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Catnip for Columnists

I love it when hockey columnists talk about restricted free agents. The reason I love it is because they almost invariably get it wrong. Take Ken Campbell of THN, from his blog entry today:

Speaking of foolish spending, does anyone think it’s a tad silly that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dressed down Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and his Anaheim Ducks counterpart Brian Burke for verbal warfare that really had no ill effect on the game, but did nothing to discipline the St. Louis Blues after their "screw you" to the Vancouver Canucks served no other purpose than to pay Steve Bernier far more than he’s worth and indirectly drive up salaries?

It all started when Canucks GM Mike Gillis offered a three-year deal worth $7.5 million to St. Louis Blues restricted free agent David Backes that the Blues were forced to match if they wanted to keep the player. Days later, the Blues offered Canucks RFA Bernier a one-year deal worth $2.5 million that had revenge written all over it.

The Canucks matched the offer, meaning both Backes and Bernier are making more money than they’re worth.

Let's ignore, for a moment, the absurd notion that Bettman would be able to punish a team for spending money without interference from the NHLPA, and look at Campbell's other assertion: that the Bernier offer sheet drives up spending.

Repeat after me people: the NHL is operating under a salary cap. Those teams that don't spend to the cap are operating under self-imposed budgets. It's a zero-sum game. If Player A is overpaid by 500K, than Players B-Z will be underpaid by that same 500K, because that's how it works when the dollars spent are the same regardless of individual contracts.

RFA offer sheets are perfectly legitimate tools under the CBA, for any purpose whatsoever. What Bobby Clarke started, and Kevin Lowe moved to the next level was inevitable, and didn't drive salaries up; it simply changed the way they are allocated. Burke can complain about the disappearance of the second contract all he wants; it altered (not destroyed) the team-building model, de-emphasizing developing cheap young talent and increasing the value of unrestricted free agency and making long-term contracts a higher-reward risk.