For all of the benefits of the salary cap a major complaint is that teams no longer stay together. Most people aren’t lamenting the ability of 3rd and 4th line guys to move freely amongst the 30 NHL teams, but instead of the ability of a team to keep its marquee players throughout their career. This tends to be a problem for the franchises, but also for the fans who become attached to the star players only to see them leave the team via free agency. With this throught in mind, I have an idea for the next CBA to allow teams to keep their best talent without costing the team its depth players: A franchise player exemption.
If I were Donald Fehr, or Hockey Satan, I would propose the each team be given one “Franchise Player Exemption” which would be a contract that doesn’t count against the cap and isn’t subject to the max contract amount.
Parity is great for a league’s fans because everyone wants to think their team can compete every year, but most people also miss the days of great teams. Under the salary cap it’s hard for teams to balance depth and star power without creating future cap headaches (see Blackhawks, Chicago). It’s sad to see teams like that immediately be disbanded like the ’97 Marlins. I know most of the people viewing this site are Flyers fans and hate to hear it, but that Blackhawks team was one of the sickest teams we’ve seen since the ’97 Red Wings. (I don’t know why this bothers us…would you rather have lost to the ’06 Hurricanes?) While some players are going to leave anyway for personal reasons, like Zach Parise, it’s unfortunate to see a player like that leave because of salary cap issues.
This franchise contract would not count against the cap, though obviously it would count toward the 50 contract limit. I believe that a team like Pittsburgh should be allowed to keep Sidney Crosby, or the Lightning should be allowed to keep Steven Stamkos, or the Flyers and Claude Giroux without their contract being a detriment to the team. Obviously, the salary cap would have to be lowered a little bit, but shouldn’t Pittsburgh be allowed to offer Crosby way more money than anyone else on the market? He’s certainly worth a whole lot more than any other player. Just imagine how much more dangerous a team like Pittsburgh would be if they had another $8.7M available to put talent around Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
I would structure the exemption in such a way that either a player needs to be a homegrown talent (entire ELC with your organization) or 400 total games played including playoffs (call it the Mats Sundin rule). There’s no reason this player would have to be the best guy on the team. Just like in the NFL, any player would be eligible for the franchise player rule, so if a team wanted to keep a fanbase favorite by overpaying a little without having to make a “business decision” to let the player go, particularly at the end of his career, that’s fine too.
Lastly, I would require a complete NMC to be included in any franchise contract. The point of this exemption is to say “You’re our guy.” and an NMC reinforces that sentiment…unless you’re on the Flyers, at which point an NMC means “You made the team and we’ll be trading you shortly.”
In order to further dissuade teams from trading a player given the franchise exemption, if another team acquires a player with a franchise exemption I would have the contract immediately count against the cap, but the franchise that inked the contract would not be able to use the franchise designation for the lesser of the duration of the contract, or a further three years. For example, had the Blue Jackets assigned Rick Nash as their franchise player, he would still count against the Rangers cap, and the Blue Jackets wouldn’t be allowed to use the franchise exemption until the 2015-16 season.
The logic behind this idea is to give teams with star players the opportunity to keep them, and for the players that are the key faces of the NHL to be to be paid what they’re worth, all while letting the NHL have some more dominant teams without having to ask their best talent to take hometown discounts due to a salary cap.
Feel free to leave opinions, support, or criticism in the comment section.