Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Six offseason headlines I'd love to see (but won't)

After a relatively quiet draft weekend, it feels like we’re on the verge of some serious fireworks in the NHL off-season. There are plenty of big names still on the trade block, lots of teams with roster holes to fill, and the free-agency window for teams to talk to players is open.

We’re going to see some major headlines over the next few days. But which ones? That’s the multimillion-dollar question.

But if history is any indication, we can safely predict that whatever happens, it won’t be what you were hoping for. It never is. That’s just how the NHL works. So we might as well take some time now to get excited over what could happen, before we’re inevitably let down by what actually does.

In that spirit, here are a half-dozen headlines that I’d like to see over the next few days (but almost certainly won’t).

1) John Tavares signs a one-year max deal

The idea works something like this: Instead of signing a contract for the maximum length (eight years with the Islanders, seven years with anyone else), John Tavares should sign a one-year deal for the maximum dollar value. That would come in just under $16 million, and would make Tavares the highest-paid player in the history of the league in terms of full-season cap hit.

This one is hardly a new concept. In fact, in recent weeks it’s bubbled up from the fringes of hockey thinking to become a fairly regular talking point in Tavares speculation. And let’s be honest, at least part of that is because it’s a scenario that would favour the big-market Maple Leafs.

But there’s another good reason: It kind of makes sense.

That sort of contract would be essentially unheard of in the NHL. We occasionally see short-term deals signed by young RFAs, or by veteran UFAs nearing the end of their career. But an established star in his prime? Those guys almost always go for the longest deal they can get.

But look beyond the hockey world, and the idea starts to feel a little more familiar. NBA players have been willing to sign short contracts; LeBron James set the trend of stars signing one-year deals, and he’s made a fortune doing it. James seems like a pretty smart guy, so if the tactic is good enough for him, you’d think other athletes might at least want to consider it.

Would it be the right move for Tavares? From a purely financial perspective, sure. He’d almost certainly come out ahead on total dollars in the long run, perhaps significantly so. And he’d have control over his future, with the ability to leave a situation that wasn’t working and seek greener pastures elsewhere. That could give him a chance to try out a new home like Toronto, San Jose or Dallas. But it could also mean giving the Islanders one more year to get their act together and sell him on finishing his career there.

There would be downsides. For one, there’s the small but non-zero risk of an injury that torpedoes his long-term value. More importantly, it’s quite possible that Tavares isn’t enjoying his UFA journey, and isn’t eager to sign up to do it all over again a year from now. There’s something to be said for settling into a sense of permanence, even if it ultimately costs you a few dollars down the line.

But from a fan’s perspective, it would be fun to see Tavares blow up some long-held assumptions over how free agency is supposed to work. It feels inevitable that some NHL star will eventually go this route, and when it happens it will scramble our expectations of what an offseason looks like. It might even encourage more players to go to the market, and breathe new life into a UFA process that’s been getting dull over the years.

Tavares is in the perfect position to be that guy. He probably won’t, and if he chooses security and stability nobody will be able to blame him. But a little bit of short-term thinking would make things very interesting over the next few days.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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