NHL CBA Saves Griffins Cash

July 25, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Having a new collective bargaining agreement in place between the National Hockey League and the players association means the Grand Rapids Griffins won’t have to spend as much on payroll as the American Hockey League franchise would have had to if the lockout had gone into a second season.

And the addition of a salary cap to the NHL CBA may result in even lower personnel costs for the Griffins a year from now.

The Griffins, who open their 10th home season on Oct. 15,  are in the fourth year of a five-year affiliation with the Detroit Red Wings, an agreement that calls for the NHL club to provide the local franchise with at least 13 of its 22 players.

But without a CBA, Detroit was unable to sign any players and that meant the Griffins would have had to sign 22 players instead of the nine they need to complete their roster as the Red Wings’ primary affiliate.

Griffins GM Bob McNamara, who also opens his 10th season at home on Oct. 15, said the labor agreement does cut his player costs. But by how much isn’t that easy to figure out because the players aren’t signed yet.

“Certainly with the CBA intact, it’s going to help our bottom line. But in terms of percentages it varies based on how many guys they assign to us,” he said.

“The deal calls for 13, but there is a good possibility that they may have more than the 13 guys here based on them signing more prospects out of Europe and guys from the Canadian (Junior) leagues.”

But getting the core of his roster from Detroit doesn’t mean McNamara has extra money to spend on more experienced players for the nine he needs to sign. AHL franchises are only allowed to have five veterans on their rosters this year and the Griffins are required to pick up a portion of the salaries that Detroit pays its players to play here.

“Our budget kind of remains where it is and we still have to reimburse the Red Wings for the players that come to us. It’s accurate to say there might be a little more (money) but not a significant amount,” he said.

Next season, though, personnel costs for the Griffins could be reduced considerably, primarily because of the new NHL salary cap. The spending limitation is likely to force the Red Wings to develop younger players instead of signing veteran free agents, as has been the franchise’s practice since legendary coach Scotty Bowman landed in Detroit for the 1993-94 season.

If Detroit does commit to player development within its own ranks, then the Red Wings may hire the Griffins coaches next season and pay their salaries, which would erase that expense from the local franchise’s books. Both clubs have agreed to the possible change.

“They want to take over paying for the coaches. I think the hire would continue to be a joint hire, as any person that we’ve hired has always been someone that we’ve worked together with the Red Wings on. It still would be a joint hire. They would just take over the responsibility of paying for the coaches,” said McNamara.

“They see it as probably something that benefits them because obviously the coaches are dealing with their prospects. But it’s certainly not something where they would say, ‘Here are your coaches and this is how we’re going to do things,’” he added.

Next up for McNamara is hiring an assistant to Griffins head coach Greg Ireland, who is signed for the coming season. Then it’s getting together with Detroit GM Ken Holland and Assistant GM Jim Nill to figure out whom they are sending to Grand Rapids. At that point McNamara will begin to look at players to fill his roster.

“As it’s been in the past, those are going to be joint decisions,” he said. “Jim Nill and I work together in putting this team together. We’ll make any decisions in terms of league contracts and obviously confer on some of the free-agent NHL contracts that are out there, as well as those that are going to be with us.”    

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