It’s July 4th. Do You Know Where Your Restricted Free Agent Is?

It’s got to be difficult to be mainstream hockey media/blogosphere at this time of year. Every team has pieces in motion as they try to get multiple RFAs signed. Each year, there are several teams vying for the services of the biggest names. Rumours are flying, terrible deals are handed out, and when the dust settles, the mainstream hockey writer has to take stock of the league and sum up the events with discerning brevity. Some are better at it than others. Just check out this quote from Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert:

dtmah

Damn, how do these guys do it? Slow down, Ryan. Leave some insight for the rest of us. It feels like there’s barely anything for me to add, but I’m going to try anyway.

Let me begin by stating my belief that planning to improve one’s hockey team in free agency is a very risky strategy. If you identify a player you wish to pursue in free agency, you can rest pretty assured that there will be some other hockey teams trying to sign them. Thus signing the player you want is never a sure thing. Even if you do manage to sign The Object of Your General Managerial Affection, the contract will almost certainly be subject to The Winner’s Curse wherein the the contract you give out will be, almost by definition, an overpayment because it is more than what every other team offered. Sometimes there are reasons that players might not sign the contract worth the most money (such as the desire to remain in their hometown of Ottawa), but sometimes those players are also Mark Borowiecki so even that strategy comes with some inherent risk.

If you can pick up an undervalued gem in free agency, so much the better. Everyone loves finding a crumpled up $20 in an old pair of jeans. However, the recent league-wide improvement in analytics and scouting has made this more and more difficult. I’m not sure signing each off-season’s rescue dog-esque free agent is something on which you can count on a year to year basis.

All this to say that if Ottawa’s big splash in unrestricted free agency was to sign an American drummer/songwriter whose name can also be satisfyingly sung to the tune of “My Sharona”, I don’t mind. It means that Ottawa did not use their already limited resources to overpay for a player of dubious utility. I am becoming increasingly convinced that 50% of being smart is not being dumb, and by that standard, Ottawa’s July 1st was perfectly acceptable.

The flip side of Ottawa not signing any big names is that they haven’t signed any of their largely monikered RFAs either. At the time of writing, RFAs Cody Ceci and Mike Hoffman remain unsigned. Mike Hoffman’s next deal remains the subject of some debate, as the fanbase is split over whether Hoffman should be offered “A lot of money” or “All of the money”. In past years, you could count on Bryan Murray to leak some negotiation details to the press, and Bruce Garrioch would tweet somthing like “Mike Hoffman’s latest ask is $9MM AAV for 8 years and he wants his face to replace the Sens logo. Sens have only agreed to the logo thing.” Now that Pierre Dorion is running the show, the Sens organization has been watertight in a way that Lot 9 could only dream of until recently. This is new and exciting, and gives us all the opportunity to either panic, recklessly speculate, or both. For my part, I am responding to this lack of news, good or bad, with the equanimity for which I am justly famed.

That said, I would like to address the growing sentiment on Twitter that reads something like “Why isn’t this done yet?” and “Just pay Mike Hoffman his goddamn money already.” I like Mike Hoffman very much. I would like Mike Hoffman to sign with the Ottawa Senators for 5+ years. I would also like to point out something that we must remember above all during these negotiations:

This is a negotiation.

We all have cokedreams ideas of what we should obviously pay Mike Hoffman in order to keep him with the club, but it’s entirely possible Mike Hoffman doesn’t want that totally reasonable deal you’re sure he’d accept. Also coming out and offering your highest “good” deal is not the most airtight negotiation strategy. If one offers $5.5MM for 5 years, how high are you actually willing to go? $6.5MM? $7MM? What if Hoffman doesn’t want to sign long term unless it’s also worth a very high AAV? What if Hoffman would rather sign for a single season, and then use the threat of leaving as an UFA next year to get even more money next year? These are questions without easy answers, and it’s almost certainly why these negotiations are taking so long it feels like George R.R. Martin is writing them. Dorion has already mentioned arbitration once or twice in the media, and it seems like a a distinct possibility at this time. It would be annoying if Mike Hoffman and the Ottawa Senators went to arbitration again, but at least Dorion’s willingness to bring up arbitration indicates an interest in keeping Hoffman with the club. An interest in keeping Hoffman with the club was something that was considerably less obvious during the Bryan Murray era, by the way.

The fact that the player has some say in the negotiations is one that is often lost on people. Signing good young players to long term deals is great when it works, but it’s entirely possible that not every good young player wants to lock themselves into a deal that’s going to severely limit their earning power during the prime of their careers. This is why I don’t opine about how it was a huge mistake to not lock up someone like Mark Stone for a longer term. I’d have loved it if Stone had signed a Turris-type deal, but I find it plausible that Mark Stone knows he’s really goddamn good, and plans on getting paid accordingly in a season or two. That’s not an organizational failure; that’s just the free (restricted) market. Players have some power.

So that’s where I’m at.

Do I want Mike Hoffman back with the Senators long-term? Yes.

Would I break the bank to do it? Not without reservation.

Will arbitration be the end of the world? No.

Would I still like to avoid it? Yes.

Is this stuff way more complex than it seems? Yes.

Am I just a guy with a laptop howling at the moon? Also yes.

Hang in there, folks. It’s only going to get more nerve-wracking when they actually start playing the games.

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