Salary cap cuts into Muckler's off-ice fun

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

The cellphone Senators GM John Muckler carries with him religiously hasn't been ringing much lately.

A month into the NHL season and GMs aren't burning up the phone lines trying to foist their underachievers and malcontents upon their brethren.

"There's no (trade) talk at all," Muckler said prior to last night's visit by the Canadiens to the Corel Centre. "I've had very few discussions with other GMs. Certainly, a lot less than I did in the past."

Now, it should be noted Muckler isn't shopping for anything. However, the reality is the NHL's new $39-million (all terms US) salary cap is going to limit movement -- possibly until the March 9 trade deadline.

TEAMS NEED HELP

Sure, there are teams trying to make deals for help. Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe is trying to find goaltending help since Ty Conklin fell apart and wouldn't mind adding a scoring forward.

And while the Thrashers signed free-agent goalie Steve Shields, the word is GM Don Waddell is trying to clear some cash off the deck because his salaries have exceeded the $40-million mark.

Management in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Columbus, San Jose and Calgary can't be happy with the way their teams have started the season, either.

Take the case of the Penguins: They'd love to add another centre -- and are rumoured to be interested in struggling Phoenix centre Mike Comrie -- but can they afford to make that kind of move with all the money that was spent in the off-season?

"The cap is limiting movement," said Muckler. "I don't think there's any question about it. You have to look at every dollar that you spend right now and a lot of people spent a lot of money in the summer.

"Under the old system, if you made a mistake with a guy, you would just go in another direction. Some teams didn't have to worry about their spending. That's not the way it is now. If you're going to make a trade, it better be dollar-for-dollar and if you're going to take on more salary, well then, you better have the room to do it."

That's the problem: A lot of teams don't have the cash. Sources say about 22 of the 30 NHL franchises are above the $34-million mark in salaries and money has to be saved in case of injuries.

It's believed the Senators are at $34.3 million with 21 players on their roster. A fund of about $1.4 million has been set aside to pay for injuries --like the separated shoulder that kept Mike Fisher out two weeks -- and there's room to make a trade at the deadline if help is needed.

"Talking to a lot of GMs, I get the feeling they have changed the way they are doing things," said Muckler. "I'm sure a lot of GMs are just going to hold on to the trade deadline to acquire players.

"Look, guys are going to become available, and by the time trade deadline comes around March, they won't have much money left on their contracts. Why wouldn't you deal then to get a guy who can help you and let the other team pay his salary all year?"

EVEN RUMOURS DOWN

Muckler even admitted the number of trade rumours he hears are down.

"There's not even any good gossip at this particular time," said Muckler. "I'm sure some teams would like to add some guys, but I think they probably look at the bottom line and realize they can't afford it.

"That's why this is a good system because it gives everybody a chance. You had better spend your money the right way and you had better have success. If you spend your dollars the wrong way, it might be tough to fix."

You won't find Muckler waiting by his phone these days.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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