Griffins Like NHL's New CBA

September 30, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — One week from today Bob McNamara should have a better idea of what kind of players he has on his team.

One year from today the Grand Rapids Griffins general manager should have a better idea of what kind of effect the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement will have on his team.

McNamara, who handles the business side of things for the American Hockey League franchise — which is now in the fourth year of a five-year agreement as the primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings — will watch the latest version of the Griffins open the club’s 10th season at Van Andel Arena this Saturday. Thirteen of his 21-player roster will come from the Red Wings.

But a year from now, the 11th season opener may be a different experience for McNamara because of the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“The main thing in the CBA is they’ve limited a (NHL) team’s ability to sign higher-priced veterans and send them to the American League and keep them down there,” he said.

“They’ve done that by putting some pretty strict controls on minor league contracts over $75,000,” McNamara added, noting that veterans (players with three or four years of pro experience) were most likely to top that salary figure.

When an NHL club signs a player destined for the AHL, it’s a two-way contract. A player is given one salary for playing at the NHL level and a lower one for playing in the AHL.

Last year, the Griffins signed by the Red Wings to an AHL contract that topped $75,000 would have been able to move between the two teams more easily had there been an NHL campaign, because the Red Wings wouldn’t have had to pay the salary of a Griffin that was claimed by another NHL club while on his way back to Grand Rapids. That situation, though, has changed this year for the higher-salaried Griffins who have been signed by Detroit

“If a player who makes over $75,000 in the minor leagues gets called up and subsequently gets reassigned back down, he can be claimed by another National Hockey League team —and the Red Wings would have to pay for part of his salary,” said McNamara.

That portion of a player’s salary — which a report out of Rochester, N.Y., labeled as half — would count against Detroit’s salary cap figure, too.

All Griffins signed by the Red Wings have to clear waivers on their way back down. But Detroit would not be responsible for any of the salary of a player claimed by another NHL team as long as the player was making less than $75,000.

“What the rule does is it offers some impetus to the NHL teams to make certain that when they do their contracts for guys in the minor leagues, they keep that number below $75,000. Otherwise, they risk paying for a guy that is with another team,” said McNamara.

McNamara said the Griffins had a few players signed by the Red Wings who earned more than $75,000 last year in the AHL.

As for the future, the new waiver rule in the CBA may or may not affect AHL contracts.

But what could happen is NHL teams may not call up their top minor league players who earn more than $75,000 unless general managers are certain they will stick with the parent club for the season. If they’re not sure players will stay in the NHL, a club’s best players-in-waiting may not get that call — which is bad for the players but good for the AHL because its premier talent would remain in the league.

“For guys that are making over $75,000, if they don’t make it initially, like at camp, once they get sent down the likelihood of them being recalled to the NHL is very, very small, because the Red Wings don’t want to pay for a guy to play for another team,” McNamara said.

Another possible impact from the new rule is that the cream of the talent crop may not be willing to sign a two-way contract if the AHL portion isn’t more than $75,000. They may opt instead for a European or Russian team that would give them a six-figure deal.

McNamara, however, doesn’t see that scenario unfolding.

“That’s very narrow-minded and short-sighted to look at it that way,” he said.

McNamara said that a top talent like Alexander Ovechkin, the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft who signed this summer with Washington, will go straight to the NHL and probably not play in the AHL at the lower salary.

“The likelihood of him playing in the American League is not very good, and in the long term he is going to make way more in the NHL than he could make anywhere else,” he said.

The new waiver rule was put in place to keep NHL franchises with a track record of free spending from stacking high-priced talent in the minors. So the NHL feels the rule is in line with the overall intent of the CBA to create parity across the league and to force franchises to develop their talent rather than sign a bunch of pricey free agents.

“There is certainly a lot more attention being paid to the developmental aspect of players in the American League,” said McNamara of the CBA’s general impact. “That’s good for us, no question, and it’s good for the fans to see a lot of high-quality prospects in the American League.”      

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