Free Agency or Insanity?
By Bob Haynes (@BobHaynesJr)
It sure doesn’t look or sound free to me! Tell me what the following players all have in common; Ville Leino, Christian Erhoff, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Matt Carle, Dennis Wideman, Carey Price, and Jordan Staal. You would be correct to say that they have all signed big money UFA or RFA contracts in the last two summers. However you would be more correct to say that none of these players have ever been nominated or won for any major NHL award. Before you start –Jordan Staal won a Stanley Cup — but remember that he was the 3rd line center on that team.
To recap a bit, last summer the Buffalo Sabres signed Leino, Erhoff, and Myers for $4.5M, $4M, and $5.5M salary cap hits – remember that was the BUFFALO SABRES! This is the same team that has routinely let quality players leave as UFAs. This summer so far has seen even more obscene contracts to players. The NJ Devils are filing for bankruptcy, yet they were in the bidding for Parise and if you believe the twitterverse, NJ was offering similar money as Minnesota!
This trend of signing players that are marginal at best to top flight money is disconcerting for many reasons. First it places unattainable expectations on the player from the fans, coach, and even management. Second it places unneeded pressure on the player to perform past his true capabilities. Third it makes the other team pay more attention to the player. Forth it gets coaches and GMs fired regularly.
For the first point, look at Scott Hartnell with the Flyers. When he signed his big contract he went almost 20 games without getting a goal that first season. He was able to adjust and his play has since been very good for the contract. However Scott Gomez has been ruined by this contract. His $7.3M contract has been a disaster for everyone involved. How many coaches and GMs have been fired in Montreal since he signed that contract? The answer is 5 coaches and 3 GMs since the start of the 2007-2008 season.
In all honesty, I feel that the GMs that did not “win” the Suter/Parise lotto might have been the overall winners in the long run. Please do not get me wrong, both of these players are really, really great NHL players. However in all honesty answer this question, was Ryan Suter the best defenseman in the league last season? No. Was he the best defenseman in the Western Conference last season? No. Was he the best defenseman in his division last season? No. Was he even the best defenseman on his team last season? No. So how can you pay him that much money? So congratulations go out to Mr. Holland, Mr. Shero, and Mr. Holmgren. Somehow in spite of the bad decision to make the offers, you will all come out better by his decision to turn you down. You can ask the same questions of Zach Parise’s ability from last season and get the same no answers without a debate, except for many on his team. Some will argue that Kovalchuk is more talented. Again I am aware that “you can’t measure a player’s heart” and these guys are heart and soul guys too. But $98M for 13 years? Really?? That’s a lot of heart and soul.
My last issue with the recent signings is the timing of the deals. With the huge amounts of bonus dollars front loaded in these two contracts (Parise and Suter) and the lack of money in salary down the road, the issue for contract parameters is going to take a big front seat in the CBA negotiations that are underway.
These two contracts smell like salary cap circumvention to me. If the early rumors are right, these two are going to be paid over half of the $98M in the next 5 seasons with the rest being paid over 8 additional years. Also with the $12M up front and $1M end year salary really don’t match the Salary Cap average that is the spirit of the cap. So this year alone the Wild are exceeding the Salary Cap by at least $9M this season due to this huge frontload and dwindling values concept that has been vogue lately across the NHL.
My suggestion is fix this issue is to take the salary for the current season to be something like the following. If the standard deviation is greater than a certain value than default to using the real contract amount for the life of the contract, otherwise use the median value, not the average. As we all know the average is the sum of the contract amounts divided by the number of years. However the standard deviation is a simple calculation that determines the spread of the values away from the center. My suggestion is that a contract with a standard deviation of greater than 1.5 needs to be counted in the circumvention category and thus the actual salary paid in the season would be the amount counted against the salary cap. This will reward teams and players that keep the salary very regular, with a steady cap value. Teams that do the crazy values will have wildly different cap values during the contract.
Good Night and Good Hockey.