Every year, strategically timed when season tickets go on sale, Eugene Melnyk makes a radio or television appearance in which he says something about how this team needs to go to the second round of the playoffs just to break even, or is a small market team that could relocate unless all of the chips fall just right. I’ve taken up a lot of time on this blog talking about all of the revenue Melnyk doesn’t count in his estimates–non-hockey events at the arena he owns because he owns the team, as well as merchandising and television revenues–and I won’t belabor it again here. I am willing to accept, however, that Ottawa is not Philadelphia or New York. We won’t, nor should we, seek to spend to the cap simply because we can, or as a matter of competitive principle. With the team in rebuild mode, it hasn’t made much sense to throw money at veterans.
This year is different, though. A unique confluence of events has conspired to a point where it only makes sense for Ottawa to spend to the cap, if only for a season or two.
- The team is already competitive, having made the playoffs in their last two seasons and winning a round this year, and has over $22 million in cap space with no key players to sign outside of Alfredsson, Condra, and Wiercioch. The latter two players won’t cost the team much more than their expiring deals. Let’s say that drops them to $16 million in cap space–that’s plenty enough to sign a marquee top six forward (or two) and a top four defenseman.
- The big money powers in the East–Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York–will all be shedding players rather than adding them in order to lock up their core members and become cap compliant.
- Great young players like Zibanejad, Turris, and Silfverberg are in, or are about to enter, their primes.
- The team will likely get one more year of Daniel Alfredsson.
- It’s the last year of Bryan Murray’s deal.
- You have to think that the extra round of playoffs, even if it was only a couple of extra home games in a 5 game loss to the Pens, means the team saw a bump in team revenues. After all, Ottawa ran with the fifth lowest payroll all season long. [Sidenote: how does player insurance work? With Spezza and Karlsson injured, I know they get paid, but does that come out of Melnyk's pocket or the insurance company's? If the latter, Ottawa had the lowest payroll in the entire league, while still being top ten in attendance, and enjoying the additional playoff revenue. All of this after a totally unnecessary lockout.]
If there was ever a season to go for it, it’s now. There’s the cause, the will, and the means.
It reminds me of the Blue Jays’ situation, which can obviously serve as a cautionary tale as much as anything: with the powers in their division scaling back on salary to come into compliance with MLB’s luxury tax rules (sorry if I’m messing up the terminology…baseball, amiright?), and with the good young players to complement veterans, Alex Anthopoulos brought in over $200 million in new salary. Now, it hasn’t exactly worked out for the Jays, and with hockey being even more chaotic than baseball, signing a couple of UFAs won’t be all it takes to stack up in a league with this kind of parity. But the conditions have never been so perfect for a spending spree. The takeaway from the Jays’ spending hasn’t been success, but enthusiasm. Remember what it was like during that round one win against Montreal? Imagine going into this season as a presumptive favorite for the Cup.
So open up the wallet, Melnyk. This is no time to tout small market economics. We paid the price with two lockouts to get the cap, and it’s been a long six years since our trip to the Finals. Recognize an opportunity when it’s staring you in the face and go for it.