Don’t blame owners for trying to win

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If the owners are so worried that the players are making too much money, why do they keep handing out long-term, front-loaded contracts that maximize what they’re allowed to spend under the CBA?

A popular answer to that question is, “because they’re hypocrites.

Personally, I think the answer is, “because it’s the only way to sign good free agents and good players are an integral part of winning hockey games.”

Unfortunately for the NHL’s financially challenged franchises, the price for free agents is set by the teams that can afford them.

Some of those teams can afford them because they’re profitable businesses that get even more profitable when they win.

Others can afford them because they have owners that are so rich they don’t care if the business makes money – they just want to win a Stanley Cup.

The common theme is – because they want to win.

Meanwhile, the NHL’s money-losing clubs that don’t have Terry Pegula signing checks and shooting guns into the air are dragged into a game they can’t afford to play, but one they can’t simply walk away from either.

You want Shea Weber, Nashville? The Flyers have set the price. Take it, bite the financial bullet and see if you can claw something back in the new CBA, or leave it and go explain the decision to your fans. Sorry, but the Flyers aren’t going to worry if they hurt the Predators; they’ve got their own rather demanding fans to answer to. Unless you’ve got a problem with that, Flyers fans. Is your heart aching for Preds ownership? Or are you more concerned that Chris Pronger might never play again and Kimmo Timonen is 37?

And that’s the way it should be — each team looking out for its owns fans.

Come to think of it, the only team that seems to care about the rest of the league is the richest of them all – the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“These deals that are front-loaded and have small amounts at the back end, in my opinion, are designed to circumvent the salary cap,” said Leafs GM Brian Burke after failing to land prized free agent Brad Richards last summer.

“I won’t do them, I never have, I’m not going to. That’s not a contract structure we’re interested in.”

So Richards went to the Rangers, who were prepared to give him the front-loaded deal he wanted.

Fortunately, the Leafs are stacked down the middle so it wasn’t a big deal. Oh wait, no they’re not. They haven’t had a legitimate first-line center since Mats Sundin.

What do Leafs fans thinks of Burke’s refused to hand out front-loaded contracts? Let’s ask Leafs fan Sean McIndoe, aka @DownGoesBrown.

“Whether it’s some sense of duty to the league, or some sort of personal moral code, or just plain old self-promotion, Burke has a tendency to give the impression that he has quite a few priorities beyond doing whatever it takes to win,” McIndoe told PHT in an email.

Not that McIndoe is devastated the Leafs lost out on Richards, or any other free agent that signed the type of contract Burke eschews.

“Big-dollar UFA deals usually end up being a mistake, and Leaf fans know that as well as anyone,” said McIndoe.

But Burke isn’t telling Leafs fans – the same fans that pay the highest ticket prices in the NHL and haven’t experienced a playoff game since before the lockout – he won’t sign those deals because they’re not good for the team. And that’s what hard for Leafs fans to take.

“If Burke just sold it that way I think a lot of fans would be on board,” said McIndoe. “But instead he gets up on his soapbox and turns it into some sort of ethical issue, and that’s when fans start tuning him out.”

Look, I’m not saying the players should bend over for the owners in the CBA negotiations. The owners need to institute a more progressive revenue-sharing program. And the players shouldn’t be held responsible for things like the money pit in Glendale.

But let’s not spend too much time ripping owners for trying to win. Isn’t that what you want your team to do? Win?

Related: Reaching a new CBA is a negotiation, not an exercise in fairness