Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Scrap the cap? No more NTCs? Seven ideas to bring back the NHL blockbuster

It’s trade deadline season in the sports world, with the NBA’s just passing and the NHL’s a few weeks away. And let’s just say that basketball’s GMs have set the bar high for their hockey counterparts.

That’s usually how it works. The NBA is notorious for dropping massive blockbusters, both during the season and over the summer. It’s not unusual to see a a franchise player or two on the move, and the trades are often multi-team monstrosities that you need a PHD to fully break down. This year, NBA fans saw one of the best players of his era traded in a shocking move that came together overnight, and it was just one of many major deals.

Meanwhile, NHL GMs are constantly complaining that their job is too hard, simple player-for-pick deals take weeks to hammer out, and we’re all still trying to figure out who Vladislav Gavrikov is.

It wasn’t always like this. The NHL used to have plenty of big, bold trades. But over the years, the market has dried up, and there are some years where the deadline comes and goes and the biggest targets are guys you’ve barely heard of.

Maybe this year will be different. A few legitimately big names have already moved, and at least a few more reportedly on the block. But it’s certainly fair to say that the art of the deal isn’t what it used to be in the NHL. So why is that? And more importantly, is there anything we can do about it?

If you start from the premise that more trading is good for the league’s overall entertainment value, then it seems like we should want to encourage bigger and better deals. Great. But how? Today, let’s walk through seven ideas that could move the needle, and see if any of them could actually happen.

Idea 1: Allow more salary retention

The idea: Fans know the drill with salary retention by now. A team trading away a player can retain up to 50% of their cap hit (and real dollars) for the full length of their remaining contract, with a max of three retentions per team at any given time.

But why stop at 50%? What if we let teams retain as much as they wanted to, all the way up to 100%?

Why it would work: It would pretty obviously make midseason trades easier, especially for big-ticket stars. Imagine if the Blackhawks could trade Patrick Kane while retaining as much of his salary as the other team needed them to… at a cost in picks and prospects, of course. Remember, we’re not doing anything to circumvent the league-wide cap here, because the full cap hit is still in place. It’s just with a different team.

As an added bonus, this would reduce if not eliminate those weird third-party double-retention trades that tend to just be overly complicated and confusing.

Why it wouldn’t: Some GMs would object, just like they did over a decade ago when Brian Burke was originally pushing for the retention idea. Back then, they felt like the idea went against the spirit of a hard cap, and made it too easy for teams to get out of bad contracts. Their arguments weren’t good in 2012, and they won’t be good now.

How much I like it: I’d like to aim a little bigger, as you’ll see in a bit. But as a compromise or an interim step, we could do worse.

Odds of it happening: It feels like allowing 100% retention might be a bridge too far, but I could absolutely see a world where we went higher than 50%.

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