...why the NHL is better than some other sports leagues:
There's a rookie salary cap.
The Washington Nationals of Major League Baseball signed their No. 1 draft selection from the 2009 class - first overall pick pitcher Stephen Strasburg - to a four-year contract worth $15.1 million, including a $7.5 million signing bonus.
Ask any fan of a non-major market team - unlike the Red Sox, Yankees or Mets - what one of the biggest problems with MLB is and I'm willing to bet they'll say it's the economic system.
The Nationals are going to pay a lot of guaranteed money to a kid who hasn't even thrown a pitch in the minor leagues, let alone with the big club. It's a contract that now has some baseball officials talking about drastically changing how the MLB draft is done. (Read Jayson Stark's column on ESPN here.)
When the Islanders drafted John Tavares first overall, or the Penguins chose Sidney Crosby first in 2005, there was no talk about how two downtrodden franchises might struggle with signing the top pick. But if you are a Nationals fan (which is unlikely if you read this blog), most of the stories you'd read would be, "Will the Nats sign Strasburg?"
And I think more than a few people did not expect Washington to be able to do it. I know some Pirates fans dreamed about the possibility of getting either the first or second pick and a chance to draft Strasburg (who would've re-entered the draft if not signing with Washington.)
But that didn't happen. Something else that didn't happen were pundits asking if New York or Pittsburgh could afford Tavares or Crosby, respectively, even with the troubles each franchise was experiencing.
Because their signings were pretty much technicalities.
Tavares' entire first contract, with bonuses if he achieves each one, isn't much bigger than Strasburg's signing bonus. The NHL limits how much money a rookie can make with his first contract, which only makes sense. They shouldn't earn boatloads of cash without even showing they deserve it.
Baseball doesn't do it that way, and that's just one of many things wrong with MLB. The NHL certainly has problems as well, but this is one aspect the league gets right.
Especially when you consider that Strasburg has had arm trouble in college and wasn't expected to do much soon after he was drafted anyhow.
'Bonus baby busts' are a dime a dozen in MLB. Ask the Minnesota Twins about Eddie Bane. The Detroit Tigers? Mark Fidrych. And some teams, like the Pirates, never get to see them develop, because they know they can't afford them anyhow.
Actually, the Pirates' top picks never pan out because they're all busts, not because they become too expensive. If there's one team that's been absolutely horrid at drafting, it's the Pirates.
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