a "no move".
It's believed three teams -- Toronto, Chicago and Florida -- have shown interest in Luongo, but Gillis isn't going to give the veteran goalie away because he wants out. The Canucks want assets in return that will help them down the road.
There's a strong belief in NHL circles Luongo would like to go to the Panthers but he isn't steering the ship and does Florida have the assets to make a trade? Leafs GM Brian Burke is under major pressure to get a goalie.
The honeymoon period is over for Burke in Toronto and the ownership has changed. He fired coach Ron Wilson midway through last season and still missed the playoffs. Luongo would be a major upgrade on James Reimer.
But, Burke isn't driving the bus in this deal with Gillis. At worse, if the Canucks can't make a trade, they can put Luongo on waivers once the CBA is settled and let somebody pick him up to take on the final 10 years with a cap hit of $5.3 million.
You can bet if there was a CBA in place -- and training camp was scheduled to open -- the Luongo deal would be done. Given the Canucks' cap situation, they might be better served by getting prospects in return rather than older players.
"This is a deal that will likely have to wait until the CBA is settled," said a league insider.
If the cap does drop from its $70.2-million ceiling next season in the new CBA, then there could be a firesale of players. The NHL's last offer would have called for $58.3-million cap in 2012-13. A lot of teams would be scrambling.
"Suddenly you'd have a lot of players with big salaries available," said the insider. "I'm sure you've got teams right now that are waiting."
Once the CBA is settled, then the business can get back to normal. Right now, we all wait.