Archive for ‘Salary Cap’

July 5, 2013

Small Player, Small Deal: Briere Signs with MTL

by Jacob Saltiel
97002-daniel-briere

Briere Leans Against the Front Step of the Bell Centre
from wchlhockey.blogspot.com

How one interprets Briere’s arrival to the Habs depends on if one thinks it’s a big deal or if it’s a depth move. If you believe that the Habs are an aggressive off-season away from contending for the Stanley Cup, then you might be upset. If you think the Canadiens still need to wait a year or two to clear out some older players as their young players and prospects develop into productive NHLers, then this move makes sense.

If you watched the team that got smoked by Ottawa in the playoffs, then you should know which of the above scenarios is more likely. Actually, if you watched that 1st round series and think that Clarkson or Clowe is the difference between glorious victory and mediocrity, than you’re drunk, and you should leave your keys in the wheel hub and fall asleep in your car.

To the Marketplace!

On June 20th, Marc Bergevin was quoted as follows in a TSN artcle: “History shows that free agency isn’t the best tool,” he said. “Free agency to me is a tool but it’s not a way to make your team a top team. It’s overplayed. You have to be careful.”

To sign elite/star players is usually so prohibitive that even if- even if!- the first few years of the deal are productive ones, the end of their contract will almost certainly punish the team. In light of the recent Lecavalier buy-out, it’s worth checking out Sean McIndoe’s (a.k.a Down Goes Brown) Grantland column, profiling every contract of more than 8 years signed during the last CBA. Take your time, this blog post will still be here when you get back.

So, how many of those deals were good? 2? 3? Even those that sort of worked, such as Marian Hossa’s signing in Chicago, may still come back to hurt the team’s that signed them. More often, those deals were total disasters. As the Canadiens were getting Briere, other teams were preparing to throw term and dollars at players who were almost certainly not worth the commitment. Whatever list it is that has Christian Ehrhoff at the top, as the best of something, it’s concerning.

Fans will complain that Clowe ($4.85m/year, 5 years) and Clarkson ($5.25m/year, 7 years) would have added a lot to the Canadiens. Well, maybe for a couple of years they might have, but look at the length on those deals. Also, Clarkson and Clowe might be nothing more than glorified checking wingers. Great if they play on your 3rd line, maybe on your 2nd, but now they make 2nd line money as they age into their 30’s.

Clarkson won’t make the Leafs d-corps competent, and Clowe won’t generate enough offence to cover for the other Devils forwards. Bergevin, who’s worked steadily to rid the Canadiens of bad contracts (Cole, Kaberle, Gomez), is rightfully loathe to stay away from cap-clogging contracts at the moment. The core’s still young, and more importantly, the free agent crop this year doesn’t have anyone worth throwing money at.

But What About Briere?

Briere’s 2-year deal is a 35 and + contract, so it counts no matter what. He’s been in decline for the last couple of years, but he can fill the Michael Ryder role as the Canadiens wait for their young forwards to develop. Yes, Briere is not the star he was going into that monstrous contract he accepted with the Flyers, yes, he’s small, and yes he’s French. at 36, he might not be able to score 30 goals, but he can help  score goals on the powerplay, and doesn’t cost anything more than money.

Until his contract runs out or Gandalf recruits him to destroy the One Ring, he can play wing or centre up front, take faceoffs, and work on the powerplay. He won’t be relied on to be a star, and the Habs don’t owe him so much that they can’t move him if one of their forward prospects makes a charge for the NHL lineup (Leblanc? Is your NHL career alive?).

Actually, it’s possible to imagine that if he gets off to a good start and the Habs struggle in their new, Detroit-occupied division, that Bergevin can successfully trade Briere at the deadline for a 2nd round pick or a prospect. If Hal Gill and Douglas Murray can get 2nd round picks, a productive Briere can get that too. This would amount to spending money to acquire draft picks, which, if it comes to pass, is a great strategy. As Bergevin showed with the Kristo’s signing and trading, he’s keen to get as much from his pieces as he can.

This trade is a depth move. While it might have been nicer to get Clarkson or Clowe, the price tags on the players might have screwed the Habs in future years. Next year, Gionta, Markov, and Bouillon come off the cap, freeing another $12.575m in cap space. It’s not like they won’t have room to add a big name or some effective role players if they become available.

That sounds a lot better than spending money just for the sake of it.

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July 2, 2013

Fool’s Gold: The Canadiens Should Ignore Vincent Lecavalier

by Jacob Saltiel
lecavalier

Why the long face?
from nhlpa.com

 

Little more than a year since he went to work for the Canadiens, Marc Bergevin’s established that he’s one of the more patient general managers. Left with a roster of some quality young and veteran players alongside some very unfortunate contracts, Bergevin acted deliberately to give the Canadiens roster flexibility. Unlike mad scientists such as Paul Holmgren or Glen Sather, who seem to make big moves for the sake of making big moves, Bergevin’s restrained himself from making any silly deals at the trade deadline or the draft. Having just finished buying out another of Pierre Gauthier’s mistakes in Tomas Kaberle, why should Bergevin rush to meet Vincent Lecavalier’s rumoured contract demands? 4-6 years at $4-5m/year is a lot to pay for a 33 year old’s past-production.

Cap Cloggage

As of now, the Canadiens have a little more than $9m available in cap space, though they only have 10 forwards signed for next year. Barring a shocking trade, Bergevin has 8 defencemen and 2 goalies under contract, so, if he wants to use all of that space, he’ll need at least 3, and possibly 4 more forwards to fill out the 3rd and 4th lines.

Lecavalier would take up more than half of that space on his own, and the Canadiens already have 3 centres who should play offensive roles in Toms Plekanec (who just might be better than Lecavalier in this point in their respective careers), Lars Eller (who just might be developing into a better player as you read this), and David Desharnais. Acquiring Lecavalier would force the Canadiens to trade one of those 3, meaning goodbye Desharnais. Bergevin would be left trying to unload the contract he just signed Desharnais to, and after a year in which Desharnais struggled, too.

While Lecavalier’s a bargain in comparison to that $7.27m/year cap hit for the rest of recorded time he carried in Tampa Bay, $4-5m/year for 4-6 years of commitment to a player who will only decline at this point in his career is dicey for a team that’s still several players away from being a Cup contender.

Quite simply, Lecavalier isn’t worth that money to the Habs unless you strongly believe that he’ll make the difference between a parade and not in the next few years. Does Bergevin?

Repatriating a Professional Hockey Athlete

According to that Lebrun article above, the Canadiens must be serious about adding Lecavalier: “The Habs, by the way, had owner Geoff Molson, GM Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien in their meeting with the hometown boy.”

Sure, Bergevin could just be gauging the market for Lecavalier without intending to go as high as Lecavalier’s asking price, but what are they hoping to get out of him exactly?

Lecavalier posted a -6.03 CORSI last season on a weak Tampa Bay team. Notice that even Stamkos only had a 1.99 CORSI and you realize that Lecavalier’s numbers were probably being dragged down a bit by his team’s shoddy defence. All this means is that while Lecavalier’s been on the ice, the other team’s had a decent advantage in scoring opportunities. Of course, this is just one year’s example. More distressing is that the last time Lecavalier led Tampa Bay’s centres in CORSI was during the 2009-2010 season. The year after that, he was far behind Dominic Moore (!) in CORSI, with a 1.91 rating compared to Moore’s 9.25.

The discrepancy there might be that Lecavalier faced tougher competition, but since the emergence of Steven Stamkos, Lecavalier’s numbers haven’t improved as other teams began to focus on the younger star. In theory, Lecavalier should be facing softer competition and providing more scoring opportunities against the competition than he’s giving up on his own goalie.

Regardless, Lecavalier believes he still has what it takes to play against top competition, and said as much in Arpon Basu’s article on NHL.com about his free agency: “I believe in my abilities and I think I can be a top center for a team,” [Lecavalier] said. “It remains to be seen what the other teams think of me, but I have confidence in my abilities.”

The numbers above suggest otherwise. One hopes that Bergevin, along with the assumed legion of fans who lust for Lecavalier, isn’t interested in sigining Lecavalier simply because it would look cool to put him in a Habs jersey. Actually, that would be pretty cool if it was for a year or two at a reasonable cap hit, but, as indicated, Lecavalier’s looking for term and dollars.

Move Along

Given the problems associated with signing Lecavalier and the very real possibility that his days as an elite centre are over, Bergevin should pass. Considering the contract that Lecavalier reportedly wants, how much of a difference will there be between that contract and whatever David Clarkson or Ryane Clowe end up receiving? While Clarkson and Clowe have not historically been as good as Lecavalier, they both fill actual holes in the Canadiens lineup, in that they play the wing- the Canadiens need a Ryder replacement- and both of them are big and tough. Lecavalier’s big, but he’s not particularly gritty, and seems to have been struggling defensively in recent years. Additionally, both are younger, and on a contract of similar term to Lecavalier’s are much more likely to provide value for most of the years of those deals.

Lecavalier’s a declining asset, no matter how much promise he showed as an 18 year old rookie 15 years ago or how successful his career in Tampa Bay’s been. Steve Yzerman had to pay him to stay away in the hopes of improving his team. If Lecavalier won’t take more of a bargain than he’s asking for, it’s unclear why the Canadiens, or any team really, should re-do the mistake the Lightning just corrected.

Let’s see more of that patience, Bergevin.

June 13, 2013

Salary for Sucking: 30 Teams and Compliance Buy-Outs

by Jacob Saltiel
kaberle

Reporter: “Who do you think will be bought out- other than you, I mean?”
Kaberle: “Hmm. I’d have to think about that…”
from penaltyboxhockey.blogspot.com

In order to get under the declining salary cap, the union demanded that teams be able to buy out 2 players per team at no cap hit. After the playoffs end this year and next, teams can buy-out a bad player on a bad contract, or a good player on a bad contract, or Scott Gomez. Again. The window to use these buy-outs is 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded. Without further ado, here are the teams in order of most cap space to least and who they’ll buy out and why. All salary information is from the capgeek.com, the TSN of management news in the NHL.

New York “Wrong Island” Islanders
Actually, the Islanders are trying to get to the salary floor, rather than the ceiling. Rick DiPietro’s career might be finally euthanized if the Islanders make any kind of free agency pickup. Garth Snow’s shown some creativity (as with the Tim Thomas deal), and may use his compliance buy-outs craftily by intentionally trading for a player on a massive deal alongside picks or prospects. That way, he can take the bad salary of some other team’s books and use the compliance buy-out that he doesn’t need.

Winnipeg Jets
The Jets barely have anyone under contract, and even fewer players signed longterm. As such, they’ll be like the Islanders, hoping to use their buy-outs in trade.

New Jersey Devils
Does Lou Lamoriello dare amnesty Ilya Kovalchuk? It’s not because Kovalchuk is a terrible player, but the length of his contract is a ticking time bomb. 15 years. And he signed it when he was 28. If Kovalchuk retires before he’s 43 (likely?), the Devils could march onto a salary cap landmine with the CBA’s screwy calculation wreaking havoc. See, the money left on the contract when a player retires gets multiplied in dollars and years as a penalty and remains on the camp. It’s unclear the exact formula, but some projections are terrifying.

If Lamoriello chooses to try his luck with Kovalchuk, he might consider buying out Travis Zajac. Sure he just signed Zajac to that contract, but as discussed elsewhere, that was a horrible idea at the time, and Zajac sure played like it. Hell, maybe Lamoriello will burn it all down and buy them both out!

St Louis Blues
The Blues don’t have any bad contracts, aren’t near the cap, and really haven’t got much use for the buy-outs. See above for Wrong Island as to how they may decide to use their buyouts. Or they could just sign Gomez and buy him out instantly for the shock value and to send a message to the rest of the locker room.

Phoenix “Maudite de” Coyotes
The Maudites Coyotes’ best candidate for the buy-out is Shane Doan, only because he’s a whiner. He’s also their captain and it’s very unlikely they have the money to stop playing someone even if that player sucks, or whines at a Hall of Fame level.

Ottawa Senators
The Senators will use their buy-out on Mike Duffy. Whoops, pardon. Terrible joke. Actually, Mike Duffy or Nigel Wright are as likely as anyone else on the Sens to get let go, given that their only long-term contract is for Erik Karlsson, who isn’t going anywhere.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Mikhail Grabovski is signed for 4 more years at $5.5m/year, but with Bozak leaving, he might get more minutes. He’s not worth that contract, but unless the Leafs decide to make it rain on a free agent this year or next and really need to free up some salary, it’s unlikely that Grabo goes.
John-Michael Liles isn’t so lucky. He’s signed for three more years at nearly $3.9m/year. Jake Gardiner fills the role that Liles was originally brought in for, but doesn’t suck at it.

Calgary Flames
Will an entire NHL roster get bought out? Impossible, but if it could happen, this team would come closest to considering such a move. Dennis Wideman isn’t worth the longterm, $5.25m/year salary he’s making, and Jiri Hudler and Alex Tanguay are both overpaid and no longer have Jarome Iginla to pass to. Maybe Jay Feaster can buy-out the owner of the Flames, Murray Edwards with one of the buy-outs, and then use the other on himself. Cough. Sorry, Flames fans.

Columbus Blue Jackets
James Wisniewski and RJ Umberger, making $5.5m/year and $4.6m/year respectively are both useful players in some ways, but are paid as if they’re useful in all ways. They aren’t, and if the Blue Jackets decide they want to wait a year and dump either of then, it won’t be shocking. Still, they’re productive so it’s a bit of a reach.

Florida Panthers
The Panthers have some expensive defenders in Brian Campbell ($7.1m/year) and Ed Jovanovski ($4.125m/year) who might be ripe for the buy-out. But then, Campbell is still productive, and Jovanovski’s best days are long past. Up front, they might be tempted to dump Scottie Upshall and his $3.5m/year salary because Scottie Upshall still has a few more NHL teams to play for before he collects all 30.

Buffalo Sabres
Ville Leino is almost certainly gone, but what about Tyler Myers? The young defender’s only gotten worse with each passing season, and he’s paid $5.5m/year until 2019. Maybe Darcy Regier will give Bryan Bickell $6m/year in perpetuity to play alongside Leino and then buy them both out next year when they combine for 8 goals playing on either side of Steve Ott.

Edmonton Lowes Oilers
Assuming Kevin Lowe continues to rule the Edmonton Oilers through a system of magical rings and undead lieutenants, it’s unlikely anything good will come out of giving the dark Lowerd Kevin the use of this tool. He’ll probably get rid of Shawn Horcoff and then tell the media that he knows a lot about winning before asking them to please tell him the location of the One Ring.

New York Rangers
Bob McKenzie’s already gone on record stating that Brad Richards is as good as gone, only that it’s a question of which year he gets bought out in. Like Kovalchuk, Richards’ deal can be a disaster if he retires early. Unlike Kovalchuk, Richards deal is already a disaster. Otherwise, the Rangers managed to get out from the contracts to Gomez, Redden, and Gaborik before anything terrible happened to them. This proves once again the old saying that “With 29 other general managers in the league, you only need to find one stupid one.”

Dallas Stars
Assuming new GM Jim Nill halts former GM Joe Nieuwendyk’s policy of signing players no younger than 37 years old to multi-year deals, the Stars won’t need to buy anyone out. But here comes Sergei Gonchar from Ottawa! 2 years, $10m is a lot of money for a 39 year old, 1-way defender whose contract is on the books regardless of retirement, spontaneous combustion, or world-level catastrophe as depicted in films such as Comet, The Day After Tomorrow, Planet of the Apes, etc… The Stars aren’t near the cap, so they probably won’t need to use a buy-out until they trade Jamie Benn and Alex Goligoski and a 1st round pick for Lecavalier.

Nashville Predators
Like Kovalchuk, Shea Weber’s contract is a riddle that needs solving. They need him, but what happens if he retires early? The Flyers really put the gears to David Poile when they bombed the Predators’ salary cap with that offer sheet. Due to operating on a shoestring budget that caused the David Poile to unload Lombardi on Toronto with Cody Franson for not much in exchange, it’s unimaginable that the Preds would use a buy-out. In a parallel universe where the Predators were financially solvent, would they consider dumping the $3.25m/year face-off taker, Paul Gaustad? He’s got 3 more years at that deal, which is a hefty salary for someone of his, uh, talents.

Detroit Dread Wings
The Wings have cleverly offered deals to their stars that keep them under contract at bargain prices. Exhibit A, Niklas Kronvall, whose cap hit is a mere $4.5m/year, or almost the same as Mike Komisarek. Think about that. Johan Franzen’s signed until his 40 with one of those cap circumventing deals, and considering the cap hit’s only a shade under $4m/year, his performance would have to drop off a cliff or he’d have to suffer a career-threatening injury for a buy-out to be worthwhile.

Los Angeles Lannisters
The Kings’ salary cap is in trouble next season. They aren’t due to lose any of their core players, but with about $7m available to pay a series of depth players requiring raises, they might be hard pressed to pay their debts. Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Kyle Clifford, Slava Voynov, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Jonathan Bernier are all out of contract. Of that group, Voynov is most likely to get a big raise due to his offensive value on a blueline where only he and Drew Doughty are currently relied upon to move the puck forward. While they gave up way too much to acquire the putrid Robyn Regehr, who according to his possession stats must be allergic to handling hockey pucks, they may need buy him out for the $3m in cap space. That, and finally trading Jonathan Bernier should give them some breathing room this coming season and the following.

Colorado Avalanche
Figuring out who the GM of the Avalanche is right now is like playing a game of Guess Who?! Patrick Roy is the coach, but also a VP. Joe Sakic is a VP, but not the GM. Greg Sherman is the GM, but he’s not allowed to make any decisions. Whoever’s throwing the levers in the machine, they might start by undoing Sherman’s signing of David Jones ($4m/year, 3 years), and getting rid of the amusingly bad Shane O’Brien ($2m/year, 2 years). They aren’t hard up the cap next year, but the following season Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jamie McGinn are RFAs, while Steve Downie’s a UFA. That quartet will need some numerical incentives to stick around, and the $6m they’d save by dumping bad players can come in handy.

San Jose Narcs
Whether or not he’s any good, Martin Havlat’s been alternated between the rink and the trainer’s office during his time in San Jose. It might not be totally his fault, but at $5m/year, he might be done. Consider also that, after next year, Joe Pavelski is an UFA and that Logan Couture will be a RFA, and the Sharks’ll need the cap space, even with Dan Boyle’s deal running out.

Anaheim Ducks
As discussed earlier on this blog, the Ducks are gambling that the salary cap will rise sooner rather than later. They’ve already locked up Getzlaf and Perry for the rest of recorded history (global warming and all that…), but the rest of their roster is signed to manageable deals. They have a horde of free agents to sign, including Methuselah the Wise Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu though, but no obvious candidates to buy out. If they continue with their recent trend of playing rookies, they should be fine.

Minnesota Wild
Their villainous owner, Craig Leipold might be loathe to spend money on trifles such as buy-outs, but the Wild aren’t far from the cap. They could use more depth players and have to re-sign a couple of young guys if they want to improve. So who might be walking the plank? Chuck Fletcher might try to unload the always tradeable Dany Heatley (COLUMBUS CALLING!?), but if he can’t find a taker for the last year of that $7.5m cap hit contract, he might just have to toss him like a message in a bottle, to be picked up on some other shore, in some other time. Adieu, Heater.

Pittsburgh Maringouins
With today’s news that Evgeni Malkini’s been signed to a more expensive contract than Sidney Crosby, Ray Shero begins the task of finding complementary forwards at bargain rates. On defense, the Pens’ are loaded with young prospects, who if they can develop sooner than later should keep their blueline affordable. Up front there’ll be problems sooner than later. The only other forward signed past next season is James Neal. That’s it. Kris Letang will almost certainly get a fat raise on his $3.5m/year deal to keep him from becoming a free agent, meaning the Penguins need only about 11 forwards, while more than half of their salary cap will already be eaten up by the team’s core. Oh, and a goalie. Given his recent exposure as a total fraud, the most obvious move is to cheer Marc-Andre Fleury over a sea wall. Do you see that kid in the clip? That’s not Jason James Richter, that’s Pittsburgh fans everywhere.

Carolina Hurricanes
The ‘Canes are pretty much stuck with the core that they have, since they likely won’t have the cap space to add any impact free agents. The only pseudo-candidate for shameful dismissal on this roster is Alex Semin, only because everyone hates him and he’s a maddening Russian Enigma and because the last time he backchecked was before the wall came down and because he’s only playing for the money and because he couldn’t pick the Stanley Cup out of a police lineup. Whoops, pardon, I briefly channelled about 54% of Canadian hockey commentators.

Boston Bruins
The evil but talented Bruins are facing a cap crunch. Nathan Horton’s an UFA and Tuuka Rask is a RFA. Next year is the last on Patrice Bergeron’s deal, too. For next year, there’s $5.8m to be split between the former two players, which’ll be hard to do. Would Peter Chiarelli, so adept at locking up his core long term, consider buying out a complementary player such as Rich Peverley ($3.5m/year) to keep Horton? Marc Savard’s still on the books, and he and his $4.5m/year contract is almost certainly done, which’ll help. Even with that, signing Horton is a risky proposition. He’s undeniably one of the few talented power forwards in the league- if Bickell’s getting paid, imagine what Horton would get- but he’s also struggled with severe concussions since the 2011 final. Whatever the case, Chiarelli needs to and will proceed prudently to keep his team together, even if the current situation is a difficult one.

Washington Capitals
With about $5m in cap space and Karl Alzner a RFA, the Caps will have to say goodbye to the Michael Ribeiro experience unless they can jettison some driftwood. It’s hard to pick who needs to go, but perhaps a complementary forward like Joel Ward should go. He had a strong year in the shortened season, and his size makes him useful even when he’s not scoring, so buying him out would hurt. It comes down to how badly McPhee wants him some Ribs.

Montreal Canadiens
The Habs’ll only need to sign a couple of depth forwards and possibly a defender for next season. When- not if, when- they shove Tomas Kaberle into space, Bergevin will have about $10m in cap space, meaning they can make some moves. Patience might still be the best thing, considering the thin free agent market this year. If, however, a player like David Clarkson of the Devils becomes available, it might be worth it to back up the money truck on him. No matter what happens, good bye Kaberle! You might have been Pierre Gauthier’s worst move.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Steve Yzerman has about $2.5m in cap space and only 10 forwards. In other areas, the team is fine, but needs at least 3 more bodies and wiggle room for call-ups, etc… To consider the unfathomable, might he be tempted to end the Vincent Lecavalier show in Tampa? Lecavalier’s a local celebrity, and there’s still $45m left on his deal, which is a tough hit to absorb for any millionaire. On the other hand, Lecavalier’s become injury-prone, is declining in effectiveness (he hasn’t scored more than 29 goals since 2008), and his $7.27m cap hit is only going to get worse. It’s also a back-diving contract, meaning that if he retires, the Lightning are royally screwed. This year, it’s hard to see Yzerman waving goodbye, but what if Lecavalier struggles next year? WHAT THEN?!

Chicago Blackhawks
With an army of young players ready or nearly to play in the NHL, the ‘Hawks aren’t in as dire shape as their $2m in cap space might indicate. They need to re-sign Nick Leddy (RFA) and Marcus Kruger (RFA), and face the decision of whether or not to keep Bryan Bickell (UFA). Bickell’s going to get an out of control contract- remember, it also only takes 1 of the 29 other GMs to screw everything up- but if he takes a pay cut, and if Bowman the Younger uses his buy-outs, he might be persuaded to stay. Steve Montador ($2.75m/year) is as good as gone, and if Bowman decides to get rid of Michael Frolik ($2.33m/year), that makes an extra $5m in cap space while losing nothing more than a depth forward.

Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have $47,222 in cap space. They need 3-5 more forwards and likely want to re-sign Chris Tanev (RFA). The first thing they need to do is resolve the Luongo/Schneider crease clogjam(TM), which’ll save them about $5m if they finally admit that they aren’t going to get back comparable value for Lalongo. It’s laudable that Gillis is trying to get some form of equal value back for Luongo, but given the cap situation, simply removing him from the payroll is worth more strategically than anything any other GM is likely to give up. Well, there’s still the possibility that Gillis finds a dance partner, but otherwise, he might consider buying out poor David Booth and saving $4.5m/year in progress. Booth was a good player once upon a time, but then he got concussed repeatedly and is a huge injury risk.

Grilladelphia Deep Fryers
Having acquired Mark Streit when they were already about $2.5m over the cap, the arithmetic-destroying Flyers will almost certainly use all of their buy-outs, and maybe some other teams if Paul “It’s all Monopoly Money to Me!” Holmgren can work some of his magic. Danny Briere and his $6.5m/year cap hit? Gone. Chris Pronger and his 35 and + contract at $4.9m/year? Seeya! That’s $11m right there, but what about goaltending philosopher Ilya Bryzgalov? It’s much easier to buy out the remaining two years of Briere’s deal than the remaining decade or so on Bryzgalov’s contract. Will they try and pack Briere off to some other team and then allow Bryzgalov to entertain reporters in some other city? Whatever they do, it’ll be fascinating since they clearly want whatever Mark Streit is selling and are already flirting (making out with, really) with CBA Impossibility. Holmgren is the ideal GM for this situation, not just because he created it, but also because he doesn’t blink twice when trading Jeff Carter in cold blood to Columbus, weeks before a no-trade clause kicks in. Holmgren doesn’t care what you know about the CBA, hockey, or fan favourites; he will keep the music playing on his musical chairs of trading as long as he has to.
What’s that?

I think he just left the party in a cab with CBA Impossibility.

June 8, 2013

Change We Can Believe In: Looking Back On Bob Gainey’s 2009 Free Agency Madness

by Jacob Saltiel
freeagent

That worked out…
from habseyesontheprize.com

Flashback to summer 2009, Habs fan. The Canadiens had just been ignominiously dumped by the Bruins in the playoffs. Several players from the team that had finished 1st the previous season were entering free agency. Most famously, the much-loved Saku Koivu was out of a contract, as was the lusted upon Alex Kovalev. Back then, Mike Komisarek had not been exposed as an imposter and many hoped that he might become the captain one day. At the time, Bob Gainey knew he had to do something to re-make his team- but what?

He- or his assistant, the skulking Pierre Gauthier- hatched upon a mad scheme; let the pending free agents walk, and sign as many other free agents for as much money as possible. The day before free agency, the dreadful Scott Gomez trade happened, which set the tone for maybe one of the worst months in sports management history. If not for a young Slovakian goaltender channeling the ghosts of Canadiens goaltenders past, the science experiment would have been a total failure. Let’s pick through the wreckage, player by player, to see what services they rendered to the Canadiens since that day week in July.

Jaroslav Spacek
Spacek got a 3 year contract, averaging $3.8m/year after scoring 45 points with the Buffalo Sabres. He was 35 at the time, and never scored more than 21 points with the Canadiens. He wasn’t terrible, but neither was he particularly effective. He was fun with the media and would have been fine as a 4th or 5th defenceman, but then his contract was all wrong for someone that low on the depth chart. Actually, “his contract was all wrong for someone that low on the depth chart” is Pierre Gauthier’s operating principle. By the 3rd year of his contract, Spacek had actually gained value because of his expiring contract and the perception that he could play 3rd pairing minutes. So what happened? Gauthier traded him for Tomas Kaberle, who the Canadiens still have on the books until they mercifully buy him out in a few weeks.

Mike Cammalleri
Bob Gainey gave Cammalleri a $30m, 5 year contract after a career year. Not for lack of trying, Cammalleri never lived up to that deal in Montreal. Due to injuries and never playing on a line that could support him effectively, Cammalleri’s regular season output for the Canadiens was humble. In that exciting run to the playoffs, he played out of his mind, scoring 13 times in 19 games and terrorizing other teams every time he got open with the puck. This wasn’t a horrible signing at the time, and might have worked out a lot better if the plan wasn’t to play him alongside Scott Gomez. We’ll always have this highlight, though. Despite working hard for the team, Cammalleri was shamed by Gauthier and embarrassingly (for everyone involved) traded mid-game to the Flames for Rene Bourque and a 2nd rounder. Not for the last time in the Gauthier tenure, anonymous rival GM’s would comment that they didn’t even know Cammalleri was available for trade. As everyone knows, when you need to sell something, you definitely don’t want to create a bidding war for that asset by telling multiple people about it who may be interested.

Hal Gill
Hal Macinnis! Harold Priestley Gill! Joe Beef patron and all around good guy, Gill turned out to be one of the better signings. At $2.25m/year for 2 years, he was a bargain. Then again, he might have been one of the least watchable players in the NHL. It sure was effective, but turning on the TV to watch a hockey game and seeing ol’Giller flopping around in front of his crease on the penalty kill was about as much fun as watching your dog get run over. Whatever, it sort of worked, and the Gill-Subban dynamic alone was worth the price of admission. He was extended for another year, and then traded for the probably-retiring-due-to-injury Blake Geoffrion, Robert “WHO IS THAT?!” Slaney, and a 2nd round pick. Pretty good value. Unlike say, Scott Gomez, Hal Gill is always welcome back in Montreal, and even got a shout-out in The Art of Living According to Joe Beef. Seriously, check the acknowledgements. Not bad for a guy who played for both the Leafs and Bruins.

Travis Moen
TraMoen was brought in to add some grit to the bottom half of the Habs lineup for 3 years, $1.5/year. Well, he was supposed to do that, but it’s unclear what Moen does these days. He throws the occasional hit and plays decent defence on the 4th line, but that’s about it. This didn’t stop him from getting a $350,000 raise and 3 year extension from Bergevin, but there’s not a lot to say one way or another about the big plugger.

Brian Gionta
The eventual captain of the Canadiens was also picked up on this impulse spending spree. His $25m contract runs out at the end of next season, and it’s unlikely he’ll be retained unless he’s willing to take a paycut. Like Cammalleri, Gionta’s struggled with injuries, including tearing both of his biceps in the last couple of seasons. In his first two years as a Canadien, Gionta scored 28 and 29 goals, which was respectable, but injuries and ineffectiveness, and a lockout have limited him to 22 goals total over the last two seasons. Of course, that’s not the only measure of a player’s value. He’s a hard worker who’s decent in puck possession, with a 2.92 on-ice CORSI.* He’s well-liked by his teammates and his hand-eye coordination around the net is still good. He’s going to be 35 next year and facing a lengthy rehabilitation, and certainly not getting any taller. Because of this, he may not fit into Bergevin’s plans for a team trying to get younger and bigger.

Hindsight is 20/20, But Pierre Gauthier/Bob Gainey Are Blind
So, 4 years on, the Canadiens turned  their signings not still playing with the team into two 2nd round picks, Rene Bourque, Tomas Kaberle, and the associated waste in cap space. Out of Kovalev, Komisarek, and Koivu, only Koivu’s played well since then. It’s not as if the Canadiens had to retain those guys, but the route they chose to go in recklessly handing out contract was a poor strategy. Even if the salary cap’s coming down, that won’t necessarily mean GM’s lower the salaries they hand out to free agents. For example, a 39 year old Sergei Gonchar was given a 2-year, $10m contract today, even though that cap number can never come off the cap. The Stars aren’t tight against the cap, but that’s a lot to pay for a 1-dimensional defender who might have a rapid decline.

This summer, the Canadiens won’t have a ton of cap space to use, but let’s hope Bergevin uses it prudently, since it rarely occurs that great value comes out in free agency. If it does, it’s often pricey. Adding a scoring forward would be great, but a guy like Bryan Bickell, currently playing out of his mind alongside Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, could cost way more than he’s worth in a serious bidding war. After all, free agency isn’t be one of Gauthier’s secret trade markets.

***

*All this means is that when he’s on the ice, his team generates slightly more shots than the opposition.

April 16, 2013

A Guide to Recognizing Your Mediocre GMs, Part 2: Kevin Lowe (Steve Tambellini/Craig MacTavish/Scott Howson)

by Jacob Saltiel
mactavishtambellini

From one meat puppet to another…
from edmontonsun.com

Yesterday’s ambush on the employment status of Steve Tambellini reminded everyone that, though he takes many forms, Kevin Lowe is still in charge of the Edmonton Oilers. Lowe has read his Niccolo Machiavelli. In discussing how Cesare Borgia pacified the residents of Romagna who lived under the rule of a tyrannical aristocracy, Machiavelli described the following 3 step process in The Prince:

1. Appoint a hatchet man to preside over the bloody work of removing said aristocracy: “Thereupon he promoted Messer Ramiro d’Orco, a swift and cruel man, to whom he gave the fullest power.”

Enter Tambellini, exit any attempt to win games.

2. Transfer blame for bloody purge onto said hatchet man: “And because he knew that the past severity had caused some hatred against himself, so, to clear himself in the minds of the people, and gain them entirely to himself, he desired to show that, if any cruelty had been practised, it had not originated with him, but in the natural sternness of the minister.”

Collect draft picks, suck, let marinate long enough that fans blame Tambellini.

3. Brutally execute minister to the delight of subjects: “Under this pretence he took Ramiro, and one morning caused him to be executed and left on the piazza at Cesena with the block and a bloody knife at his side. The barbarity of this spectacle caused the people to be at once satisfied and dismayed.”

Fire Tambellini, return.

It worked for Medieval Italian politics, and it worked for Kevin Lowe. Well, if by ‘worked’ you mean ‘Kevin Lowe remaining in authority’ rather than bringing actual success to the Oilers. Examining Tambellini’s short and mediocre tenure, what immediately leaps out is how few moves he actually made in his 4 years in charge. Other than unloading All-You-Can-Eat champion Dustin Penner on the LA Kings for picks and Colten Teubert to undue the damage caused by Kevin Lowe signing Penner to that offer sheet from Anaheim, Tambellini hasn’t done much to hurt or harm the Oilers.

Here’s a quick rundown of Tambellini’s other moves:

– Tom Gilbert for Nick Schultz

– Stealing Justin Schultz from Anaheim.

– Re-acquiring Ryan Smyth for sentimental purposes.

– Handing out 6 million dollar contracts to Eberle and Hall immediately upon the conclusion of their entry-level deals in a way that suggests that Tambellini has no idea how leverage and control works for young players.

– Extending declining assets Ales Hemsky and Ladislav Smid.

– Picking up Ryan Jones off of waivers.

– Acquiring Ryan Whitney and a 6th round pick for Lubomir Visnovsky.

– Signing Eric Belanger.

– Signing the drunk driving, occasionally puck-stopping Nikolai Khabibulin.

Most of those moves are depth moves, and any that have been left out of that list are also minor moves with minor consequences. Can anyone think of any former Oilers player of consequence playing elsewhere today?

Tambellini’s main contribution to the Oilers has been to show up to TSN’s overwrought draft ranking show in a suit and grin sheepishly while the panel manages to turn a 5 minute bingo game into an hour or three of programming. Since the Oilers have been consistently abominable, it’s worth asking how they got there, especially considering that the GM with the “block and a bloody knife at his side” actually had nothing to do with their transformation into a horrible team. It can’t even be said of Tambellini that he was either swift nor cruel.

Neither Here Nor There
Officially, Kevin Lowe was GM of the Oilers from 2000 until 2009. In that time, the team finished the regular season in the following rankings:

2001: 6th
2002: 9th
2003: 8th
2004: 9th
2005: LOCKOUT
2006: 8th (Stanley Cup Finals)
2007: 12th
2008: 9th
2009: 11th

That straddling of the playoff line is an impressive balancing act, but also extremely bad for a franchise. Getting in as an 8-seed means one has a high chance of simply getting stomped in the first round, while ensuring a later draft pick. Some may point to the finals appearance as a vindication of ‘get in, and anything can happen’, but that outlier is the result of the one season that Chris Pronger- arguably the most dominant defenceman of his era behind only Nick Lidstrom- played in Edmonton.

In fact, Chris Pronger was so good that season that he managed to get an Edmonton team that included a young Marc-Andre Bergeron to the finals. Habs fans will recall Bergeron for his huge shot and total defensive ineptitude. Oilers fans remember him for tactically injuring his own goalie in the finals.

That Pronger ended up leaving Edmonton wasn’t Lowe’s fault, but perhaps Pronger, wily individual that he is, knew more about the Oilers’ ability to compete than the man in the front office. Lowe didn’t do badly in the trade, getting back multiple high picks and the highly regarded scorer Joffrey Lupul and 7th overall pick Ladislav Smid. Regardless, Pronger’s departure signaled the beginning of the bottomfeeding for Edmonton.

Lowe Tide

It’s really post-Pronger that the wheels come off. In rapid succession, Lowe achieved the following things:

– Offer sheeting Thomas Vanek to a then-ridiculous $7+m/year contract that Buffalo could have easily matched, which they promptly did.

– Offer sheeting the only so-so Dustin Penner, which enraged Brian Burke. Worse than the trashtalking that Burke gave Lowe in the media, he simply took the draft picks from Edmonton.

– Lowe made fan-favourite Ryan Smyth cry over a few hundred thousand dollars, receiving a bunch of prospects that never turned into NHL regulars and a 1st round pick.

– From that Pronger trade, Lowe quickly turned an injury-plagued Joffrey Lupul into Joni Pitkanen. Then, after a year in which Pitkanen struggled on a bad team, turned him into Erik Cole. Then, after Cole struggled on yet another bad team, he traded Cole for Patrick O’Sullivan (Patrick O’Who? O’Exactly!) and a 2nd round pick. Until this season, all three of those players went on to have productive seasons elsewhere, and Edmonton was left with none of them.

– Finally, he traded away Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene- both useful players- for Lubomir Visnovsky, who lasted all of 107 games before being packed off to Anaheim by Tambellini.

Along the way, Lowe succeeded in burning bridges with both Anaheim and the Sabres, and possible making other GM’s nervous about their restricted free agents. While Burke can be a bit of a blowhard, he might have been right about Lowe screwing with other team’s salary cap management to minimal effect.

The pattern of these various moves seems to be creating holes, then filling them in ways that create other holes, necessitating further moves that, predictably, created more holes. After the Lowe era of big trades and lots of movement, it seems almost as if the mandate for Tambellini was to do as little as possible while the hoard of picks and prospects develop. The young Oilers need help, particularly on defence and in goal, before they start winning. Tambellini’s firing is questionable because the Oilers were never going to go from worst to first given the youth of their core and lack of proven veterans.

For the next stage, Craig MacTavish returns in a nice reversal (replacing the man who fired him) with Scott Howson, former Blue Jackets GM and former assistant GM in… EDMONTON(?!) serving as caddy.

Speaking of which…

The Replacements
It’s hard to say what MacTavish will be like as GM. He was a good coach, but he’ll have learned his management skills from Kevin Lowe and Tambellini. Sure, he’ll have ideas of his own, but the culture he’s been brought along in isn’t exactly progressive. A cynic might suspect that he’s merely serving as the public face of a management team being taken over by Howson. Astute Edmonton fans probably wouldn’t accept the mediocre former Columbus GM, but they certainly won’t boo/hate upon local hero C-Mac.

As for Howson, his stock might be high right now because of the Nash trade looking much better than it did a year ago. This shouldn’t obscure the fact that this is the same man who gave $6m/year to James Wisniewski. He also traded the Couturier pick, the improving and already talented Jakub Voracek, and a 3rd rounder to Philly for Jeff Carter, who was promptly traded to LA for Jack Johnson and a first. Johnson is wildly overrated, and pretty much every other asset aside from the 3rd pick would have helped Columbus more.

Like Lowe/Tambellini, Howson seems to enjoy putting 18 year old rookies on the team ahead of schedule (paging Ryan Johansen). It’s a massive warning sign that a team can’t develop prospects when you consider that the only two 1st round picks the Blue Jackets have ever drafted that remain with the team are Ryan Johansen and Ryan Murray. Every single other one either plays elsewhere (Brassard, Nash, Moore, Klesla, etc…) or turned out to kind of suck (Zherdev, Filatov, Brule, etc…). Now, Howson can’t possibly be to blame for all of that, but one has to wonder what exactly about his resume indicates that he’s the man to turn this group of talented young stars into a playoff machine. Given the exact same mandate in Columbus, he failed miserably. Columbus’ 2011-2012 season was worse than a gong show.

It’s more than worth noting that Howson’s career pre-Columbus was as Kevin Lowe’s right hand man. So, what’s old is new again, except that it never realy changed. Ever a Lowe proxy, the big difference is that the mail Howson’s carrying has MacTavish’s name on the letterhead. So, Oilers fans, your best hope is that the return of this brain trust will come with some new ideas. Which, uh, given the track records involved, is small consolation. It will, however, be amusing to have MacTavish quotations back in the NHL on a regular basis.

As for Tambellini, he might have gotten out at the right time. The patience he displayed in watching his team bottom out and gain valuable young prospects is admirable. Having never been given the option to really go for it, he at least didn’t make any comical errors.

Would that Lowe and Howson be able to say the same.

April 9, 2013

Rounding Errors and Jammed Calculators: League Revenues and Player Contracts

by Jacob Saltiel
Gary Bettman

Haters Gon’ Hate
from gmoneysack.blogspot.com

After a lockout in which the usual refrain about dying franchises and sustainable business models made the rounds, why might players such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Alexander Semin suddenly get huge contracts from organizations that were run conservatively in the last CBA? It’s likely that Gary Bettman, and the rest of the NHL’s front office picked up on a financial trend and took advantage of an expiring CBA to change the financial dynamic of the league to allow teams to make more and spend more money than before. As agents and general managers take advantage of or are confounded by the new CBA’s economics, the contracts awarded to the above-three players will become more commonplace. Whether they actually jam up salary caps as badly as some have speculated may not occur at all.


Nostradamus of Long Island

The purpose of the lockout was to sign a CBA that would make NHL franchises more valuable. As games were cancelled and hockey fans were treated to dramatic high tragedy unseen outside of the ancient Greek epidaurus since the first production of Clytemnestra, many wondered if the league had caused permanent damage to it’s brand. Fans posted messages about never returning and personally impugning Gary Bettman for having MacBethed them and major media sites published them.* Turns out the gang with all of the information and the fancy degrees knew more than everyone else. If there are fans stalking the streets shouting and tweeting about how they’re still boycotting the NHL in protest, they certainly can’t be found in Montreal. Rather, the league could contract to just Montreal and Columbus, the Canadiens could smash the Blue Jackets for a decade, winning the Stanley Cup every time, and Montrealers would probably still blow up a bus and smash an SAQ or seven every spring.

As Nicholas Cotsonika’s reports, the NHL had access to information about fan retention that remains private. This doesn’t mean that Bettman won’t brag about the information disparity (from Puck Daddy): “We keep metrics all the time,” Bettman said. “Rather than engage in the speculation that many do, we actually try and do some real research, and our fans have reconnected in a very big way.” Yes, he’s talking about you. He knows what you’re thinking right now. The importance of this is that the cap will be going down next year, but if Cotsonika is right, then the cap might start rising again in subsequent seasons. In fact, with new TV deals (goodbye Hockey Night in Canada!), previously penurious owners** might start making it rain on their stars.

Range Rover Sales Are Up

Which brings us right back to Getzlaf, Perry, and Semin. At beginning of this abbreviated season, it seemed a given that at least one of the two Anaheim stars would be playing elsewhere in the summer. Anaheim wasn’t known to spend huge on longterm contracts. Both wanted to get paid, and with the pessimism about declining cap numbers, it seemed like they were labeled for departure. Then a champagne monsoon struck. Getzlaf and Perry were signed in turn to maximum contracts worth more than $8m/year. They’ll each be 35 in 2021 when these contracts expire. If you’re reading this and you’re aged anywhere in your 20’s, you might have a marriage, a mortgage, and kids by the time they stop playing. Ponder that. And your mortality.

Similarly, Semin got a 5 year contract extension and a raise to $7m/year 30 games into his 1 year deal with Carolina. Where Anaheim was a cautious rather than cheap team, the Hurricanes stay away from the cap ceiling as if it were the edge of a precipice overlooking a vast abyss while their GM Jim Rutherford has some downright backwards notions about drafting defencemen.*** Unlike Getzlaf and Perry, it’s a mystery whether or not Semin is even worth the money.

Mo Money? No Problem

Something else might be at work here, and there’s a good chance that whatever Murray and Rutherford are seeing is the same thing that Nostradamus Bettman saw in preparation for the lockout. If you look at the dollar value of the contracts, it’s easy to think an avian insanity virus is gaining a foothold in NHL front offices. But then, under a cap system, the # of dollars can be misleading. What really matters is the percentage of cap space allocated to a player. Why? Well, under a cap system, all the contract of a player indicates is the maximum amount of money he can make. League revenues can increase  beyond what they were when the contract was signed, and hence the % value of that contract can decline over the life of a deal. In that sense, particularly with maximum contracts, they become more manageable as long as league revenues increase.

To take the Getz as an example, next year his $8.25/m salary will cost Murray a little less than 13% of his $64.3m in cap space. In 2005, the salary cap was set at $39m. By the end of the new agreement, it had reached $64.3m. That’s more than a 50% increase. Hypothetically, if Getzlaf had signed his contract in 2005, his % against the cap would have been an untenable 21%. By the end of the CBA, that % value would have dipped to 13%. So, the risk**** for these kinds of contracts that by the age of 35 Getzlaf might slow down and be an overpaid veteran is actually mitigated by this effect.

Sure, there’s some risk involved that the entire economic landscape in which professional sports leagues in North America operate can change. For that to happen, though, would require the booming TV content industry to stop spending money on sports coverage and for average people to suddenly stop buying cable and satellite packages and for sports bars to stop televising games and for people to stop buying tickets and buying merchandise, etc… etc…

That’s why if you’re a general manager negotiating with a homegrown player of elite quality, you can reasonably gamble on maximum contracts. A contract like Getzlaf’s hurts in the short term, but the Ducks have a variety of cheap young players on entry-level contracts filling out their roster. By the time those young players start requiring new contracts, Murray will have a better idea of which of them are worth retaining and which can be off-loaded for cheap value, such as picks or additional prospects. As the % value of contracts given to Perry and Getzlaf decline, he’ll still have flexibility to retain the next wave of quality players.

The bets that GMs will have to make in the new CBA involve giving these contracts to the right players. A 13% value contract really isn’t much of a hindrance if that’s Getzlaf in his current form collecting the pay checks. As for Semin and his 10.8% contract, well, he certainly isn’t getting paid to fight, so he’d better score a lot. As more of these contracts get signed, the mayhem will really begin when stars on these contracts begin picking up career-altering or ending injuries. Until then, enjoy the show.

Under Bettman’s leadership, it will definitely go on, and it will almost certainly turn a profit.

***

*But everyone agrees that they’d drink an afternoon Coors Light with Bill Daly and laugh about the old days.

**This category does not include Charles Wang, whose ownership of the Islanders makes pre-Carol Ebenezer Scrooge look like the founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

***At a time when it’s nearly universally accepted that you can’t win without defencemen, this poorly conceived… strategy… is probably a big reason the Hurricanes blow.

****As with any guaranteed contract, the main risk is that they’ll got incapacitated or slowed by injury, but one can’t necessarily predict when the that’ll happen.

April 4, 2013

A Guide to Recognizing Your Mediocre GMs: Part 1 Joe Nieuwendyk

by Jacob Saltiel
Brian+Burke+Joe+Nieuwendyk+2009+NHL+Entry+q7kqbnRh368x

“Is that tie available for a 2nd round pick and a prospect?”
from zimbio.com

(This multi-part series isn’t about the Canadiens, but as a Habs fan, you might want to know which GM’s you want Bergevin to call up on the red, white, and blue trades telephone. What follows is a detailed analysis of recent trades by rival GMs)

The Once and Future Chump

It was sad to see the Atlanta Thrashers go.

Not because it makes Tom Glavine cry silently to himself in his roomful of baseball awards or because the Thrashers were, generally speaking, a free 2 points to any team willing to ice an entire lineup against them. No, when the Thrashers moved, the the 29 other GM’s in the league lost their ideal trade partner, Don Waddell.

The halcyon days of trading overpaid veterans or just a collection of low-ceiling prospects and deceptively mediocre draft picks for talent simply by dialing the ATL area code (404) over.

Take, for example, the following transactions from the twilight of Waddell’s reign:

1) Braydon Coburn, Philly’s top-3 defenceman, actually started in Atlanta. He was traded as a prospect straight-up for 2 years of an ancient Alexei Zhitnik. This was the only year the Thrashers organization made the playoffs, and Waddell thought this might help them out.

2) For that same playoff crawl, Waddell acquired 22 games of Keith Tkachuk for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick spread out over 2 years to St Louis. Following that off-season when Tkachuk became a free agent, he promptly re-signed with the Blues for 3 more productive seasons.

Of course, after making these trades, the Thrashers were promptly swept in the 1st round.

3) Did you know that Waddell had Heatley and Hossa at one point in the organization’s history? Well, he lost both the way one loses their car keys in the wash.

Here’s a quick account of the complicated machinations that led to Patrice Cormier almost playing regularly for the Winnepeg Jets:

– Heatley traded straight-up almost 3 years of Hossa.

 -After it became clear that Hossa wouldn’t extend his contract, Waddell had to act again. Hossa was traded to Pittsburgh for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito, and a 1st round pick (29th). Yes. The Colby Armstrong most recently seen limping off the ice at Flambeau Field.

4) But wait! Both Heatley and Hossa had a particularly talented linemate, first name Ilya. Tired of the mediocrity and wanting to win, Kovalchuk justifiably refused to extend his contract too. Waddell’s long search for equal value was confounded by the poorly kept secret of Kovalchuk’s exorbitating contract demands, but what followed is a masterpiece in getting hosed by the crafty Lou Lamoriello.

Atlanta swapped 2nd round picks with Jersey as part of the trade, so the return for one of the best offensive players of this generation of NHL’ers, was Bergfors, Oduya, Cormier, and a 1st round pick. Oduya was probably the best player in that haul, and the 1st is nice, but REALLY?! A solid 3rd defenceman, maybe a grinder out of Cormier, and a 1st round pick for Kovalchuk? Encore, Don, encore!

But those days are over. Or, were…

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

It’s a good thing Nieuwendyk found work in NHL upper management. Judging by the way he gambles with young prospects, if he weren’t a GM, he’d defaulting on his mortgage and appearing on EducAlcool ads between periods of Habs games thrice weekly. To keep him on the rails, Dallas upper management also includes Mark Recchi (reputed M.D.) and Bob Gainey. If you’re a Habs fan reading this, you’ll be familiar with the latter’s work. The fascinating thing about the Dallas organization right now is the stark difference in aptitude between drafting and managing players.

Consider that the Stars have recently found players like Benn, Neal, and Eriksson outside of the 1st round. Whoever they have watching the kids is good at their job. That’s where the good news ends if your a Dallas fan, since a quick survey of Nieuwendyk’s moves shows that these players may not be around as long as you think- if they aren’t already gone.

To beat a dead horse, trading Neal and Niskanen for Goligoski established that Nieuwendyk criminally underrates his own assets. Niskanen isn’t exactly a throw-in either, and even if Goligoski scores 30-40 points a season, it’s hard to justify giving away a power forward like Neal who was just entering restricted free agency without getting back a high pick in return. It’s not just the obvious mismatch in talent that makes this trade bad, but the subtleties of the CBA’s that seem to have escaped Nieuwendyk.

Trading away Brad Richards and his expiring contract at the deadline a couple of seasons ago might have returned a similarly talented young player. Nieuwendyk didn’t do that, opting instead to gamble that his team could make the playoffs as a low seed. Of course, the Stars went on to miss the playoffs and Richards escaped to New York in a clear violation of the sports management principle that one shouldn’t build a team to finish in 8th place, but to win it all.

And, well, if you’re going to set lofty standards for your organization such as “finish just outside of the top half of the league”, you shouldn’t, y’know, miss by 2 points.

***

The negotiation with Jamie Benn compounded this perception of Nieuwendyk’s lack of comprehension of the salary cap. With Benn refusing to sign a contract coming out of his entry level deal, Nieuwendyk managed to thread the needle between keeping Benn’s salary down- $5.25m/year when the player has no leverage isn’t exactly a bargain- and buying Benn’s expensive unrestricted free agency years. In fact, Nieuwendyk signed him exactly to when he’d hit the market (2917), meaning that unless Benn’s ability falls off a cliff, he’s going to get really pricey. In the simplest terms, Nieuwendyk failed to use his leverage over Benn to any effect. One imagines Benn’s agent hanging up the phone and saying “Really?”

Two other recent moves, Ryder and a 3rd for Cole and Steve Ott and Pardy for Derek Roy were at best moving sideways, at worst silly. Ott, a grinder who scores in the mid-30’s had value to any playoff team and it’s not implausible that most playoff teams would have wanted him last off-season. The return? Impending unrestricted free agent Roy, whose last two seasons were marred by injury or mediocrity. It’s not that Roy’s a bad player, but Ott was signed for more years and, as demonstrated yesterday, the Stars were forced to trade Roy away because of their iffy playoff status and fruitless contract negotiations. A 2nd round pick and 23 year old prospect Kevin Connauton isn’t a terrible return, but that he had to make this trade so soon shows a certain aptitude for painting oneself into a corner.

Bergevin’s gem of a trade with Nieuwendyk led to the Stars taking on the last 2+ years of Cole’s contract- after Cole surely played his best hockey of that deal last year. It’s hard to imagine Ryder being worth less had Nieuwendyk simply waited for the trade deadline to move the productive forward, let alone that Bergevin sampled a 3rd round pick in the deal.

So, when Jagr was dealt to Boston for a 2nd (possibly a 1st) pick and two prospects, it was time to roll the laugh track. Not because an expiring contract on Jagr wasn’t worth the conditional pick, but because Nieuwendyk called the two players he received in return prospects. Lane MacDiermid and the aptly named Cody Payne are goons who can’t really be considered prospects since, if they develop appropriately, they might play 7 minutes a night. In a league where, any year now, staged fighting, and hence the goon role, might be disappearing.

Hold The Line

Whichever hockey team you cheer for (not you, Stars fans), pay close attention the next time the words ‘Stars’ and ‘trade’ appear on your web browser/Sportscentre newsticker. Gamblin’ Joe might have just brilliantly solved a salary cap crunch or created an unstoppable line- for a rival team in your division in your division.

Until this effect becomes too obvious, let’s hope the media keeps confusing Nieuwendyk’s talent as a player and a manger. Perhaps some of this is unfair to Joe. Perhaps there are extenuating circumstances. Perhaps an internet leak revealed to many other GM’s in the league incriminating photos of Joe involving inflatable animals, mezcal, and individuals in clown get-up not named Mrs. Nieuwendyk. After all, Tijuana isn’t that far away. Perhaps not. Perhaps his reign is characterized by poor evaluation of the value of his own players and how the salary cap works.

April 2, 2013

PK Subban, Future Tycoon

by Jacob Saltiel

Bob Gainey’s Stare, under his pseudonym of Jacob Saltiel, guest posted on Allhabs.net today.

Check out what he had to say about PK Subban at this link: http://www.allhabs.net/all-habs-news/p-k-subban-poised-to-break-the-bank/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook

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March 15, 2013

David Desharnais Signed to Presidential Term

by Jacob Saltiel
david-desharnais-4

Cheers to you, Marc Bershevin!from 25stanley.com

Bergevin made a smart, low risk move today, signing offense-producing gremlin David Desharnais to a 4-year contract extension. Though financial terms of the deal were not announced, somehow everybody but the Canadiens are reporting that it’s for $3.5 million/season. Watch out, Bergie, there’s a mole!

Pass the Dutchie to the Left-Hand Side

The Canadiens do not play the top-6/bottom-6 forwards so favoured by some teams, most famously the truculent Maple Leafs who went an entire CBA without making the playoffs. With the depth afforded the team by Gallagher, Galchenyuk, the revival (and subsequent disappearance) of Bourque, and the signing of Prust, the Canadiens play 3 solid lines that can score, but more importantly keep puck possession.

While Desharnais isn’t having quite as good a season this year as last, he’s still on pace for scoring more than 20 goals and a little less than 50 points over a full 82-game season. Desharnais’ main hockey skill is his intelligence, and from now until when he’s 31 and the deal expires, there’s no reason to expect a major decline in his numbers. In fact, his current PDO number* is the worst on the team at .974, indicating that he’s probably due for an increase in scoring so long as he keeps putting the puck on net at the same rate.  Bergevin’s indicated that for the next 4 years Desharnais will serve as Pacioretty’s caddy, which so far looks great for the Habs and horrible for every other team in the league that hates getting scored on repeatedly. Consider that P.A. Parenteau, a comparable player who is older, signed for $4m/season as a UFA, and Desharnais’ cap number looks good. Signing Desharnais at such the comparatively cheap cost of $3.5m/year will allow Bergevin to continue to fill out his top-9 forwards and maintain this much more effective model.

Caveat Emptor

Of course, caveat emptor applies, and it would be wrong not to point out Desharnais’ obvious weaknesses: defence and faceoffs. The former is somewhat mitigated by his strong puck possession skills. It doesn’t matter that he’s not a great 1-on-1 defender because he’s more likely to have the puck. The latter issue is a bigger problem. Winning 47.4% of his faceoffs, Desharnais is at best mediocre in this respect. This deficiency means that his line starts with the puck less and can hurt the powerplay particularly. This being Desharnais’ 2nd year in the league, it’s still possible that he puts in a summer’s work on his faceoffs and improves that number, but it’s a weakness in his game. This  is amplified by the fact that Canadiens centres as a whole are poor on faceoffs. Unless Eller improves his faceoff numbers, Bergevin’s next task will be to find a competent 4th line centre that can take important defensive zone faceoffs.

Moves Like Jagger

Bergevin’s made another smart move here, locking up an effective offensive player at a manageable cap number. The worst scenario that one can imagine with this contract is that Desharnais struggles or gets injured. Even if that happens, his cap hit won’t clog up the salary cap and Bergevin can probably trade him even if that happens. Additionally, after the Gainey-Gauthier administration’s bizarre and inneffective strategy of not negotiation with impending UFA’s or RFA’s until the offseason, it’s refreshing to see Bergevin get an early start on his summer homework. As for Desharnais, he doesn’t need to play out of his mind to justify his contract, and so long as produces within the 50-60 point range, this will be a bargain.

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*The statistic that measures how lucky or unlucky a player is. For a more expansive definition, check here

February 27, 2013

Rydin’ Dirty: Canadiens Acquire Michael Ryder

by Jacob Saltiel
bergevin

Yes, Joe, I’m listening… Go on…
from bleacherreport.com

Michael Ryder returns, and likely with him the bitter refrain from RDS analysts saying “O quelle mauvais jeu par Ryder!” While Erik Cole was an excellent player for the Habs, it’s almost certain the Canadiens win this trade. Joe Nieuwendyk might still be better at NHL hockey than NHL management.

Habs’ Plunder

Since leaving Montreal, Ryder’s scored two season of 27+ goals, and been a complementary offensive player in the other two seasons. Last year (35 goals) was his most productive since leaving Flambeau Field. He’s 32 and on an expiring $3.5m/yr contract, and he’s been as effective this year, scoring 14 points in 19 games. In addition, the Habs receive a 3rd round draft pick. Oh, and Cole, who was 2 years older, and signed for 2 additional seasons after this one at $4.5m/yr, immediately comes off the books.

When you add it up, the Canadiens got a younger player who produces about as much offence as the one they traded away, additional cap space this year ($1m), a 3rd round pick, and also cap flexibility this summer. While Cole’s veteran leadership (unquantifiable, but the media reports that it exists), and grit will be missed, does anyone believe that the Canadiens didn’t get the best year of that contract last year?

Seeing Stars

The assumption is that Nieuwendyk’s team-building strategy is to hire players who played in the league during his career. Cole will join Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr for an elderly group of forwards. He might even be effective. It’s not as if the Stars need the cap space, but it’s a curious move, since Cole may well decline over the course of the rest of this deal.

Darren Dreger commented on TSN that this move was driven by the Dallas ‘brain trust’ of Nieuwendyk, Mark Recchi, and Bob Gainey. Ol’ Dregs must have been performing satire by referring to that group as a brain trust, since they’re neither trustworthy, nor particularly cerebral when it’s come to recent trades and acquisitions. Leaving aside that Dr. Recchi once tried to diagnose a player on another team with faking his own death at the hands of Chara, here are some moves that occured with some combination of those 3 in charge:

– James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski.

– Goligoski immediately signed to $4.6m/year extension until 2016.

– Brad Richards leaves as a free agent for nothing;.

– Steve Ott and Adam Pardy (WHO LIKES TO PARDY?!) traded for 1 year of Derek Roy (UFA this summer).

– Signed a 40 year old Ray Whitney to a 2 year contract, when CBA rules means that his number stays on the salary cap even if Planet Earth explodes as David Attenborough narrates “Witness… the vast fury of the cosmos…”

–  Drawing out RFA negotiations with Jamie Benn, then signing him to a $5.25m/yr contract that doesn’t lock him up for many of his UFA years. So, it’s neither a savings, nor will it stop Benn from skipping town when he’s 28.

Despite this, Dallas is in 6th place in the West. They’ve played more games than anyone but Columbus and Nashville, and are only 2 points out of 10th. It’s unclear if anyone can remember the last time they made the playoffs.

Now, Cole may produce as much offence as Ryder did. Even if he doesn’t, he’s a grittier player. The real worry though is Nieuwendyk’s apparent determination to play older veterans. For example, of his core forwards, 4 of them (Cole, Whitney, Jagr, Morrow) are in their mid-30’s or early 40’s, and Derek Roy is turning 30 in May.

Leaving aside whether older players are more or less injury prone, the issue is that all of them are known commodities. Is it conceivable that any of them improve their production? Cole had a career year last year, but that might be the high water mark. For each of them, the odds are more likely that they begin to decline. So, Joe, your team is in 6th, can dive to 10th at any moment, and over the last 4 years has finished 10th, 9th, 12th, and 12th. No high draft picks and no playoffs. Fantastic work threading that needle.

In the meantime, Dallas reduced their flexibility with Cole’s contract, and gave away a draft pick.

The Verdict

Marc Bergevin made a shrewd move. Even though the Habs are 1st place, he’s still making moves that clear cap space for the upcoming summer. Remember that this summer, the following players may be UFAS: Clarkson, Clowe, Perry, and Getzlaf. While Cole is a good player, he was never going to gain more value as a trade chip or player. In selling high, Bergevin acquire a player who may replace Cole’s offence, and somehow extorted a 3rd round pick out of the process.