Thursday, July 4, 2019

The 20 stages of watching your team make a horrible free agency mistake

We’re a few days into the 2019 free agency period, and while there a handful of decent names and useful depth pieces still available, for the most part, the market has been picked clean.

And chances are, your favorite team signed at least one big contract. How are you feeling about that? You might be feeling pretty good, especially if you’re new at this. But if you’ve been around for a while, and you’re familiar with the history of big UFA deals, you’re probably feeling something that ranges from gnawing doubt to outright panic.

If so, that’s to be expected. It’s all part of being a hockey fan in the first week of July. So today, let’s calm those nerves and reassure everyone that what they’re feeling is perfectly normal, as we run through the 20 stages of finding out your team has signed a terrible free agency deal.

Stage 1: The first rumors

You’ll never quite remember where you first heard the original rumor. It might be on Twitter. It could be some talk radio segment. You might hear it from a friend who swears he heard it from a friend whose uncle-in-law used to work with the assistant GM’s former cleaning lady. But at some point, somebody strings together a sentence featuring a player’s name, your favorite team, and a number that is just way too high.

Stage 2: You laugh at those rumors

I mean, come on. That much? For that guy? Nice try. Granted, your team’s GM isn’t exactly crushing it out there. He’s been known to make the occasional mistake. He’s lost a few trades, and overpaid on a few contracts. Also, he once ended a press conference by confidently striding away from the podium and then pulling on a door labeled “PUSH” for half an hour.

So no, he’s not the second coming of Sam Pollock. But he’s also not a complete imbecile. You’re not remotely worried. Besides, if there was any truth to it, one of the real insiders would be reporting it.

Stage 3: One of the real insiders reports it

Uh oh.

OK, that’s a bad sign. Those guys are pretty plugged in, and they don’t make stuff up. If they’re talking about it, there has to at least be something to it.

This is not good.

Stage 4: You talk yourself into the cap hit as long as the term is reasonable

Look, the numbers being thrown around are pretty crazy. But what if this is one of those short-term deals? Those happen sometimes. Your team has a bit of cap room this year, after all. Sure, you were hoping they’d use it to fill one of the roughly nine different holes in the roster, but maybe they could just give it all to this guy on a one-year deal. Aren’t expiring deals for a lot of money a good thing? You could swear you heard your NBA fan friend say that once.

One year would be fine. Two, you could live with. It’s the term, not the cap hit.

Note: This is the point where one of the insiders will break in to report that the term is going to be, and I’m quoting, “for all eternity.” But you’ll probably get some cap relief on the day the sun explodes, so you’ve got that going for you.

Stage 5: The desperate search for any rumors linking the player to any other team

Please, let somebody else be linked to this guy. You don’t even care who. There has to be some other sucker out there.

Social media follows will be tailored. Radio and TV stations will be scanned. Google News alerts will be set up. You will develop a deep and abiding interest in KHL transfer rules. Somebody else out there has to be talking about this guy too, right?

Except they aren’t. And you know what that means…

Stage 6: The deal gets announced

This is always a fun moment, especially if this is one of the rare cases where you’ve skipped steps one through five entirely because the deal is coming out of the blue. You haven’t had the chance to brace yourself at all, and suddenly you get blindsided by a name and a number that don’t make sense. These sort of surprise signings are uncommon these days, especially with the week-long interview window, but they still happen occasionally.

Assuming you’ve had some advance warning and your team is at least a little bit smart, the final deal won’t be quite as bad as you’d been led to believe. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon, but teams are starting to figure out that it can help to let a slightly higher number leak ahead of time so that the actual price seems reasonable by comparison. This will make you feel better for roughly 30 seconds before you run the numbers and realize they’re still awful.

If your team isn’t a little bit smart, then the official announcement will be even worse than you thought and you’ll need to go and lie down in a dark storage closet for the rest of the day.

(Also, bonus points if your team does that adorable “terms will not be disclosed” thing, just to give you an extra two minutes of hope before Pierre LeBrun discloses the exact terms down to the dollar.)

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