I have a theory.
And, after the Rangers/Winnipeg trade involving Jacob Trouba, I’ve decided to lay it out. That deal was a surprise because the Jets were asking for more, and, on paper, Trouba is worth a greater return.
So, why didn’t it happen?
I think teams believe the NHL and NHLPA, to maintain labour peace, are going to tighten the cap for two years until a new U.S. television deal is announced. Here are the factors:
CHANGING PLAYER ATTITUDES
The days of the hometown discount are ending. There will always be exceptions — Tampa Bay having an excellent team and terrific taxation situation is the obvious one at this time — but more and more players are flexing their financial muscle. The younger generation in particular is indicating it will not be satisfied taking a salary backseat.
In a hard cap system, the punishment for drafting and developing well is that you have to make choices. The Jets are a perfect example, but everyone is feeling it.
Both the league and union have the opportunity to re-open the CBA in September. They are working to avoid it. The players don’t want a stoppage, but they want escrow to be eased. Last season’s number was 11.6 per cent, and if I had that much of my paycheque being withheld every two weeks, I’d be annoyed, too. The league is prepared to work with them on this, and I believe both sides are investigating long-term solutions. (More on this in a minute.)
THE U.S. TV DEAL
The current NBC contract is up after the 2020-21 season. Recently, there was a report the NHL is working on a new deal, with NBC keeping the majority. Another entity (likely ESPN, but possibly FOX) would have a smaller package. With Seattle entering the league, there’s a quiet confidence this will be a win.
So, here’s what I think the NHL and NHLPA are looking at as a potential solution: Both sides are working on models that show what the cap would look like with zero per cent escrow, and other models that show what it would look like with five or six per cent escrow.
The nuclear option (which I don’t think will happen) is the cap stays at $79.5 million for two more seasons. What is more likely is the NHL and NHLPA agree to a cap for the next two seasons (2019-20 and 2020-21), with a $2-$2.5-million raise per year from the current $79.5. That puts next year’s number between $81.5-$82 million, and 2020-21 between $83.5-$84.5.
Then, if everything works out with the American television deal, there’s a consistent rise for 2021-22 and beyond. It means a tight two seasons, but is the best hope for labour peace.
So, that’s my theory and a window into the Trouba deal. (Jets owner Mark Chipman, by the way, is on the NHL’s Executive Committee.) Could be right, could be wrong. But I think there’s something to it.