Beggar’s Banquet: NHL off-season detritus

Beggar’s Banquet

NHL off-season detritus

Another year, another cup. I think it’s safe to say that the first round alone demolished most people’s fantasy drafts. If you picked New Jersey and Los Angeles, you were either a genius or drunk. As I recall, I picked Pittsburgh to romp through the East and then comfortably beat Nashville in the finals. Shit, I thought I was being brave picking Nashville as a dark horse to come out of the West. OH WELL.

That being said, if the post-season was full of surprises then the off-season was business as usual with the NHL’s patented blend of nonsense and tedium.

“Free Agency Frenzy”, as TSN so maladroitly calls it, was what we’ve come to expect: one part underwhelming, two parts head-scratching.

In regards to underwhelming, most of the big story lines have either yet to break or were dragged out. Suter and Parise, the only two legit big fish, were quiet for the first few days; Luongo and Nash, as of writing this, have not yet found new homes, and Semin, likewise, is still floating around out there; Bobby Ryan is once again rumored to go but nothing has happened; and Shane Doan has yet to make up his mind about Phoenix. Sure there was some movement with players like Ray Whitney and Jagr but these aren’t headliners.

For the head-scratchers, Suter and Parise, who left their respective contender teams, signed identical mega contracts in Minnesota of all places – not quite the same effect as “I’m taking my talents to south beach”. Chuck Fletcher, a GM who had only just recently bemoaned the state of contracts and the market, made a near $200 million commitment on two players. Not to be out done, Jay Feaster continued his bizarre tinkering of the Flames by adding Dennis Wideman and Jari Hudler to highly questionable contracts.

Oh, and the owners threw down some ridiculous CBA draft that most people have taken as a declaration of war against the NHLPA. Will we see another lockout? Not unless the NHLPA agree to protect the owners from themselves.

The owners should’ve saw all this coming. I’m actually surprised it took this long for the ridiculous contracts to start rolling in. When you gave GMs a loop-hole, you knew they were going to exploit it.

I have two suggestions. First, make salary and cap hit identical. The reason why you get these absurd lifetime contracts is because GMs are trying to minimize the cap hit and players are trying to get the most money they can upfront. If you make the salary and cap hit the same then the incentive to make these front-loaded contracts evaporates.

My second suggestion would to establish a cap credit system. What this means is that if teams have no interest in using cap space then they can sell it to other teams. So, if Florida, who only spend at the floor, want a $5 mil. player but don’t have the funds, they can sell $5 mil. to the Rangers, who spend at the cap but are also trying to add roster but don’t have the space. Both teams get their players and everyone is happy.

Speaking of front loaded contracts, Shea Weber has recently signed an offer sheet from the Philadelphia that would pay him $110 million over 14 years. Nashville has 7 days to match the offer, otherwise Weber is gone and Nashville receives Philadelphia’s next four 1st round draft picks as compensation.

“Holy shit,” you’re thinking, “that’s too much money and look at all those draft picks.” With all these rebuilds, the hockey world has become obsessed with the draft, believing the first round to be full of Sidney Crosbys. It’s always great to accumulate draft picks but we’re not talking about t0p-5 lottery picks here; Philly will more than likely be a contender, meaning four late 1st round picks.

Furthermore, Weber is a special player that doesn’t come around every draft. Coincidentally, back when he was with the Capitals, Poile allowed Scott Stevens walk away on an offer sheet. The Caps received 5 1st round draft picks, but nothing filled the gap left by Stevens. Sure, they got Sergei Gonchar out of that, but he is no Scott Stevens. Poile has openly admitted that it was the worst mistake he ever made as a GM.

Decisions, decision. Well, not really. There’s nothing to think about here. Nashville has to match this for a number of reasons.

Firstly, to lose Suter and Weber would be apocalyptic for Nashville. They drafted Suter and Weber in 2003 and have spent the last 9 years building around them. Now, with two strikes of pens, their franchise is knocked all the way back to square one. Losing Suter has crippled them, but they could recover eventually. Losing Weber is a beheading.

Secondly, it’s a disastrous business move. Losing Weber isn’t only a hockey beheading, it’s a franchise beheading. Markets like Montreal have survived after losing superstars (re: Patrick Roy), but Nashville is a fledgling market, and Weber is their biggest name.

Moreover, this would effectively confirm Nashville’s status as a glorified farm team for bigger franchises, Philadelphia especially. No one is questioning Nashville’s ability to acquire and develop talent, they just can’t hold on to anything: Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen both went to Philly, Dan Hamuis to Vancouver, Ryan Suter to Minnesota, and now finally Weber has one foot out the door. How do you survive this kind of bloodletting? You can’t blame fans for feeling jaded.

Thirdly, Weber isn’t just Nashville’s best player; he’s the best defenceman in the league and is only now entering his physical prime. He’s a rare player that can provide the backbone to build around. But, you ask, “How will Weber play without Suter?” Well, he did pretty well without him in the Olympics, and he’s going to a team with Timonen, Luke Schenn, and possibly even Chris Pronger if he gets healthy (granted, that’s a big “if”).

All that being said, I think the only way Weber leaves is if he wants out. Nashville had to have foreseen what it would’ve cost to keep Suter and Weber around, and were prepared to make whatever commitment was necessary. Whether or not these contracts are deserved is irrelevant; the market says Weber and Suter are worth this kind of money, so Nashville has to put up or shut up.

And if I were Weber, I’d leave. Nashville are never going to be able to surround him with the kind of team that Philly can. Look at Shane Doan. Why suffer it out over some misplaced sense of loyalty? Eventually, if Weber wants to win then he’ll have to pull a Ray Bourque. People may see this as a lack of integrity but that’s romantic bullshit. These guys are business men. You’re telling me you wouldn’t change jobs if it meant to doing the exact same thing for more money, security, and potentially success? Nashville isn’t Weber’s home. He owes them nothing.

I think this really gets to the heart of whether or not small markets can be successful. I think every now and then some get lucky (Carolina) because that’s how dark horses work. However, they cannot consistently ice a competitive roster, not with the internal budgets the owner has laid down. The teams that do well consistently are teams that spend. It’s not all about money, of course – look at the Leafs – but a big roster will more often than not compensate for a lack of ingenuity. Ideally a dynasty is one that matches roster with ingenuity.

This may seem cynical, but I’m tired of the way media romanticizing underdogs. Players pay lip-service to the “great” fans of Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, etc. but we see their true colors when the teams are going through transitional phases. While league parity is great and all, teams should be able to reward their fans with strong, exciting teams. It frustrates me that guys like Weber, Suter, and Stamkos can play to half-empty stadiums.

That doesn’t mean I’m anti-small market. I liked Nashville last year because they’d finally started reaching beyond a reductive, defensive team and took some gambles on offense. It didn’t work out as well as they hoped, but at least they tried. Now they’re going to be another boring, lowest-common denominator trapping team that gets beat up on by the rest of that division.

I know many of you are probably thinking Poile should just walk away because these contracts are toxic and especially reckless with a new CBA due. I would agree that these types of contracts are bad for the league, but from a game theory perspective, you’ve got to play ball. The fact is that superstars are asking for these contracts and if you’re not willing to spend then someone else is.

It is mildly embarrassing for Fletcher to say one thing and then act in a seemingly contradictory manner, but I wouldn’t call him a hypocrite. He acknowledges that he paid too much for Suter and Parise, but as a GM this was opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Minnesota has never really been a destination team so when Suter and Parise came knocking they had to pull the trigger.

Even Brian Burke, who so loudly decried the disservice these contracts did to teams, is now courting Roberto Luongo, the supposed poster boy of problematic contracts. Did he learn his lesson from the Brad Richards gong show? Arguably, Richards had his mind set on New York, but let’s say for the sake of argument that he would’ve considered Toronto had Burke given him a mega contract. I think it’s safe to say the Leafs would be in a much better situation with an elite center (of course Tyler Seguin also fits that bill, but we won’t go there right now…).

These absurd contracts are presently the cost of doing business. Perhaps the new CBA will address this, perhaps not. Deal with it.

cheers,

-B

p.s. shout out to http://www.reddit.com/r/hockey/ for the pictures.

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~ by braddunne on July 22, 2012.

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