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GMs anxiously await next year's salary cap Add to ...

There was no news Monday from the National Hockey League Players' Association about whether it voted to increase next season's salary cap, which will keep at least some general managers sweating for at least another day.

The final figure means the most to Stan Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks, Paul Holmgren of the Philadelphia Flyers and Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks, all GMs with payrolls at or near the cap. But just as anxious is someone like Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke.

Burke has a lot at stake, too, only he is probably hoping madly that, for the first time since the collective agreement was struck in 2005, the players reject bumping the cap from its present $56.8-million (all currency U.S.) by about $2-million. If they do, it will give Burke a lot more leverage in trying to pry an elite forward out of one of the above teams.

Aside from saying there was a lot of talk on the NHL trade front Monday but precious little action, Burke declined to enlighten us about how the players' vote will help the Leafs. But you do not have to be the reincarnation of Sam Pollock to figure out what is best for his team.

If the players decide not to increase the cap, the Leafs are in the fortunate position of having both cap room and budget room. Not many NHL teams can say that. So, if Bowman and Holmgren face an even bigger squeeze later this week, then you can bet the friendly Irishman will be on the telephone offering to take, say, Patrick Sharp and his $3.9-million salary off the Blackhawks' hands for a cheap youngster and a warm body or two.

At this point, though, there is no telling what the players will do. For every insider who swears it is a lock that the increase will be voted in there is another who says the players do not want to increase their escrow deductions.

The choice is not that simple. At present, the collective agreement calls for the players to receive 57 per cent of the annual hockey-related revenue of the NHL. It also has something called the inflator clause, which allows the players to vote to increase the cap by 5 per cent every summer.

So far, the players have voted for the increase every year. When revenues grew each year, that was fine, but with the recession refusing to go away the players gave up a record 18 per cent of their salaries last season in escrow payments. Those payments are a refund of player salaries to the owners in years when the final revenue figures showed they paid out more than 57 per cent in player contracts.

If the players vote for a 5-per cent increase in the salary cap they are taking the risk that their escrow payments will be higher if revenue does not match projections. But if you are a pending free agent, you want the higher cap to increase your chances of getting more money.

Either way, the Leafs and a few other teams in their position will do all right. If the cap goes up they have a little more money to spend. But it is much better if the cap does not because now the Bowmans and Holmgrens have even less room to fit in players such as Sharp or Flyers centre Jeff Carter.

And there will be Burke with a cap cushion of, say, $10-million, depending on who he is willing to send to the minor leagues, and that big fat Leafs chequebook.



 

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