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  THEY'RE PUTTIN' ON THE FOIL! WHAT'S NEW IN PRO HOCKEY.  
   
   
 

Hockey? They still play that?

Well, now they do. After 301 days with 17 people on the edge of their seats, the NHL lockout is over. There were winners (the owners) and losers (the players), but the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) means that hockey will hit the ice again. With a host of new financial parameters and a bevy of rules changes, the new NHL will be markedly different from the old NHL.

With all of the legalese aside, what can we expect from the new NHL?

The Rich Got Richer

 
 

Without belaboring the point, the players, under the expert stewardship of Bob Goodenow, got the big-time shaft. The owners made out like kings in this new deal. With the new CBA, salaries are tied directly to revenue (salaries can be no more than 54 percent of revenue). Not to mention, there's a 24 percent rollback on existing salaries and contracts were credited with a year of elapsed time. I haven't seen pay cuts this deep since Enron collapsed. In other words, if your contract was set to expire at the end of the 2004-05 season, it's expired (you are credited with a year of service toward your league pension). If that weren't

     
 

enough, teams can cut as many existing contracts as they want, with no money to the cut player and no penalty against the cap. Those bells you hear? Those are the dollars signs replacing the eyeballs of a bunch of rich, white hockey team owners.

The Poor Also Got Richer

 
 

And by "poor," I mean, "small-market teams." Say goodbye to the days of roster/salary dumps. The days where high-profile, big market teams with inept GMs could attempt to stack their roster by taking on payroll (see: Rangers, New York) are history. In the new NHL, everyone is working with the same numbers. A team's payroll can be no lower than $24 million, but no higher that $39 million, which means that perennially financially challenged teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, suddenly find themselves operating on a level playing field (or level skating rink, or whatever).

     
 

As an added restraint, no individual player can account for more than 20 percent of a team's payroll, which this year will calculate to a shade under $8 million. Again, advantage: owners.

With the new economic system, small-market teams like the Penguins, the Atlanta Thrashers and the Columbus Blue Jackets suddenly find themselves like Philip the Hypoglycemic at the Hershey's Chocolate factory. Anything goes. Each of these teams made a big signing early in the free agent period. The Penguins netted stud defenseman Sergei Gonchar. The Blue Jackets got a two-time Stanley Cup winner at the blue line in Adam Foote. The Atlanta Thrashers got bruising center Bobby Holik. Players that these teams went to sleep dreaming about before the CBA will be on the ice for them come October.

Who Will Get Hit the Worst?

 
  It's not really the high-priced veterans. They'll still get their scrilla. Scott Neidermeyer signed a four-year, $27-million deal from Anaheim. Mike Modano got five years and $17.25 million from the Stars. Peter Forsberg got $11.5 million for two years with the Flyers. And even better for them, the minimum age for unrestricted free agency will gradually drop to 27 over the life of the CBA. It's not the entry level players, either. Even though they're maxed out at $850,000 a year, their contracts will generally contain huge incentives tied to team performance. Their minimum jumped from $175,000 to $400,000 and some teams are even kicking in a free toaster      
 

that won't count against the cap if they younger players commit today.

The clear losers here are the mid-level guys that got $2-$3 million in the old system. Blue-collar, fourth-line forwards like Darren McCarty and Ray Whitney (both cut by the Red Wings) are finding that there's just not enough room for them on a roster at their price. McCarty, for example, signed with the Calgary Flames for $800,000 a year for two years, barely a third of his 2003-04 salary ($2.25 million). That's the kind of savings that even Crazy Eddie can get behind.

What Does the New CBA Mean for "Competitive Balance?"

 
 

It depends on how you look at it. If you're the kind of person that likes to see dynasties or dominant teams year in and year out, then you should stick with the NBA or MLB. If you like the idea that any team can win in any given year, then the new NHL and you will be best buds, because here comes that all important "P" word. No, silly, not "Prostate." "Parity." With its new economics, the NHL will field teams that are more competitive both from game to game within a season (more upsets) and from season to season (different teams competing for the Stanley Cup each year).

This new parity should keep fans even

     
 

more interested as the season wears on. With an already über-forgiving playoff system (I'm pretty sure that I've made the playoffs at least twice in the last four years, and I hate the cold), the new economics should provide for a host of battles for playoff spots down the line.

Will the parity allow a team back in Winnipeg? What about Hartford? It remains to be seen, but the real shame is that this system didn't exist 10 years ago when these franchises were forced to move because of economics. They are cities with hockey heritage that could easily sustain a team in this more forgiving economic climate.

What is the Capital of Oregon?

A lot of people think that it's Portland. This is not true. It is Salem.

What About the Draft?

 
  It happened. You missed it. It's difficult to blame you. The draft is generally about as fun as a trip to the dentist, sans laughing gas. But what you missed was an interesting story about the shifting demographic of hockey. An all-time high eight U.S.-born players were drafted within the first 10 picks. This is a tremendous testament to the job that USA Hockey has done over the last few years developing players in the junior ranks. With Canadian players making up the other two top-10 picks (including Nova Scotia-born No. 1 overall pick Sidney Crosby), Europeans were left out in the cold for the first time since 1997.      
 

 

Who is Sidney Crosby? Why Have I Heard So Much About Him?

 
 

Sidney Crosby, drafted by the Penguins last weekend, played the last two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for Rimouski Oceanic. He is the two-time defending Canadian Junior Hockey MVP and the most hyped thing to come out of Canada since Molson and Rachel McAdams. You must speak about him in hushed tones, so great is his ability to manipulate the puck on the ice.

 

 

 

   
 

Why Should I Start Watching Hockey Now?

 
  All of the new financial mumbo-jumbo and posturing that led to a lost season will all be for naught if the product still stinks. Enter the new Rules Committee. Given the dramatic decrease in scoring due to defensive innovation over the last 10 years, the NHL had reached a critical point: either deliver more scoring or lose more fans. The NHL could ill afford the latter, so they've brought together a new Rules Committee. What happens when lawyers and NHL masterminds come together? I smell fun! Also, I smell some rules changes set to increase scoring and make the game more exciting and accessible to the casual fan.

Enforcement of the Obstruction Rule

     
 

They say this every year, always with the same "And this time we're serious" warning that I used to get from my parents when they caught me drinking. However, obstruction enforcement is the most critical part of the new rules. An old NHL game featured more groping and grabbing than the average Saturday night in my basement when I was 15. Neutral-zone obstruction grinds the game to a halt and limits scoring chances. The enforcement of the obstruction penalties will open up the game and create more scoring opportunities.

The Shootout
The people have spoken, and we've said, "We don't like ties." Rather than use the clichéd and incestuous snogging your sister metaphor, let's just say that ties left a general sense of dissatisfaction among everyone involved. When you're shelling out $200 for a family of four to see the Predators and the Blue Jackets skate to a 0-0 tie, it's tough not to want to jump on the ice and demand satisfaction (at least, that's what my lawyer argued). Well, the NHL listened. No more ties. After regulation and the five-minute 4-on-4 overtime, they go to a 3-on-3 shootout system, with the winner of the shootout credited with a goal and two points in the standings. The losing team will get one point in the standings.

Changes Around the Goal
The goaltending position in the NHL has dramatically changed. The equipment will be smaller. Garth Snow will no longer be allowed to strap two canoes to his legs and call them "goalie pads." The goalies will not be allowed to freely stickhandle the puck. As the NHL is also committed to math education, they have created a trapezoidal area behind the net where goalies are free to handle the puck. Finally, the goals will be moved two feet closer to the end boards to create more offensive zone space.

There are other changes as well, but the bottom line is that there's a brand new game in town. The NHL is dead. Long live the NHL!

 

Geoff Wolinetz is an editor at Yankee Pot Roast, the only Black Table contributor who likes hockey and recently got engaged. Sorry, ladies!