In order to solve a problem one must first understand what that problem really is. That’s why we were required to take math classes like geometry, algebra and calculus in school even though as adults many of us rarely use those skills in our day-to-day lives. In advanced math classes they teach you to take a problem, analyze it, and break it down into simpler steps before solving it. It’s too bad the NHL has forgotten those long ago learned lessons from their youth.
Take Bill Daly’s recent comments following another failed CBA negotiating session for example. While discussing some of the individual player contractual rights the league wants to alter, Daly indicated club GM’s were concerned that they are forced to make player assessments too early in a player’s career. From follow up remarks it’s clear he is referring specifically to the league’s desire to push back a player’s UFA from age 27 or seven professional seasons to age 28 or eight professional seasons. Daly even said, “We’re talking about one year – we’re not talking about moving heaven and Earth.”
In essence it seems GM’s feel they are forced to pay out big money to young players before they have had enough time to properly evaluate and assign a value to that player. This demonstrates that the league is no good at actually understanding the real problems confronting them. I’m sorry, if you can’t properly evaluate a player after he has played seven years of professional hockey and/or is 27 years old you might be in the wrong business. I have yet to do an elaborate study but I highly doubt there is much difference between a 27 year old player and one who is 28 or one with seven years of pro experience versus eight.
Actually, where GM’s face their most difficult and risky challenges are in the handling of their RFA’s. Currently players become RFA’s upon expiration of their entry-level deals and usually after three (though sometimes two) years of NHL experience. We’ve seen a number of GM’s pay out big bucks to players ahead of reaching RFA status.
Just this past summer we saw Edmonton Oilers W Taylor Hall handed a six-year, $42 million extension after just two seasons, 126 NHL games and 49 goals scored. Hall recorded a career high in points last year with 53 yet he is set to be paid full franchise player value (i.e. as a 40-goal, 90-point player). Look, Hall may well reach those lofty standards, and do it sooner rather than later, but there is no guarantee he will. Edmonton, as a smaller market team, is banking on further development from Hall and if he should fail for any reason to develop into a legitimate superstar then Edmonton will be stuck with an albatross of a contract.
The other semi-confusing aspect of this deal is that it was signed before his entry level deal expired. Now that had everything to do with the Oilers fearing a lengthy lockout which would still burn that final year off his entry level deal while not allowing Edmonton the chance to negotiate an extension. Edmonton got it done early rather than hope for an early resolution to the lockout.
Unlike Edmonton, who at least had the threat of a lengthy work stoppage to motivate them, Buffalo extended D Tyler Myers following the 2010 – 2011 season (Myers’ second in the NHL) and more than a year in advance of a potential work stoppage. Myers had a terrific rookie campaign but regressed somewhat in year two. Nonetheless Buffalo extended the big blue liner a year before his entry level deal expired to avoid the hassle of a protracted negotiation. Myers signed a seven year, $38.5MM ($5.5MM cap hit) that also provided a hefty bonus payment of $10MM due before this season would have started.
Just prior to the lockout, the Anaheim Ducks agreed to extend Cam Fowler, whom I’ve identified before on Ranger Nation as a close statistical comparable to Del Zotto. Fowler has two years of NHL experience and a career plus/minus rating (-53) resembling the mean annual temperature of the Antarctic interior (-70 degrees F) rather than the plus/minus rating of a good defensemen. He is a talented offensive player, as is Del Zotto, which evidently prompted Anaheim management to bestow a five-year, $20MM extension upon Fowler.
While the potential of a work stoppage may have played a role in the Sabres’ and Ducks’ decisions both could have opted to wait another year with the benefit of an additional season to evaluate their player. The Rangers did this with their own pending RFA D, Michael Del Zotto. In fact, I’ve praised the Rangers and GM Glen Sather for their handling of RFA’s before. Rather than cave in and pay the equivalent of UFA money to RFA’s, Slats has used his leverage to keep from paying ridiculous money to his RFA’s.
Recently the Rangers have locked up Marc Staal (five years, $19.875MM), Dan Girardi (four years, $13.3MM), Ryan Callahan (three years, $12.825MM) and Brandon Dubinsky (four years, $16.8MM) to reasonable contract extensions as RFA’s. Of that group, Dubinsky might have been the biggest reach but has only played one season under his current deal and has still averaged nearly 20 goals per season over the last three campaigns. Twenty-goal scorers run about $4MM or more on the open market and Dubinsky does a lot more on the ice than score goals. He could still prove to be worth the money.
Of the rest you have two All Star defenders who when healthy (in the case of Staal anyway) are among the top shutdown blue liners around and an emerging young leader who netted 29 goals in 76 contests last season. Few would argue that those players are compensated too well for their performances.
Glen Sather and the Rangers don’t panic and overpay when a player hits RFA status. They establish what the organization feels is a fair value for the player and wait until the player accepts. It’s a system that’s worked out well for the club as the examples above show.
That’s what many of today’s GM’s evidently forget; RFA’s have little leverage with which to command hefty contracts. Sure, another club could opt to submit a rich offer sheet for a RFA but we all know how rarely they work. Either the club who owns the RFA’s rights matches the offer sheet or the club trying to pilfer the player offers such outrageous terms that the player has virtually no chance of living up to his new contract.
You want examples? Look no further than Thomas Vanek, Dustin Penner, or the poison offer sheet the Flyers gave to Nashville D Shea Weber. In the cases of Vanek and Penner, you’ll find few who believe they met their obligations that came with their exorbitant new salaries. It will be a while yet before we know for sure how the Weber offer sheet will pan out. What we do know in all likelihood is that he will be paid a total of $28MM before playing even ¾ of one full NHL regular season; assuming a resolution is reached soon enough to save a 60-game schedule. That’s a big price to pay for a mid-to-small-market club.
With offer sheets representing little actual leverage for RFA’s, why then do GM’s continually cave in and award such rich extensions? GM’s want more time with which to evaluate players yet they are the ones forcing their own hands by doling out big money contracts upon the expiration of the player’s entry-level deal. The current player contractual rights system is not to blame; it’s the decision-makers within each organization that have created the problem with the so called second contracts.
Filed Under: Rangers
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