It is widely assumed the Canadiens, like the Flames, would have the right this summer to match any competing offer sheet from an American raider in Canadian dollars.
This factor would add immensely to the inconvenience of any attempt to steal Theodore out of Montreal or Iginla out of Calgary, so much so that such attempts probably wouldn't happen.
But Montreal's recent playoff success may have taken that critical privilege away.
The Currency Equalization and Currency Stabilization programs are two separate entities from the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHLPA.
The Stabilization program currently includes four teams, the Flames, Oilers, Canucks and Senators, and provides an annual grant to stressed Canadian teams if they happen meet certain criteria for season ticket sales and internal advertising, etc.
The Equalization program is a separate entity with different qualification parameters. Only Canadian teams which have fallen into the bottom one-third of the league in terms of annual revenues qualify for equalization, essentially the ability to match in Canadian dollars a raid on one of their restricted free agents.
The calculation for this latter program will be done by the NHL at the end of the current playoff season. The results will determine which Canadian teams will be able to match any U.S. dollar offer sheet (from an American team) in Canadian dollars.
In the past, that list has been a limited one, inclusive of only three teams - the Senators, Oilers and Flames.
Has it ever included Montreal? Frankly, no one has bothered to worry about it since the Canadiens, sadly, have never really had to consider it given the poor state of their team in recent years.
With Theodore emerging as a bonafide MVP candidate, however, a superstar in every sense of the word, the question might well move to the front-burner in rapid fashion.
2001-02 NHL Regular Season Ticket Revenue
Price and Revenue stats in U.S. Dollars
Montreal, still raking in big mounds of playoff dough on the back of Theodore, was 18th in gate revenues by the end of the season and a successful playoff run might well prevent them from being one of the 10 lowest revenue teams in the NHL.
Which means there could be a significant difference between the ability of the Flames to defend Iginla's status in Calgary and that of the Canadiens future attempts to retain Theodore in Montreal.
While it remains unlikely - and write down I said that - an offer sheet will be forthcoming for either player, if one did arrive it may in fact be more probable to appear in Montreal than the snow swept steppes of Southern Alberta.
If a wealthy U.S. team wanted to front load an offer sheet at $25 million U.S. with an average of $10 million over five years for Theodore the Canadiens would be facing the entire bill instead of the $6.4 million U.S. annualized cost the Flames would have in front of them in a similar situation for Iginla.
And really, in that light, are the Canadiens more vulnerable to this kind of attack, however unlikely, than the Flames?
It says here they are.
Consider the doomsday scenario the Flames are allegedly worried about - the large one year offer sheet of say, $10 million U.S. At least Calgary could afford to match for one year then consider its options for trades the following summer given the cost would be $6.4 million after the currency equalization program kicks in.
For Montreal, that scenario generates a $10 million U.S. bill right from day one.
Although backed by the bottomless resources of Molson's to some extent, it is actually the very leveraged George Gillett who owns more than 80% of the Canadiens. It would therefore be his responsibility to come up with the bulk of the money if things get hot over Theodore.
At best, Gillett is in no better shape than the Calgary ownership group should it come down to the need to match such an offer. At worst, a heavily front-loaded offer without the protection of currency equalization would provide a stiff financial challenge for the already stretched Gillett.
While Iginla is an interesting target for a potential U.S. raid given his ethnicity, it could also be argued that Theodore, given his stunning playoff performance, might be a better aimed arrow for the likes of Detroit (sans Hasek next year), Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston (no Dafoe) or any other of a number of contenders.
In fact, think Dallas, post-Belfour, in a big way.
Ironically, it is Montreal's long and mesmerizing playoff run which is giving rise to this question.
The additional revenues they are generating will likely throw them well beyond the threshold needed to defend Theodore in Canadian dollars. Yet those same extra dollars might not even be remotely close to what the team would need to hold off a heavily front-weighted offer sheet.
And there isn't the same supply glut (Guerin, Amonte, Selanne, Holik, Young, Fleury - all unrestricted) the Flames might be depending upon to soak up interest away from Iginla.
Ed Belfour won't be the answer for any serious contender. Curtis Joseph and Byron Dafoe, also unrestricted free agents, have been playing themselves lower down the totem pole. The aging Mike Richter is the only close competitor.
With only two more years before the dynamics of the player marketplace are likely changed forever - and away from the strengths of large revenue teams - Theodore has begun to stand out as a far more interesting summer challenge than Iginla.
Canadiens ownership, exulting in its recent playoff success, needs to start considering the summer far sooner than it might wish.
TURMOIL, UPSETS AND GENERAL HAIR-WRENCHING are welcome sights for Flames GM Craig Button as the NHL playoffs slowly winds its way towards the Final Four. As was the case last year, a general logjam of inactivity on the trade front through the season is likely to burst into a frenzy of swapping as the NHL edges towards the annual entry draft in late June and then the opening of free agency on July 1. More and more GM's seem reluctant to significantly re-work their rosters at mid-season, preferring instead the relative calm of summer in preparing for the coming campaign. It is also the time of year when the types of deals Button is most likely to be interested in - dealing younger players for younger players - will most likely occur. And the dominoes of disappointment have already been falling his way. Boston had its porous defence exposed against Montreal, the Blues are in danger of regressing, the Flyers floundered again, big budget teams like Dallas and the New York Rangers didn't even qualify for the post-season and there is also the usual list of teams struggling to give their fans some semblance of hope. It was out of such mangled internal finger pointing from organizations falling well short of expectations that Button last summer was able to ferret out the likes of
Roman Turek at a fairly minimal cost. The confusion of summer also generated the signings of Dean McAmmond and Bob Boughner, both of whom became key components in Calgary's early season surprise start. Calgary's needs are plentiful and have been well discussed in this space before. After a disappointing period of inactivity through the season, Button will have another chance to re-work his roster significantly and most of those moves are likely to occur within the next six weeks.
WHILE CANADIAN TEAMS LIKE THE FLAMES struggle to find imaginative ways to silently extract money from governments via taxation/lotteries, etc, the St. Louis Blues are more up-front in their extortion. Sitting at the tail-end of a Missouri state bill to construct a new stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals is a $3 million tax break - a subsidy - to help the Blues run the Savvis Center. That would be about $5 million Canadian, almost enough to wipe out the Flames deficit for the past year, and roughly the amount the Flames are hoping to receive from recent long-fought and hard won initiatives from the Alberta government. Both the lottery or taxation solutions in this province are pointedly designed to generate monies well away from government coffers. You'll never hear me say that governments should be offering direct subsidies to sports teams but the small matter above demonstrates yet again the obstacles the Flames face in competing with their American counterparts. In effect, should the bill in Missouri pass, the Flames will have gained nothing on the Blues in spite of their efforts.
"REALISTICALLY, WE WILL HAVE A HARD TIME this summer getting the high-profile free agent to sign with us. The majority of them believe it is important to play for a team that they consider a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, besides making money." - A sober talking Bryan Murray, new GM of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. A better question might be: "Will Disney even give him the money to go shopping?" Meanwhile, Paul Kariya has indicated he wants to stay in Anaheim but he's a restricted free agent this summer. His production has declined steadily through the years and paying him $10 million next season, which the Ducks must do in order to simply retain his rights, seems ludicrous. This off-season could be an important cross-roads for this franchise.
"I'M JUST TERRIBLE. NO HANDS." - Toronto winger, Alexander Mogilny one of a number of highly skilled Toronto players who have gone AWOL this post-season. The Leafs, in fact, managed to squeak past the New York Islanders while making a go of it against the Senators largely on the blood and guts of Gary Roberts and Darcy Tucker. Toronto could use Mogilny's help soon since they need to get past the Senators in the worst way. The Leafs have bumped their heads up against the glass ceiling of the second round for two years in a row now and a lot may be riding on whether the team can finally improve. Under the tutelage of Pat Quinn the Leafs first generated a team of soft but highly skilled players who did well in the regular season then flopped badly in the playoffs. Almost overnight Quinn reworked his roster towards a gritty but less talented bunch that barely scraped into the post-season then scared the bejeebers out of New Jersey before bowing out in the second round. This off-season, Quinn again went to work, looking for the combination that would get him comfortably to the post-season but would also be capable of going deep into June. If the Leafs fall to Ottawa, what will be next?
"THEY CALLED US. We'll take their money at the box office, at concession stands and on the dasher boards - as long as they pay us in U.S. currency." - Carolina Hurricane President Jim Cain commenting on rink board advertisements in Raleigh purchased by Casino de Montreal.
"WE WANT TO SHOW WHAT WE HAVE TO OFFER FREE AGENTS. We'll showcase our young players, the facilities, our company." - Don Waddell, GM of Atlanta. The Thrashers have put together a promotional video with a target audience of unrestricted free agents Waddell will be hoping to attract this summer to a team which lost 47 games last season.
"DON'T THINK THERE AREN'T A LOT OF HOCKEY FANS who would like to see the $29 million (payroll) Ottawa team beat teams like the $60 million Philadelphia team." - Ottawa president and CEO Roy Mlakar after his Senators blew away the Flyers. Left unsaid was the fact there would probably also be few tears shed if Ottawa were to take out the Leafs as well. The underdog factor is alive and well regardless of which sport you follow or where you live. That was amply demonstrated recently when Manchester United, which likes to think of itself as "England's Team," much like the Leafs call themselves "Canada's Team," was upset in the Premiership Championship by Arsenal. A subsequent newspaper poll in an British newspaper found little despair, with a full 71% of respondents putting themselves in the "laughing hilariously" category on news of the upset.
"PLAYERS TODAY ARE SO MUCH DIFFERENT. Players are on their own, they are personal business guys." - Pat Burns. The ex-Bruins, ex-Leafs and ex-Canadiens coach figures to resurface this summer, probably in Philadelphia where he would be the sixth coach in six years. "When you we take these jobs, we know those things. The Bruins were known to change coaches every three years. It's not a hidden fact. Coaches today who last more than four years are very rare. Except for Scotty (Bowman in Detroit) and Paul Maurice (in Carolina), everybody else shifts around. You can win the Stanley Cup and be out the next year. But we know that when we take these jobs. If you're going to worry about that, then you better do something else."
DON CHERRY IS SELLING HIS REMAINING 23% interest in the Mississauga Ice Dogs to Joel Albin, a venture capitalist and long-time Cherry friend. Interesting to note that Cherry will remain with the Ice Dogs as head of Hockey Operations. Under Cherry's controversial stewardship, the expansion Ice Dogs were 27-222-17-8 while Mississauga last year was 11-47-6-4 with Cherry as head coach. Personally, if I were a new owner, I don't think I'd be keeping a director of hockey operations with a record like that. Even if he was a friend.
"IF WE GET TO THE NEXT ROUND AND it's Ottawa-Montreal, we're still going to get lots of (viewers). Will the ratings drop with Toronto out? Probably a little. But Montreal has been a huge story so far, and if Ottawa advances, it's the first time they've been to the third round and they're a step away from the Stanley Cup final -- that's a pretty big story, too. There's a particularly good story with each one of them that would make them appealing to everyone across Canada." - Joel Darling, Hockey Night In Canada executive producer. Interesting comments to say the least. If HNIC's own brass concedes that ratings are only marginally different without the Leafs then why isn't HNIC sharing regular season broadcasts equally with the Senators and Canadiens? Hey, just asking.