A little pre- and post-’Free Agent Frenzy’ grab bag, anyone?
Save the players from themselves
What is it going to take before hockey players cast a suspicious eye in the direction of the Philadelphia Flyers? How can anyone seriously believe that the contract they sign there will be worth the paper it’s written on? Sure, Vinny Lecavalier got a full NMC out of his five year deal with the Flyers, but that won’t stop them from pressuring him into a trade or buying him out when the next flavor of the month comes along. Not to mention that the team’s near-constant wheeling and dealing comes at the expense of any semblance of stability, planning, or development. Lecavalier could have gone almost anywhere in the league, and like so many players before him, he was convinced by the Flyers of all people that this time everything will be different. Meanwhile, the last sucker who bought that line will get sent down to the minors to make room for Vinny.
If I’m the NHLPA, I look into making some sort of resource available to my clients whereby anonymous surveys of market and ownership are shared with the full membership. Maybe the Flyers organization truly is an outstanding place to work, but the optics remain terrible. Players who make a commitment to that team are repeatedly burned by an ownership that overreacts to every development. The only way the management’s behavior will change is if the resource on which they depend the most–players–collectively say enough is enough….
…but at the end of the day, I guess that’s just the cost of doing business with a large market team like the Flyers or Rangers. If you’re a 20-something kid getting paid millions, you probably want to do it in a major American city on a team where money is no object and the goal, year in and year out, is the Cup. You just have to pray you’re never caught on the outside.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to 2015-2016 when Brad Richards and Vinny Lecavalier are both playing together on the same team, probably for John Tortorella in Vancouver, and the Flyers have just signed Jason Spezza to a 7 year deal paying him $10MM per.
The object of my offseason affection Grant Clitsome has signed a deal to stay with the Jets. My idea to go after Clitsome went over like a lead balloon with you readers, but I maintain that there’s potential there as a low-cost alternative to Sergei Gonchar. Clitsome signed for three years and just over $2MM per, which was probably more term than Ottawa would have liked to give out anyway. I’ll be watching his numbers this year to see if my prediction bears out.
Murray is going to have to find some other low cost players like Clitsome if he wants to improve his club, because everywhere else, we’re reading about how Ottawa’s ‘internal cap’ of $50MM will keep them from pursuing any high end free agents, and may even be challenging what should be a slam-dunk re-signing of Danny Alfredsson.
Look: if Melnyk doesn’t have the money, he doesn’t have the money. There’s no trying to will funding into existence if it isn’t there. Also, my comments about how if there’s any year that Ottawa should be a cap team, it’s this year weren’t meant to imply that Ottawa should go after, say, Vinny Lecavalier. Throughout the rebuild I’ve preached restraint, and I remain a fan of good value. There are a number of intriguing players available by trade, players who have potential, are relatively low cost, and wouldn’t take a massive package of prospects to land. However, Murray has to have the green light from its billionaire owner to spend. Not a lot more–just what we need to add some scoring punch up front.
But it has to be asked: if this team can’t spend more than $50MM on salary every year, why is that? I’ve written over and over again that it’s not at all clear to me how revenue on this team works. I get that we’re not New York or Toronto, and don’t have an insane television deal–but then, that describes most of the teams in the league, and we keep hearing about record revenues. Ottawa remains a top ten team in ticket sales, with an average ticket price, average merchandising sales, and one assumes an average TV deal. If a team operating in those conditions simply has to be the third lowest spending team in the league just to break even, then I think we deserve to know how that works. We suffered through two lockouts to establish cost certainty for owners. Now that we have it, we’re hearing even more about sacrifices. If that’s the way it is I’ll understand, but let’s get a little bit of transparency around here. Give the fans some credit. They can understand these things.
As for Alfie, I’ve been a lonely voice in the woods on this one: I’ve felt for a long time that he should probably play elsewhere. Not that I want him to, but just that his best bet to win a Cup before he retires is probably with another team. Let’s be honest – it’s probably not going to happen elsewhere either. He’s lucky to still be so effective at his age; this is beyond his last chance to make a push. But with Melnyk looking through his couch cushions for change just to be able to re-sign Eric freaking Condra or pay Alfie something resembling market value, I don’t think any of us would really blame him for checking out all of his options.
The draft and the media
Too bad I’m a hockey news junkie, because this cycle of hype and nothingness is getting old fast. TSN talked up the draft for days in advance, promising an unprecedented number of moves, and they weren’t halfway through the first round before they were hyping this Friday’s ‘FREE AGENT FRENZY.’ Yes, it will be quite a frenzy for the services of…Mike Ribeiro and Ryan Clowe.
As for the Senators, drafting a safe player who projects as a third line center isn’t the worst thing you can do at 17th. It’s the Zack Smiths of the hockey world that make it go around. But Curtis Lazar doesn’t help the Senators for at least a few seasons, nor is it a swing for the fences. I know every manager was asking for something insane to move up (seriously–why on earth would anyone trade Erik Karlsson to draft another player who is only potentially as good as Erik Karlsson?), but with Toronto showing it possible to get a good (not great) player in Bolland for later picks, you wonder what was actually on the table if the 17th was in play. But once again – it all comes down to money.
How long before we see teams try Kickstarter campaigns to bring in that puck-moving defenseman or backup goalie they need so badly? “Hey fans–you want us to sign David Clarkson? Pony up!” Maybe Melnyk can pass a collection plate around during exhibition games and have a pre-recorded message from Alfie begging for change on the jumbotron.