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Posted July 28, 2005
A New Ice Age
By Paul Noonan

     It was a dark winter for the NHL.  It was the first major sport franchise to lose a full season to a lockout.  The new NHL steered itself towards the edge of the cliff, holding on by its back two tires.  Many bad words were said and many fans were lost. Yet before making an even worse decision by using replacement players, the owners worked with the NHLPA and finally put together a deal, one that could have been done in February at the latest.  Dwelling on the past will do no good, so fans must now turn to a future with a new look and (hopefully) a better product.               

     The owners sought one thing throughout this whole process, a salary cap, and they got it.  The new cap has both a maximum

($39 mil) and a minimum ($21.5 mil) amount, making sure that teams can’t be stingy while controlling spending.  The new cap has a clause which does not allow a single player to receive over $7.5 million. 

     The league also adopted an escrow system.  This system is almost like a pot.  Each new player puts in fifteen percent of his salary, and if the league fails to generate a revenue of $2.2 billion, the players do not see that money again.  As the league’s revenues go up, the amount the players get back also grows. 

     The new CBA will also gradually decrease the free agent age to a low of 27 in 2008.  That age is ignored if a player has spent seven years in the league.  The league lowered the amount that a rookie can make in an entry level contract to under $1 million, but they also increased the minimum salary to $450,000. 

     With chaos to ensue in the coming weeks in the player market, the league adopted a new buyout policy to help get some teams under the cap for this season.  The Flyers have already taken advantage, having bought out John Leclair and Tony Amonte,  Many more are sure to follow.  The rules of salary arbitration have also changed a little.  A team can only take a player to arbitration once, and unlike the old days, an arbitrator cannot give his own award.  He  must choose between the owner’s offer or the player’s.  On top of everything, all player salaries for this season will be rolled back 24%. 

     The financial landscape wasn’t the only scenery changed.  With the creation of the new Competition Committee, the NHL has created a group to improve the game.  This Committee is composed of players, GMs,and owners.   They will evaluate the state of the game periodically,  propose rule changes they think will improve the product.

     The biggest rule change for the upcoming season looks like the shootout.  That’s right!  Ties are gone.  Personally, I am a for it, although I know many aren’t.  I think it will bring a new excitement to the game and it is a time-consuming way to get rid of ties, which many seem to dislike. 

    

     Another big change is the deletion of the two-line pass.  With the red line eliminated (not literally), the trap may be used less frequently, or at least become a little easier to defeat.  The game should open up more, providing a more college like atmosphere.  Instead of no-touch icing, the NHL instead will penalize a team that ices the puck by not allowing them to make a line change.

     

     Other rules include:  further limits on the size of goalie pads, a designated area in which the goalie can play the puck, a new fight instigator rule pertaining to the last five minutes of a game, and once again, for about the 70th time in the last seven years, tighter calls on obstruction (roll your eyes for the 69th time please). 

    

     Finally, capped with a cool, new silver logo, (as if a new logo will really attract fans), the NHL has escaped from its darkest 300 days with a light at the end of the tunnel.  If teams can lower ticket prices, luring the fans back should be easier, but hockey will definitely take a few years to return to glory.  With just the NBC deal as their major TV network deal, the NHL has some work to do in the media department.  It likely won’t survive too long relying solely on NBC.  However, if the new changes can create a competitive, exciting NHL, the fans may slowly come back.  Hopefully, new fans will come with them.  Just six years from now the NHL is at risk to destroy itself again, potentially for good.  This new-found peace will be put to the test once more, when the current CBA expires.  That is a long time off though, so for now, just enjoy the return of the coolest game on earth. 



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