Playing the blame game
It's hard to take when as an organization you're successful and you draft well. But then you're penalized by a cap system and you have to make choices.
It's an unfortunate side effect of that lovely CBA we lost a year of hockey to get. The same one advertised as benefitting small market teams like us, glossing over the whole "if you draft well and develop consistently, you won't be able to keep them" thing.
Muckler didn't want to give up stars such as Havlat and Zdeno Chara. But the new system forced him to do it.
It's a common refrain these days, especially in light of the recent Martin Havlat trade, to point to hockey's new collective bargaining agreement as professional sports' next two-faced monster.
On one hand, the NHL's new deal professed to be rescuing small-market franchises from the depths of playoff-less despair. On the other, it began to slowly rob some of those same clubs of their precious stars.
It's a convenient argument, there's no doubt — and especially when a popular star leaves town.
The curious thing, however, is that the NHL's salary cap is currently at $44-million, a dollar figure no Canadian team's payroll — aside from the decidedly big-budgeted Maple Leafs — has hit. Ever.
Muckler himself admitted that, had he retained both Havlat and Bryan Smolinksi, his team's payroll would have been between $47- and $48-million. And that's a total which doesn't even factor in the dear, departed Zdeno Chara, who signed a mammoth, $37.5-million deal with Boston on July 1.
One wonders what's changed the past two years to transform the tight-fisted Senators franchise into a team willing to move into the $50-million territory.
The point being that, unless billionaire owner Eugene Melnyk's master plan was to play coy with the fact he had far more wealth to lavish on this franchise than he had to this point, there's no way Muckler could have kept this club together — old system or new.
These choices he talks about have always been part of the NHL, aside from a select few teams.
In 2003-04, for example, the last season played in the NHL without a cap, 12 teams spent more than the $44-million figure. Toronto (6th, $66.4-million) was the only Canadian team in that group. Washington (10th, $50.9-million) was the only club eligible for revenue-sharing this year that went over $44-million in 2003-04.
Whatever your definition of a small market, not a lot of them were hitting the salary levels that are now the 'team-destroying' limit.
Of course, there are far more subtleties here than I'm highlighting, and a lowered unrestricted free agency age is having a salary-boosting effect that wasn't present previously. Far be it for me to come to the defence of what is a flawed CBA, but if we're going to play the blame game, let's at least be realistic.
Under any economic system, short of one that would triple the Greater Ottawa Area's population, this team's dismantling was on its way.
(As an aside, with all of the outcry over Muckler's recent moves, one would think he'd been butchering a dynasty as opposed to effectively reworking a roster that obviously wasn't getting it done. Is it that out of touch to say this team has as talented a cast as last season's group?)