There's an episode of "The Office" where the character Oscar is trying to explain to the character Michael how his budget works using an allowance and a lemonade stand as a comparison. After the severely dumbed down explanation, Michael replies, "Okay, break it down in terms of, um... okay, I-I think I'm getting you..." How does this apply to the NHL? Let's just say some General Managers are acting a little Michael Scott-like in their understanding of money.
Let me start by saying I have the utmost respect for these men and the difficult jobs they do. That said, some of them are screwing their teams royally!
So, who's doing it wrong? Let's look at Philadelphia. They are flush with talent on both offense and defense. However, they had to go to Russia and bring back a problematic goaltender in order to afford someone who is considered a "starter." Then, they trade a boatload of talent for a highly paid, yet aging star in Chris Pronger. Not to mention the fact they are saddled with Danny Briere's $6.5 million dollar contract until 2015. That would be fine if Briere was worth that much.
Philly has almost $46 million committed to salaries for next season and the salary cap is likely to come down from this seasons cap of $56.8 million. Even if it didn't, that would mean the Flyers would need to find 3 forwards, 3 defenseman, and a starting netminder for $10.8 million.
Philadelphia was in the worst condition, until Chicago stole their thunder. How? Well, for starters, Chicago is already over the cap for this coming season. They'll need to find ways to shed salary and not lose key players before the season starts.
However, like Philadelphia, the Blackhawks' real problems lie in the future. Chicago has $43 million committed to salaries next season. 7 of their players become Restricted Free Agents next season, and 5 of them Unrestricted Free Agents. Among those players are Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd, and Duncan Keith. Heck, Toews and Kane alone will cost more than the $13.8 million in the cap space that's available for next season. Don't forget you have 10 other players to sign as well. Bet you're rethinking that $7.1 million contract you gave Brian Campbell last summer, right Dale Tallon?
The issue is a common one and a totally avoidable one; don't overpay for players. Pay a player their appropriate value. If you really want that player but they're asking for too much, don't sign them! Any team would love to have Marian Gaborik, but if I'm the Rangers, do I pay $7.5 million for a guy who gets injured more often than a hemophiliac rodeo clown?
When I was growing up my parents tried to teach me not to spend money on something that isn't worth it. I probably could have lived with a few less video games, but for the most part the lessons stuck. Maybe I should tell my parents to call some of the leagues GM's and give them some pointers...
Why does this matter? Why not let those teams mismanage their money? Because when a player gets an inflated contract, it ruins things for everyone. If Player X gets a $4 million contract, even though he deserves a $3 million contract, everyone else gets bumped too. To go back to an analogy for five year-olds, you can't give one child two scoops of ice cream and another, equally valuable kid one scoop. Unless of course you value your children differently...
It's a "buy first, ask questions later" mentality and some teams are going to feel the sting when the bill comes. It's only a matter of time until it hits the fan and GM's learn to rebuild through the draft (see Kings, Los Angeles or Blues, St. Louis for good examples) and not throw wads of money at UFA's (see Gainey, Bob). Unfortunately, you can't always expect your kids to make the right decisions the first time. Sometimes you have to watch them fall and hope they learn to get back up and not make the same mistake twice.