On its face the Bruins position headed into the NHL lockout seems prudent, but also a little preposterous given the numbers and the players involved.
Bruins principal owner Jeremy Jacobs is the President of the Board of Governors and one of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettmans staunchest allies. Jacobs was also reportedly the owner that called for his fellow NHL owners to lock out the players during a unanimous vote last week in New York City. So it would seem he should be the owner pushing for fiscal prudence with player salaries and a conservative approach headed into the NHLs nuclear winter.
Instead the Jacobs family green-lit 70.5 million in contract extension money for Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic in the final week leading into the work stoppage. It was part of the NHL owners wildly spending 199 million in the final two days leading into Sundays opening day of the lockout, acting like crazed brides-to-be in a wedding gown clearance sale.
The three-year, 18 million for Lucic was seen as particularly generous around the league despite him being best young power forward in the game and on the upward trend toward being an All-Star player in his prime.
The commitment of 70.5 million was the final chapter in a summer of wild spending by the same NHL owners that are now crying poor-mouth at the CBA negotiating table. Minnesota owner Craig Leipold is the prime example of that phenomenon signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to the two richest deals of the summer just weeks after publicly complaining that he pays too much in player payroll.
But Bs general manager Peter Chiarelli said he didnt have any issues selling his strategy to ownership while they were lining all their lockout ducks in a row.
Chiarelli said some of the impact is lessened because the future dollars wont come into play until the 2013-14 season, and thats at least partially true on the three extensions signed with an eye toward the future.
But read on for another reasonable explanation as to why the Bruins spent generously before they put a padlock on the season.
Were talking about future years and were talking about core players," Chiarelli said. "You have to remember that we didnt bring anyone in here, we didnt bring anyone in here in the summer. Weve got a sizable chunk of inactive money with Marc Savard and Tim Thomas. So these numbers are big and were trying to keep our players -- specifically our forwards -- in clusters so that theres an element of equity to it. There is a lot of planning, but there is an element of caution.
But were talking about future years here and core players. So, we think weve managed it with some semblance of fiscal responsibility. Weve got a pretty good track record so far. Part of managing a team is being fiscally responsible and making the right decisions so were just trying to continue to understand and respect that. Obviously were going to be in a new system and knowing that there has to be elements where you can shed salary and you have to have some flexibility. The business side of it is important -- we dont ignore it and we obviously have to abide by any rules that they give us -- but part of our job is to project on the players and project on player costs. Thats just an everyday task.
So how could the Bruins spend freely to lock up their young core of players while the NHL Brotherhood of owners is banging the drum that the league is spending way too much on player salary? Because the Bruins ownership knows exactly what the NHL game plan is for collective bargaining negotiations. They're looking at a "new system" in which Bettman is determined to get another salary rollback along with something closer to a 5050 split in hockey related revenue.
So it might have been much easier to approve the last batch of contracts when the Bruins are banking on another 10-20 percent rollback on all salaries signed prior to the lockout deadline. The Bruins were ill-prepared for the 24 percent salary rollback that Harry Sinden and Mike OConnell never saw coming out of the last lockout, and this time it would appear theyre banking on another rollback.
The players have been adamant that escrow and salary rollbacks are a non-starter in negotiations, but that seems to be one of the first orders of business for the NHL with each CBA proposal.
Things would look a little different and perhaps a little more club-friendly in the eyes of those signing the checks if the Bruins are paying out only 80 percent of the 70.5 million doled out to Marchand, Seguin and Lucic. That would explain the rush to finish off as many deals as possible up to the deadline, but also paints the picture of NHL owners willing to sign contracts they have no intention of fully living up to.
Its that kind of scurrilous activity behind the scenes that has harbored mistrust between the players and ownership over the years, and now has the NHL facing a winter of locked out hockey games.