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Life of an NHLer Stashed in the AHL


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#1 Dave

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 02:01 PM

This article has an interesting look at how bad decisions of NHL GMs have changed the AHL.

Last spring, goaltender Michael Leighton led the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals. One month later, he cashed in with a two-year, $3.1 million contract.

On a recent night in January, however, Leighton was minding the net for the Adirondack Phantoms of the American Hockey League at the Glens Falls Civic Center in upstate New York. The crowd of 3,889 was a little bigger than normal, but not on his account. It was Girl Scout night. "It's tough just to think about it," Leighton says.

There's nothing unusual about a millionaire baseball player doing a stint in the minors to retool his game or come back from an injury. But hockey's minor leagues are a different animal: They exist mostly as a holding pen for journeymen and fringe prospects. Future stars like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin never set foot in them and the facilities and accommodations tend to be considerably more spartan.

This season, thanks to a little-known loophole in the league's labor deal and a growing pileup of phenomenally bad contracts, the AHL has seen something new: an influx of millionaires making as much as double the NHL's average salary.

Sheldon Souray, a former Edmonton Oilers defenseman who was once married to a Baywatch model, is patrolling the blue line for the Hershey Bears for $5.5 million. He was loaned to Hershey in the pre-season when Edmonton asked him not to report for training camp and no team picked him up off waivers.

Former New York Rangers defenseman Wade Redden, a two-time All-Star, is taking eight hour bus rides as a member of the Connecticut Whale. At a salary of $6.5 million, he earns the AHL's minimum salary of $37,500 in just over one period of play.

Defenseman Mike Commodore, who won a Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, was sent down to the Springfield Falcons in January after the Blue Jackets failed to find a team willing to trade for him. Despite making $3.75 million, he's living in a hotel in downtown Springfield and doesn't have a car. "Honestly, I don't know where I'd go," he says.

The root of the problem is the NHL's salary cap, which was introduced in hockey for the first time in 2005 and limits the amount teams can spend on players to $59 million. Many of the league's general managers had very little idea how dangerous a cap system can be, and as such, signed a lot of players to long, bloated contracts that are now coming back to haunt them. But during the 2005 negotiations, the players union asked for an unusual provision that allows teams to limit their cap count to the salaries of players who are actually in the locker room. If a team can find a place to stash a player they no longer want, his salary doesn't count.

Some teams have taken novel approaches. The Chicago Blackhawks shed goaltender Cristobal Huet's $5.6 million salary by loaning him to a team in Switzerland. But the majority of the league's overpaid and unwanted have been sent to discover the charms of life in the AHL.

As you might expect, the disparities in income on these teams now creates some unusual situations. In minor league hockey, there's a tradition known as "The Board," where players place small sums of money for the scorer of the game's game-winning goal to collect. Most nights, the board can be $100 or so. No longer. Redden has placed iPads on the board and Commodore has put up as much as $1,000.

When Commodore got to Springfield, he thought the team could use a particular type of weightlifting machine so he bought $2,000 worth of equipment on his own dime. He says he's grown so accustomed to paying for things that it's getting a bit "awkward" with his teammates. "The other guys want to start contributing," he said.

The NHL's waiver system makes it unlikely any of these players will be back in the big league anytime soon. If a player is picked up on waivers, both his new team and his old team must add half the player's salary to their salary cap total. For players like Redden, who signed a six-year guaranteed contract in 2008, that's a huge disincentive that has turned the AHL into hockey's version of a white-collar prison.


It's not clear if the stashing issue will come up again when the league's current collective bargaining agreement expires in Sept. 2012. Scott Howson, the Blue Jackets general manager who sent Commodore down, said eating his salary in the minors is not "a desirable solution."

The NHL doesn't consider stashing players in the minors a violation of the rules. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the move isn't common enough to be a problem yet, but that the number of "high-profile players" with big contracts who've been sent down for cap management is a situation that "bears watching."

As for Commodore, he says he's made peace with his situation. "At the time I signed the contract, I heard 'overpaid, overpaid, overpaid!' and that's fine, whatever, maybe I am."

For a year, he said, the contract worked out splendidly. But after injuries and a coaching change, his career in Columbus started to unravel. In the end, he says, "it just so happened to be my head on the block."

Rick Wright, a 31-year-old Phantoms fan who works for a satellite company said he didn't think fans particularly paid attention or noticed that Leighton, the goalie from last year's Stanley Cup Finals, is playing for their hometown team. "On one hand, I feel sorry for him because he's stuck in the AHL, but on the other hand, it's good because we had a lot of goaltending problems at the end of last year," he said.



#2 theman19

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 02:08 PM

It's completely stupid. The players are the ones suffering for this, the owners and gm's who signed the stupid ass contract in the first place are the ones who should suffer. I'm so tired of seeing guys I know could help other teams have their careers end because gm's over pay.

Yeah I know someone's going to come in here and say something silly like "it's the players own fault" but honestly if you know you're worth a million and a Gm offers three would YOU turn it down?

#3 NeverForgetMac25

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 02:41 PM

Yeah, this is definitely a tough situation because of course you're going to sign a bloated contract if its put forth in front of you. That being said, I'm not necessarily sure I feel bad for these players simply because they're still making their money. Is the situation less than ideal: of course it is. Is it just as much their fault that they aren't able to live up to the contract they signed: Likely.

Great Read. Thanks for posting!
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#4 nate94gt

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 02:56 PM

so how long till franzens contract bites the wings and he goes to GR


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#5 esteef

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 03:20 PM

Wait a minute, Commodore lifts weights?

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#6 Bring Back The Bruise Bros

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 03:21 PM

Wonder how long Stortini will be in the AHL.
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#7 wings1110

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 03:26 PM

the NHLPA should really be fighting this kind of stuff. contracts over 1 or 2 mil should have a no AHL clause except for conditioning stints, if a team doesnt want the player anymore they have to buy him out.

#8 Bring Back The Bruise Bros

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 03:30 PM

Wait a minute, Commodore lifts weights?

esteef

His playoff beard does.
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#9 wingslogo19

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 05:32 PM

Really good read, thanks for posting this.. Pretty cool that Redden is putting up Ipads and Commy is putting up $1000 on the "board"
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#10 Drake_Marcus

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 05:58 PM

But hockey's minor leagues are a different animal: They exist mostly as a holding pen for journeymen and fringe prospects. Future stars like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin never set foot in them and the facilities and accommodations tend to be considerably more spartan.


That's the most retarded thing I've read in a while.

Crosby and Ovechkin represent the exception, not the norm. Of the first 30 guys selected each year maybe 2 or 3 will never play a game in the AHL, CHL or another minor league*. Add in all the other rounds and you can safely say more than 95% of the players drafted will play in the minors (both pro and amateur).

It's not uncommon to see top 5 picks play in the AHL for a time... it all depends on what their team's status is (garbage or loaded with talent) and how physically ready they are for the NHL.

So in summary-- the AHL is hardly a holder pen for fringe prospects. Most of the young NHL players who enter the league cut their teeth in the AHL.

Edit:
*Condsider that some guys who start on their team's NHL roster at 18 end up playing in the AHL for a time at some point (see: Edmonton this season)

Edited by Drake_Marcus, 25 February 2011 - 06:01 PM.

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#11 Crymson

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 06:44 PM

That's the most retarded thing I've read in a while.

Crosby and Ovechkin represent the exception, not the norm. Of the first 30 guys selected each year maybe 2 or 3 will never play a game in the AHL, CHL or another minor league*. Add in all the other rounds and you can safely say more than 95% of the players drafted will play in the minors (both pro and amateur).

It's not uncommon to see top 5 picks play in the AHL for a time... it all depends on what their team's status is (garbage or loaded with talent) and how physically ready they are for the NHL.

So in summary-- the AHL is hardly a holder pen for fringe prospects. Most of the young NHL players who enter the league cut their teeth in the AHL.

Edit:
*Condsider that some guys who start on their team's NHL roster at 18 end up playing in the AHL for a time at some point (see: Edmonton this season)


Excellent point. Filppula, Hudler, Helm, Ericsson, Kronwall, Abdelkader, Miller and Kindl all did their time in the AHL.

That said, the number of first-round draft picks per year who never AHL is probably higher than two or three.

Edited by Crymson, 25 February 2011 - 06:45 PM.


#12 wmubronco420

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 06:54 PM

It's completely stupid. The players are the ones suffering for this, the owners and gm's who signed the stupid ass contract in the first place are the ones who should suffer. I'm so tired of seeing guys I know could help other teams have their careers end because gm's over pay.

Yeah I know someone's going to come in here and say something silly like "it's the players own fault" but honestly if you know you're worth a million and a Gm offers three would YOU turn it down?


I don't think you can blame the owners or gm, blame the agents for demanding so much money . Or blame the players union for jacking up salaries.

Though I really don't think its anybody's fault other than the damn CBA, get rid of the salary cap now, what a shame to see quality players wasted like this

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#13 Nev

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 03:49 AM

What he said. I have very little to no sympathy for players on big money who end up in the AHL. If you sign a big money contract, you better play like a big money player. To blame it all on the GMs is ridiculous, if players/agents didn't hold out for so much money GMs wouldn't have to give out stupid contracts. There are exceptions of course where GMs hand out contracts and the whole world goes "WTF were they thinking?"

So no sympathy for Commodore making $3.75M in the minors. If you weren't fat and lazy maybe you would still be in the NHL?

As for Franzen, thank goodness that his contract is structured such that he can be bought out/retire with a minimal cap hit in a few years time.
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#14 dragonballgtz

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 12:25 PM

I don't think you can blame the owners or gm, blame the agents for demanding so much money . Or blame the players union for jacking up salaries.

Though I really don't think its anybody's fault other than the damn CBA, get rid of the salary cap now, what a shame to see quality players wasted like this

I blame the Owners/GMs. If they don't like the asking price that a player has set they have the option to let them walk. Also because some GMs are just trying to meet the salary cap floor (greedy owners) they will pay more for a player in order to hit it. Which bumps up similar players price tag.

#15 mmamolo

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 03:26 PM

What he said. I have very little to no sympathy for players on big money who end up in the AHL. If you sign a big money contract, you better play like a big money player. To blame it all on the GMs is ridiculous, if players/agents didn't hold out for so much money GMs wouldn't have to give out stupid contracts. There are exceptions of course where GMs hand out contracts and the whole world goes "WTF were they thinking?"

So no sympathy for Commodore making $3.75M in the minors. If you weren't fat and lazy maybe you would still be in the NHL?

As for Franzen, thank goodness that his contract is structured such that he can be bought out/retire with a minimal cap hit in a few years time.

1. buy out works on remaining cap hit, not remaining salary
2. No one forces GMs so sign any player even if the player is holding out. GMs can walk away from any negotiation. Even if some player is being insanely stubborn and asking for 5 times what he is worth if he ends up getting it ultimately it's because a GM was dumb enough or desperate enough to overpay. Then because that GMs cap situation or team play doesnt suit having that player on the roster any more he's cast away to the AHL or some other league (Huet). It is absolutely, 100% the Owners and GMs fault for bloating salaries. Players may stir up bidding wars but if you're desperate enough to overpay it's your own fault. It's like if I had the last piece of gum on the planet and 100 people wanted it and I sold it to you for a million dollars, then you chewed it up, spat it out and now cried and complained about it. It's not my fault, you're the sucker. Only in this example you have zero recourse
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#16 wings1110

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 03:45 PM

That's the most retarded thing I've read in a while.

Crosby and Ovechkin represent the exception, not the norm. Of the first 30 guys selected each year maybe 2 or 3 will never play a game in the AHL, CHL or another minor league*. Add in all the other rounds and you can safely say more than 95% of the players drafted will play in the minors (both pro and amateur).

It's not uncommon to see top 5 picks play in the AHL for a time... it all depends on what their team's status is (garbage or loaded with talent) and how physically ready they are for the NHL.

So in summary-- the AHL is hardly a holder pen for fringe prospects. Most of the young NHL players who enter the league cut their teeth in the AHL.

Edit:
*Condsider that some guys who start on their team's NHL roster at 18 end up playing in the AHL for a time at some point (see: Edmonton this season)

I agree, thats why the best team in the world (red wings) put almost all of their prospects through the ahl.

#17 Yellowknife Redwing

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 04:27 PM

High dollar players ending up in the AHL for extended stints is more symptomatic of poor decisions by GMs than an unsustainable structure created by the rules of the CBA. The New York Rangers' situation has all the right elements to repeatedly create the perfect storm for disastrous contracts.

The Rags have:

a) Bottomless pockets. They have incredibly rich owners who are capable of spending to the salary cap and burying any unwanted contracts without much concern for their bottom line. If the NHL had a soft salary cap with incremental penalties for additional spending, you can bet the NYR would eat that up too.

b) A GM with who is a very poor judge of player value and contract length. Nearly every big dollar free agent signed by the Rangers in the past 2 decades has been overpaid by at least $1M and in some cases, several million. Gomez, Drury, Redden, Roszival, Gaborik, Lundqvist, Boogaard have all been overpaid by the Rags in the last few season.

c) A market driven by big name superstars. The Rangers always want to land the big fish in order to stir public interest. The biggest free agent coming up on July 1st this year is Brad Richards and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Rangers offered him $8M/yr to lure him to the big apple.

Glen Sather and the Rangers treat the FA market like they're the Yankees: Poach big name free agents away from small clubs with the lure of huge money. Due to the salary cap it's burned Sather a couple of times, but the AHL option coupled with the deep pockets of the Rangers owners (as well as a few crafty trades) have saved their bacon so far.

The Red Wings are a perfect example of how a top dollar club can make the salary cap work with proper management. The Rangers are the cautionary tale of how frivolity in the cap world very rarely results in on-ice success. This is a lesson that the Chicago Blackhawks are about to learn again. They already screwed the pooch with Campbell, Huet, Hjalmarsson, Hossa, etc, and they just signed Seabrook to an overvalued contract.

Edited by Yellowknife Redwing, 02 March 2011 - 04:32 PM.


#18 weGotTheCup89

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 05:23 PM

I don't think you can blame the owners or gm, blame the agents for demanding so much money . Or blame the players union for jacking up salaries.

Though I really don't think its anybody's fault other than the damn CBA, get rid of the salary cap now, what a shame to see quality players wasted like this


I don't think it's simply a problem of the players being signed for too much money, the players talked about in the article are those being paid too much for an extended period of time.
How can you blame the agents for asking for too much money?
His Agent: "Hey Wade Redden, we decided that you weren't worth as much as the best salary we could get you... we wanted to protect you from getting stuck in the minors for 5 years so take this significantly lower pay instead."
^^THAT MAKES NO SENSE

The solution is simple, look no farther than the NBA:
Make it so the only way that teams up against the salary cap can wriggle out from under bad contracts is to trade those bad contracts to other teams with cap space, along with a first or second round draft pick and/or money or something else to compensate for eating a bad contract, and make it so that team can keep the player or buy them out to absorb the contract. This keeps the best players IN THE LEAGUE, and makes it so the owners/general managers hand out good contracts or pay the price with their future (in draft picks) when they don't. Spending less money becomes an asset, and lower-salaried teams can build their future by getting more draft picks when they take on another bad contract.


Once again, this is not the player or agent's fault for getting the best contract that someone will give them.. we call this capitalism, and you have a lot of work to do before that becomes a crime.
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#19 eva unit zero

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 10:31 PM

Make it so the only way that teams up against the salary cap can wriggle out from under bad contracts is to trade those bad contracts to other teams with cap space, along with a first or second round draft pick and/or money or something else to compensate for eating a bad contract


The capability to trade money was taken away because it would provide a huge advantage to large-market clubs. New York could trade Redden and enough cash to cover his salary to, say, Phoenix for a 2nd round draft pick. The Rangers now have an extra draft pick and are paying out no less in cash, and Phoenix has a decent defenseman at no cost.

and make it so that team can keep the player or buy them out to absorb the contract. This keeps the best players IN THE LEAGUE, and makes it so the owners/general managers hand out good contracts or pay the price with their future (in draft picks) when they don't. Spending less money becomes an asset, and lower-salaried teams can build their future by getting more draft picks when they take on another bad contract.


There are processes in place for contract buyouts. Eaves is still on Boston's cap from being bought out. The problem is that GMs like Sather have been spending like it's 2002 and they can have a $40m blueline. A lot of GMs simply haven't learned the cap mentality the way they should. You have to be much more frugal with your spending. The Wings, spending to the cap, would be about $35m-$40m below the salary of 2002's team based on the average salary in 2002. Yet they still dominate, because Holland and Wings upper management understand how the cap world works.
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#20 sputman

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 08:13 AM

Wait a minute, Commodore lifts weights?

esteef


i thought he just lifted dollar bills in his boxer-briefs.
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