An e-mail request came in today, asking for a comment on the Brian Burke / Kevin Lowe situation. Is Lowe responsible for the rising salaries among Restricted Free Agents? In a word; No. But let me say that I share a hometown with Kevin Lowe, and he brought each of his Stanley Cups home for us to enjoy. I also lived in Vancouver during Brian Burke's days as GM of the Canucks and I became a fan of the myth and the man. I think they should settle this by playing Family Feud, and the winnings can go to a charity of their choice.
Lowe's offers to Dustin Penner and Tomas Vanek last summer certainly woke up the league to the implications of the Cap world. Other teams assets were no longer off limits. Was Burke angry at Lowe for making the offer, or mad at himself for being caught without Cap space for a rising young star? Andy MacDonald is a member of the Blues because Scott Niedermayer and Temmu Selanne returned mid season after Burke had spent his money on Todd Bertuzzi. Burke is not publicly complaining about St. Louis GM Larry Pleau taking advantage. So why Lowe?
A 2006 quote from Bobby Clarke, " We had the money to do it, so we did it". Clarke was referring to his one year - $1.9 million offer to Canucks RFA Ryan Kesler. The third line center had made $600,000 the season before, not a huge increase by NHL standards, but the Canucks were mad as hell they had to match the offer. Lowe's seven year, $50 million offer to Buffalo's Vanek was outrageous, but all the Sabres had to do was turn it down, take the draft picks and watch Edmonton flounder under the weight of such a huge contract.
Personally, I've become a fan of Brian Murray's style here in Ottawa. He certainly has holes to fill in his line up but he hasn't opened the vault to get it done. Murray places a franchise value on his players. Where does this player fit on the depth chart? Is he a character guy? Offers to other D men in the league have made Senator RFA - Andres Meszaros a $3 - 4 million dollar man. There are teams with more Cap space, so an offer is sure to come. GM Murray will probably take the draft picks as compensation if the offer exceeds the franchise value he's placed on Meszaros. He can't earn more than Chris Phillips or Volchenkov.
To hold Kevin Lowe responsible for the rise in salaries, misses what I believe is the larger issue; the Salary Cap minimum. After the lock out, the Cap was set at a $39 million maximum and a $21.5 million minimum. Going into this season we have a $56.7 million ceiling and a $40 million floor. Under the current structure, teams that couldn't make a profit with a $30 million payroll, now have to spend $40 million. In the first Cap year, Minnesota spent $25 m , Nashville - $29 m, Florida - $27 m, and Columbus $34 million. Nashville's past owner Craig Leopold claims to have lost $70 million with the Preds. How is the new spending environment better in Minnesota? Going into the current season, Leopold will be spending $46 million on the Wild, Nashville - $43m, Florida - $44 m, and Columbus is at $41 million.
Brian Burke is not completely wrong. Teams will now need to find ways to lock up young stars early, like Kostitsyn in Montreal or Perry in Anaheim. Yes, you may have to over pay, but the fault doesn't fall on Lowe. Florida has signed unknown Rostislav Olesz for 6 years at $3.5 million. Toronto has given $4 million to Jeff Finger because the market dictated that price. (according to Cliff Fletcher...). Mike Commodore, valued in Ottawa at $1.5 million, gets 5 years at $3.5 million from Columbus. A prime example of a team desperately trying to spend up to the minimum. Atlanta currently has $24 million in Cap space and they have holes to fill. Andres Meszaros can expect one of his offers to come from the Thrashers. Are Kevin Lowe's offers any different from Vancouver's 2 year/$20 million offer to Mats Sundin? Mats is not the best player in the NHL, but the need and the money is there, so why not make him the highest paid player in the league?
The Blue Jackets have $34 million committed for next year (2009 - 2010), and only $17 million for the following season. Unless a major superstar decides to move to Columbus, the Jackets and teams like them will be over spending to reach the minimum for years to come. Wasn't Brian Burke still working for the NHL when the league expanded to some of these cities?