In the current NHL, teams that spend a bit too much in the offseason and find their salary cap situation to be problematic. The Blackhawks had that problem last summer and this time around it was the Buffalo Sabres who found themselves above the fold after owner Terry Pegula shelled out the big bucks to get Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino into town.
Rather than do things the way Chicago did it by dealing away valuable players making slightly unmanageable salaries, the Sabres took the route most traveled by teams looking to get under the cap: Sending guys to the AHL.
Ales Kotalik and Shaone Morrisonn, making a combined $5.075 million against the salary cap, will be starting their seasons in Rochester with the Americans rather than in Buffalo with the Sabres. It’s all because their salaries are a bit too much for the Sabres to manage. Kotalik and Morrisonn are both potentially useful players, although not premiere players, and could be a good fit in Buffalo (or anywhere else in need of a part-time scorer or physical defenseman) but their cost to play is too rich for anyone’s blood.
While no one is going to feel bad for guys making $3 million (Kotalik) or $2.075 million (Morrisonn) to play hockey anywhere, being priced out of the NHL is part of the harsh reality of life in the NHL. Players are more than entitled to get whatever an owner wishes to pay them to play, but when their play gets matched or exceeded by players making less money, those are the breaks. Just ask Wade Redden of the New York Rangers about that.
The Rangers gave Redden a monster free agent contract and now he’s likely doomed to stay in Hartford until his deal runs out because his cap hit is obscenely high for the kind of play he brings. Does that make Redden a bad player? Not at all, he’s just not worth it at the cost that comes to the Rangers against the salary cap. Same goes for Chicago and Cristobal Huet.
While this is how life goes in the NHL these days and this is how teams can sidestep financial missteps, there’s just something that feels cheap about being able to cover up financial errors like this. The hopes that teams below the salary floor would be there to absorb those mistakes have, for the most part, not happened. Teams like the Islanders, Coyotes, Jets, and Predators all found alternative ways to go about business without taking on a potentially brutal contract.
Last season the New Jersey Devils ran into cap issues and tried to find a new home for Brian Rolston. Rolston came with a $5.062 million cap hit and for two seasons at that amount, there weren’t any buyers. When this summer rolled around and Rolston was entering the final year of his deal, however, the Islanders happily swooped in and traded for the 38 year-old winger to help bring themselves to the salary floor.
Guys like Morrisonn and Kotalik are in the final year of their contracts and while that can prove to be motivation to earn a new deal, they’ll have to show they can bring it big in the AHL to hopefully get moved to another team that has a need. Having to prove yourself in the AHL when you’re an NHL-caliber player makes the task seem Sisyphus-like when the boulder you’re pushing uphill is a salary that most teams can’t bear to have.