For the Fans, Keep the Wade Redden Loophole Open
For the Rangers, whose general manager Glen Sather rewarded Redden when almost every other team in the NHL -- at least those with personalities strong enough to talk their bosses out of a preposterous move -- knew Redden was at best Ottawa's fourth defenseman for the previous two seasons. Redden will come off the Rangers' salary cap, but not off the Madison Square Garden payroll.
For the 33-year-old Redden, the second overall pick in 1995 draft, whose performance has mysteriously nose-dived in the last five years from the high of Norris consideration to depth defenseman. More offensively, his passion and work ethic were often missing in his two years with the Rangers.
And for the National Hockey League and the Players Association, which collectively did not cover a loophole in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to run from their free agent mistakes by shipping them to the minors and obtaining salary cap relief.
Maybe the league and the union knew exactly what they were doing, because I like the loophole. Here's hoping it isn't closed when the CBA expires in 2012. I have no problem with what the Rangers have done with Redden, what the Chicago Blackhawks did with Cristobal Huet by assigning the goalie last week to the Swiss League, what the Devils could do in the next week with Brian Rolston or another player or two.
One hockey analyst recently called the Redden demotion "circumvention of the salary cap." Nonsense. Under the current CBA, the transaction is allowed. Like dozens of players over the last few seasons, Redden and his agent, Don Meehan, could have negotiated for a no-move clause. They didn't get one, presumably, because Sather had to draw the line somewhere. As one of the smartest and most respected agents in the game, Meehan undoubtedly warns his clients that a minor league demotion is a possibility. By the end of his first lackluster season in Manhattan, Redden couldn't say he didn't foresee the chance of a future in Hartford.
Call me old fashioned, but I'm pro-loophole. Even in a hard salary cap system, I'd like to see a little wiggle room for capitalism. Without question, the Redden contract was a mistake the day it was drawn up by the Rangers. So was Chicago's deal with Huet and many others around the league in the last decade. The Devils' costly-in-every-way signing of Ilya Kovalchuk could force them to send a few good players (and men) to the AHL. Since a team like the Rangers cannot run the risk of having Redden plucked off re-entry waivers, leaving New York stuck with half the tab on its cap, the defenseman will be in Connecticut the entire season.
But if these franchises, in a sincere effort to put the best teams on the ice for their fans, are willing to swallow money while reassigning big-ticket players to the minors or elsewhere, they should be allowed to. General managers are not perfect and, yes, Sather's batting average signing big free agents is just a Marian Gaborik injury away from falling below .150. Criticize some of their recent moves all you want, but no one can say the Rangers, Blackhawks and Devils are not trying their best for the fans who fill their arenas every night.
Teams also have the right to buy out player contracts, as the New York Islanders famously did in 2007 with Alexei Yashin. Critics say Sather should worry about his reputation with future free agents, like what happened to Redden could happen to them. Somehow, I don't think the Rangers are losing sleep over their potential to woo free agents. They paid the price for Wade Redden and now they're paying it again. Bad for them and good for them. All I know is, because of the loophole, the Rangers fans spending big money to attend games at the Garden have a little more reason to believe their team can get back in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Major league sports franchises don't answer to players, agents and other teams. They only need to answer to their fans.