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From The Point: Money matters

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

There have been some interesting developments – unprecedented, even – in the hockey world over the past couple of days, from a financial perspective.

Before your eyes glaze over, know that these events involve Sharks shooter Dany Heatley, Bruins playmaker Marc Savard and the Wannabe Grocery Store Formerly Known As Maple Leaf Gardens.

1. Eugene Melnyk vs. Dany Heatley

According to reports coming out of Ottawa, Melnyk, the Senators owner, is still upset with the way the Heatley trade-me-now (and-to-a-team-I-like) soap opera played out last summer. Who wouldn’t be, right? Heatley, of course, had requested to be dealt – and then invoked his no-movement clause to kill a swap with Edmonton that would’ve seen Oilers forwards Dustin Penner and Andrew Cogliano and defenseman Ladislav Smid sent to Ottawa.

That was bad enough, especially with Penner now enjoying a breakout season. But Melnyk is also reportedly incensed about having to pay a $4-million bonus to Heatley last summer, after the player killed the proposed Oilers deal.

And that’s where things get interesting.

The Senators owner wants his $4 million back and apparently is moving ahead with a league grievance that alleges Heatley damaged the Senators franchise, and Melnyk is seeking further compensation. Newspapers in Ottawa are reporting the Senators are building a case against Heatley and if the team’s legal minds can convince Melnyk there’s a legitimate chance of winning, look for the upset Ottawa owner to proceed. Certainly, it would be a popular move with the city’s fans who have turned on Heatley since the summertime shenanigans.

The anger against Heatley and his demand to leave town are understandable. But it’s difficult to imagine Melnyk will get any satisfaction from this grievance. The Senators, after all, gave Heatley the no-movement clause when he signed a six-year, $45-million deal in 2007. Presumably, Heatley gave up something in the negotiations to gain that clause. (At $7.5 million per year, he didn’t give up much, but still…) So if the Sens were OK with giving him the no-movement clause, how can they hold it against him when he decides to exercise that right – even if he did demand to be traded in the first place?

Heatley, as per his negotiated right, was trying to control his destiny as best he could. (Right, Mats Sundin?) Anytime a player says he wants to get out of town, the team and fans absolutely have a right to be upset. No doubt about it. Nobody likes to be rejected. But the Senators had other options – they could have suspended him or refused to trade him and forced him to suit up in front of disgruntled Sens fans. Or found another suitor besides sunny San Jose.

Instead, they sent him to the Sharks, a Western Conference team they’ll rarely face – unless both clubs make it to the Stanley Cup final in the next few years, which is a very remote possibility – and obtained two serviceable players in return, in wingers Milan Michalek and the player formerly known as 56-goal man Jonathan Cheechoo (and now known as, ahem, two-goal man Jonathan Cheechoo). For sure, it stinks for Sens fans, but once Heatley decided to go, and once he started using his no-movement clause, it was inevitable someone was going to get hurt.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be Ottawa and the team’s fans.

What’s left to say? Breaking up is hard to do.

2. Marc Savard and the Bruins vs. The Salary Cap

In another story that’s still in the “according to sources” stage, Savard and the Bruins have come to terms on a seven-year deal that will come at a comparatively modest salary cap hit of $4.2 million per season.

While Savard, who was eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, surely could’ve commanded something closer to $6 million per year on the open market – for a term, say, in the four- or five-year range – this agreement is interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, you have to respect Savard giving up the crazy-big money he would’ve received in unfettered free agency. He might not be on Team Canada’s radar, but everyone knows Savard is one of the best set-up men in the business. He finished sixth in the NHL in assists last season with 63 and finished third in the league in the each of the three seasons prior to 2008-09 (with 63 helpers in ’07-08, 74 in ’06-07 and 69 in ’05-06).

By accepting a cap hit of significantly less than $5 million per season, he allows the Bruins the financial flexibility to go out and sign some free agent help in the off-season. It might sound a little strange for a guy who’s just inked a $30 million-plus deal, but Savard has taken one for the team on this one.

The other notable aspect is the fact Savard is 32 years old and you have to believe that while the cap hit on the team’s bottom line reads $4.2 million per season, surely it’s a front-loaded deal that will pay Savard close to $6 million for the first five years and then dip down to the $1-million range for the final year or two.

You know, just like the deals Marian Hossa (Chicago), Chris Pronger (Philadelphia) and Roberto Luongo (Vancouver) have signed since last July. The thinking is, the player will get the vast majority of his money and then when he hits age 38 or so, instead of playing for a paltry $1 million in the final season or two of the contract, he’ll simply retire and his salary will come off the books. In fact, as long as the player is under the age of 35 when he signs the contract – as all of the aforementioned players were – the team isn’t on the hook for the salary cap hit if he decides to retire. That money comes off of the books. See? Everybody’s happy.

Well, sorta. Don’t expect these types of deals to survive the next round of CBA negotiations. It’s a loophole the owners will insist be closed up.

3. Maple Leaf Gardens vs. Canadian Taxpayers

Yes, it’s great that, finally, something is going to happen with Maple Leaf Gardens after the venerable hockey shrine sat vacant and unused at the corner of Church and Carlton for more than a decade.

But the announcement that the Canadian federal government is contributing $20 million to the $60-million revamping project bears closer scrutiny. It feels like a public-relations ploy because…well, isn’t it? The grocery chain Loblaws is also paying $20 million, as is Ryerson University, including the students who voted to accept a $126 increase in their athletic fees. In exchange, the school will have an athletic center – yes, including a full-size ice rink – in the building, while Loblaws gets a one-of-a-kind signature grocery store.

Maybe it’s cynical, but it seems a little out of whack that a massive corporation gets $20 million in public money – $40 million, really, if you include Ryerson’s kick-in – while Li’l Joe Grocer down the street, who paid for his own store himself, will probably get run out of business because he can’t compete.

OK, that’s enough money talk.

Happy birthday to the Montreal Canadiens. One hundred years old on Friday and the Molson brothers are officially back in as the owners.


Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a contributor to His blog and his column, From The Point, appear regularly.

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