This post isn't about Bobby Ryan, not really, though Bobby Ryan will serve as my jumping off point. A number of fans from a number of teams are saying the Ducks are lowballing the Cherry Hill native and using Getzlaf's low Cap number (even for the low Cap in which it was signed) as justification for it.
My main problem with this argument is that it assumes there is an absolute fair market value for every player and that every team is obligated to pay it. Now, I agree that the purpose of the Salary Cap is to create such a number i.e. Player X's production is worth X percent of the capped Salary, and in a world where Cap increase was based on what every team in the league could afford, that would be absolutely true. Only it isn't based on that, is it? And Eric Duchatschek of the Globe and Mail estimated the Ducks would be operating with a 46M budget last year. That's 10.8M below last season's Salary Cap, and while the Ducks spent more than the projected 46, you have to assume that doing so affected their profitability.
The numbers won't be prettier this year, and what's more, the Ducks will have one more offseason (perhaps two) before the next CBA in which they will be able to renew players like Dan Sexton, Luca Sbisa and Nick Bonino, all in the Getzlaf economy. So, moving forward, is it fair? Is it fair for players to have their salaries measured against a budget team's biggest and shrewdest contract as opposed to fair market value?
No, it's not fair, but it's the only way this is going to work. This problem is not a new one, and it isn't a phenomenon of the Salary Cap era. Ted Lindsay ran into this when he tried to unionize the NHL in the 50s and discovered that Gordie Howe was ridiculously underpaid, including negotiations where number 9 re-signed for a new Red Wings jacket. The point of unionizing, of making salaries public, is to lift everyone's boats and for every player to do better in their next negotiation than they did in their last. Also, as the Salary Cap increases, a player's value shouldn't be tied to the contract of a player that came to terms with the organization years ago and under different circumstances.
At the same time, the purpose of the Salary Cap is to protect the budget teams, who aren't making the kind of money that can compete in the open market. In the last CBA negotiation, the owners gave the players back four years of unrestricted free agency in exchange for the right to pay them on a controlled scale. That guaranteed budget teams the superstars they drafted, at least for a couple of contracts. But that system is being challenged, not only by an increasing Salary Cap but also by payment-on-potential and the erosion of the second contract itself.
You can certainly challenge the internal numbers of the Ducks and other budget teams that claim they would lose money if they spent to the current Cap limit, and no player should have to play for an organization that can offer neither a competitive salary nor a chance at a Championship. HOWEVER, show me another way that this works in a 30-team NHL.
Even before the Salary Cap, the Ducks had trouble spending money for sustained periods of time. In 2001, they traded Teemu Selanne rather than pay two of their players almost 20 million dollars, and they even agreed to pick up 3M of Selanne's 8.5M salary with the Sharks, making it a net gain of only 5.5M. And while Bob Murray's 46M budget may seem like an anomaly, former General Manager Bryan Murray was reportedly working with a budget of 45M the year before the Lockout. The growth of California hockey has yet to represent itself as a consistent force in the Anaheim ledger, so it's hard to argue that they should spend in anticipation of its explosion.
During this CBA, the Ducks managed to move from a Fedorov economy (6.1M per year after getting 10M of his contract before the Lockout) to a Niedermayer economy (6.75M per year) to a Getzlaf economy (5.325M per year). That decrease in scaled contract economics may carry them to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement unscathed by rising prices. If the players opt to extend the CBA another year, to September 2012, the Ducks can carry a final year of Getzlaf's contract into the new CBA or an eventual Lockout. And once the new CBA is negotiated, Anaheim will be one of many teams that would be helped by, and would thus be hoping for a drop in the Cap.
Is it fair? No. But the Ducks, as a budget team, should be rewarded for their shrewd contracts in the Salary Cap era just as surely as the Hawks, a cap team, should be punished for the pay structure they gave Brian Campbell. As teams construct their own economies, it will help some players as much as it hurts others, and without an absolute Salary Cap that successfully protects budget teams, this is the only way the system is going to work. If Brian Burke gave us one thing as he packed his bags for Toronto, it was Getzlaf Economics: The Bridge to The Next CBA.