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Canucks GM Nonis says free agent age a joke, wants change to NHL schedule

"Pittsburgh is going to put seven years of development money into him and he can leave when he's 25," Nonis told a B.C. Chamber of Commerce meeting.

"I think if you assemble a good team, fans want to see that team stick together for more than one or two years. Our current agreement does not lend itself to that."

Nonis also criticized the NHL's current unbalanced schedule.

"I hate the schedule," he said, answering a question from the floor. "It does nothing for us.

"We should play every team in the league at least once. We all pay the same dues and right now the western teams are getting it right in the teeth for no good reason. We fly as much as we ever did and the eastern teams don't do a bloody thing."

Under the collective bargaining agreement, a player aged 29, with eight seasons in the league, became a free agent for the 2006-07 season. In 2008-09, a player aged 27, or one with seven seasons in the league, becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Crosby, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, was 18 years old when he signed with the Penguins. By the time he's 25 he will have spent seven years in the league.

The Penguins could also lose Jordan Staal, their No. 2 pick in the June draft, when he turns 25. Pittsburgh said Monday the 18-year-old centre will stay with the team this year.

"I think we have a free agency age that is a joke," said Nonis.

Nonis told the crowd that overall he supported the collective agreement and it was good for the league.

"I think the (salary) cap is necessary to keep some teams from spending wildly," he said. "It has levelled the playing field."

In a later interview, Nonis said lowering the age of free agency could make hockey like baseball, where players shift teams every year.

"If you are a team that is struggling, it's a good thing, being able to get new faces," he said. "It helps generate interest in your market.

"If you are a team that is having a hard time holding your team together because of free agency and players are leaving, then it's not necessarily a good thing. You may lose the continuity a lot of markets enjoy."

In the past, teams looked to build over five-year cycles. Increased free agency reduces that to two or three-year cycles, he said.

"The Detroit Red Wings could have a five-year run if they did a good job of recruiting, trading, drafting and developing," Nonis said. "You could keep those players together.

"You are going to see movement among players every single year. To me, that's the worst part of our agreement. Get used to it. It's not going to change."

In an example of NHL scheduling, Vancouver fans had their first chance to see Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, last season's top rookie, on Friday. Crosby and the Penguins didn't play in Vancouver last season and won't make a trip to GM Place this year either.

When the league announced the unbalanced schedule, the theory was it would help to build division rivalries and allow for more compelling television matchups.

Nonis disagreed.

"Rivalries are built through playoffs," he said.

"I know the reasoning behind the schedule, I know why they did it. I don't necessarily agree that it is a good thing.

"It doesn't save us any time, we're not saving any money on travel and I know our fans want to see us play every team at least once."

The scheduling issue will probably be raised when GMs meet in Toronto Nov. 7.

"I think a lot of teams want the schedule changed," said Nonis.

"I think the league always wants to do what's ultimately best for all the teams. I believe they'll revisit it.

"Whether they'll change it, I don't know."


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