With a $64 million cap and a 23 man roster, the average annual salary for a NHL player in 2011-12 will be just shy of $3 million
When the NHL salary cap came into effect after the lock-out, I began to ruthlessly decry every long-term (6 or more years) and/or big dollar ($6 million plus annually) contract that was signed.
I ridiculed the Rangers for signing Chris Drury, the Flyers for Daniel Briere, the Red Wings for Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, the Canucks for Roberto Luongo...the list went on and on (just like the actual contracts).
I always believed it was in a team's best interest to avoid those types of contracts at all costs. I understood the thinking behind tacking on years and paying the majority of the total contract at the front of the deal to reduce the cap hit, but I couldn't see the logic in committing more than five years to any player not named Crosby or Ovechkin. Injury, consistency, and complacency were all too much of a concern in my mind. Plus, I am apparently the only person who remembers the mess that was the NBA from 1996 - 2000. (So yes, my credibility took a hit with the 'It Won't Be Jets' and 'Manitoba Time' columns, but I did forsee the current NHL salary crisis a full three years ago.)
I also thought that tieing up as much as 20-25% of your cap space on 2-3 players would not allow a team to surround those top players with the quality depth needed to compete for a Stanley Cup.
I was adamant that teams who offered these types of contracts would regret them in the long run. I was positive that having more than a couple of players with annual salaries north of $5 million would cripple a team. I firmly believed you had to be very careful not to overpay anyone on your roster, and laughed at many contracts for borderline or slightly above average players who were signed to 3, 4 and $5 million contracts (Jeff Finger, Mike Commodore, Tuomo Ruutu, to name but a few).
I was deeply invested in the stockpiling draft picks/developing players/avoid over-paying for free agents philosophy. I believed you needed the roster flexibility that comes with putting together a team in this fashion, and if you didn't, well, at some point it would come back and bite you.
What I didn't see coming was a salary cap that would increase at a pace of almost 10% a year, from $39 million in 2006, all the way to $64 million in 2011. I didn't see the average, yes AVERAGE salary becoming almost $3 million in 2011.
Now when a player like Brooks Laich signs for $4.5 million a year, the sticker shock isn't nearly what it used to be. If the average salary is almost $3 million a year, then a slightly above average player is going to command at least slightly above $3 million a year. Simple logic.
The point is, worrying about fitting large salaries into your cap or slightly over-paying for an average player is suddenly a waste of time for fans and teams alike. Not only does a cap that keeps going up entice rich teams to be stupid, it also means those same teams have unlimited get-out-of-jail-free cards that can be used to give away bad contracts to teams needing to somehow get to the salary cap floor (which is a staggering $48 million for 2011-12).
All of which adds up to a humongous payday for Brad Richards.
I hope he signs with the Leafs.