Free Agency Bubble in Montreal

Imagine this scenario: you buy a big house, because the market is hot and you had a good year over the past twelve months. And a year or two later, your income is down, the overall housing market is down, and you’re saddled with those mortgage and tax payments, and start looking for places to scrimp. Sound familiar? I think Bob Gainey is going to be in that position next year. The NHL’s salary cap barely budged this year, but it’s an historical measure — it reflects last year’s financials, not the coming year’s anticipated revenue streams. As Lou has pointed out, and others have weighed in, next year’s NHL salary cap is likely to be lower. I know I’m paying 55% of what I paid the last two seasons for my 09-10 Devils season ticket share. Multiply that across the league, mix thoroughly with an ugly economy, and spin with the spinning of free agency that has made player jersey replicas a bad short-term investment, and cap economics becomes a bin-packing problem of the first order next year.

All that said, I’m eager to see how things play out avec les habitants. They picked up a $7M+ contract on Gomez (5′ 11″), added $6M a year for Cammalleri (5′ 9″) and another $5M for Gionta (5′ 7″), plus equally large deals on Spacek and Gill. That means the starting five skaters will soak up about half of the salary cap, and Montreal will skate one of the shortest and most likely most expensive per linear foot top lines in the NHL. I’m not dinging any of the players; I think they all got good deals or are sticking to deals that allowed them to be traded (viz, Gomez, pay attention, Heatley).

I’m going to miss Brian Gionta – scrappy, well-spoken, creative, and a role model for hard work on and off the ice. I think Gomez might thrive in Montreal, away from what was effectively a “stick it, Lou” move to the Rangers, and Cammalleri showed he changes longitude and latitude well and with outstanding production. But I keep reflecting on the 1997 Marlins – brought together to win a championship, and then scattered by financial and market forces. I hope the free agency bubble floats Montreal in the next season, because Gainey has just taken out a big mortgage on their future.