Iginla may be first to test out new CBA

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

In the near future, out in Calgary, the new collective bargaining agreement will face its first significant test.

By advancing to the Stanley Cup final in their most recent season, the Flames stirred hope among their fans. Their leader in what became a thrilling post-season -- and might have become a Stanley Cup season had an apparent Game 6 goal been allowed to stand -- was their captain, Jarome Iginla.

Without Iginla, any hope the Flames might have for another run at the Cup is tenuous as best.

But under the terms of the new CBA, Iginla has to play only one more season before becoming an unconditional free agent. At the moment, he's a conditional free agent, not under contract to the Flames, but unlikely to go anywhere else.

So the Flames, whose CEO, Harley Hotchkiss, is the chairman of the National Hockey League board of governors, and was one of the key architects of the strategy that shut down hockey for a full season, now face a dilemma.

They have with the onerous task of trying to make the newly crafted CBA do what Hotchkiss insisted it would do -- level the playing field for the small-market teams.

The Flames must first of all decide whether Iginla is in their long-range plans. If he isn't, then they simply go through the motions, pay him the least they can get away with in the upcoming season, and let him go to the team of his choice in the following year.

To do so would save the team some money, but it definitely wouldn't earn them any fans. Quite the contrary.

But let's say the Flames did opt for that course of action. Then they'd merely offer Iginla the minimum salary that would allow them to maintain his rights -- $5.32 million US.

His handlers would demand a much larger salary and the matter would be at an impasse.

At that point, the Flames can send the matter to arbitration -- one of the rights acquired by teams in the new CBA -- and hope for the best.

In previous years, the arbitrator was allowed to choose any salary that was in the range suggested by the two parties. The new CBA requires him to pick one or the other -- either the team's offer or the player's request.

But an arbitration award covers only one season and if the Flames take that tack, it is certain that this will be the last season that Iginla plays in Calgary.

He'd fulfill his obligation and move on.

And why not? Iginla is one of the most coveted players in the game. He is the Flames' captain and their undisputed leader. He is a wonderful ambassador for hockey, invariably conducting himself with class, grace and flair. If the Flames don't want to pay top dollar for a player with those qualities, somebody else certainly will.

And what would "top dollar" be for Iginla? It would be the top dollar that is allowed under the new CBA -- 20% of a team's upper limit under the salary cap. It would be $7.8 million US per annum, presumably on a long-term deal.

It seems like a lot. And it is. But the case can be made that Iginla is the most desirable player in the world at the moment. If he's not worth the maximum, then who would be?

But the Flames' payroll in 2004, after gearing up at the trading deadline, was about $40 million. After the 24% rollback, that figure becomes $30 million. If the Flames want to stay at that level -- and they certainly don't want to go any higher -- then Iginla's salary would represent 26% of their total payroll.

Surely that's not the level playing field that Hotchkiss had in mind.

So what will the Flames do? No one knows at the moment. But the hockey world will be watching closely. It will be the first true test of the new CBA.


Videos

Photos