2012 NHL Free Agents: the Unknown CBA Makes Talks Tough

PJ SapienzaContributor IIIJune 30, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 30:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the media prior to Game One between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Prudential Center on May 30, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The 2012 NHL Free agency season is about to start.  While teams are ready to go out and add the latest and greatest pieces to their team puzzles, the impending CBA (collective bargaining agreement) negotiations may cause teams to hold back.

Everyone remembers how badly the last talks went, as the NHL lost the 2004-05 season.  The previous agreement also came with the loss of games.  In the 1994-95 season, 36 games were lost before the two sides came to a long term agreement.  One would hope the owners and players will learn from their recent history and get a deal done quickly.

Until a deal is complete, though, owners and general managers will enter free agency under the current rules.  At this point, the salary cap for next season has been raised to $70.2 million.  This is a $5.9 million jump from last year’s cap limit.  The cap floor—the minimum a team can spend—rose to $54.2 million.

The league has grown under the CBA, seeing a $1.2 billion increase in revenue.  Yet despite that, there are still several teams struggling.   Mike Russo speculated on KFAN's hockey madness show that as many as six teams may fold if another lockout happens.

With the league as a whole doing better, it is doubtful that the cap will drop; however GMs would be wise to not spend to the cap limit.  That great unknown makes free agency talks difficult.

Another issue is the long term big money contracts that have become standard under the current CBA. Gary Bettman is not a fan of these types of contracts.  As the article states, if these mega deals do not work out then a team is hurt for the long term.   A bad deal—such as the New York Islanders 15 year deal for Rick DePietro—hampers the team from getting better.

Obviously the players union will want to keep those deals, as players benefit from the security of the long term deal. Bettman sees that teams can be hurt on these if they fall through.  A team that gets handcuffed from a bad long term deal can devastate the franchise.  A weakened franchise hurts the overall NHL product. 

If Bettman gets rid of such deals, how will that affect the current free agent talks?  As part of the CBA coming out of the lockout, players agreed to a huge pay cut in order to meet the new salary cap.  Would a reduction of contracts over a certain amount of years happen in these talks or just the elimination of future such deals?

Either way, the CBA puts another variable into free agency talks.  GMs are working under the current set of rules but know that the players they sign will be playing under a different set of rules.