In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Baseball gets a new CBA without a work stoppage. This should make you angry.
- Busting the myth of the all-important first goal
- An obscure player with an all-time great name
- The week's three comedy stars
- And on the 21st anniversary of his final game in Montreal, a YouTube look back at the origin story of Patrick Roy
Friday, December 2, 2016
In the Friday Grab Bag:
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Hockey fans had a reason to smile this week. A pro sports league was facing down the threat of a labour disruption while working to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement, and for once it wasn’t the NHL.
That ended last night, when word emerged that Major League Baseball and its union had reached a tentative deal. The league’s CBA had been set to expire at midnight last night, threatening to cancel the annual winter meetings and other offseason activities, and disrupt a labour peace that stretches back over two decades.
So no, hockey fans, yours isn’t the only sport that goes through this stuff. Still, the timing is interesting, coming in the midst of what seems like the first salvo of the hockey world’s next big showdown. The NHL’s offer to extend the CBA in exchange for Olympic participation sure seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to set up the NHLPA to take the blame for a 2020 work stoppage, and it will be interesting to see if fans fall for it. Either way, the pieces are starting to move around the board, even four years before hockey’s next lockout begins.
Meanwhile, hockey fans yearning for the good old days of analyzing CBA minutiae can get their fix by turning to baseball, where the expiring MLB agreement and the reported replacement hold some interesting ideas. Not all of them apply to hockey – one of baseball’s biggest sticking points was an international draft that the NHL wouldn’t need, for example. But many could, if the NHL wanted to get creative.
So as we wait patiently for hockey's next CBA apocalypse, let's flip through baseball's recent versions and see if there's anything that the NHL could borrow from the boys of summer.
IDEA #1: FREE AGENT COMPENSATION PICKS
One of the most contentious issues in recent MLB CBAs has been draft pick compensation for free agents. Introduced in the 1970s and modified over subsequent agreements, the concept calls for teams that lose players to free agency to be compensated with draft picks. Those picks could come from the signing team or from the league itself (or both), and depend on the quality of the player lost. But in its simplest form, the idea is to compensate teams that lose free agents, avoiding the worst-case scenario of watching a key player walk away for nothing in return.
It's worth pointing out that MLB players don't like the rule, and have been pushing back on it for years. You can see why. A team is less likely to want to spend big money on a free agent if they know that they'll also have to surrender a high draft pick as compensation. Players have fought to reduce the rule's scope; for example, the 2011 CBA limited compensation to players that had received a qualifying offer and been with a team for a full season.
This time around, MLB players pushed to have the concept dropped entirely, although reports say the new CBA will maintain it in a limited form.
Could it work in the NHL?: Anything like the most recent MLB rule would be fought hard by the NHLPA. After all, NHL teams are even more obsessed with hoarding draft picks than their MLB brethren. It's hard to imagine a team like the Oilers being willing to spend $42-million on Milan Lucic if they knew they'd also have to ship their first-round pick to a division rival.
That said, a modified version of the idea in which only league-supplied picks were in play could work. Under that scenario, the league could create new picks to compensate teams that lose certain UFAs. Those new picks could fall within the existing rounds, or perhaps in a new round altogether – MLB sandwiches a mini-round in between the first and second for exactly that purpose. That wouldn't even be all that new of a wrinkle for the NHL, which already creates compensation picks for unsigned draft picks.
From a fan's perspective, there would be pros and cons of the approach. On the one hand, the NHL's free agency market has been withering away over the years, as teams make sure to re-sign top players rather than lose them for nothing. Adding some compensation to the mix could encourage teams to let more players walk, resulting in more offseason fireworks on the open market. On the other hand, that would dry up the market for midseason rentals, making the trade deadline even less active than its recently been.
There are arguments on both sides. But either way, the NHL would want to make sure that any new free agent compensation rule didn't leave any obvious loopholes for teams to exploit. They've been down that road before.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Now that the Vegas Golden Knights have a name, a logo, and a future head coach, everyone is turning their attention to June's expansion draft. Who will the Knights end up with? Matt Murray? Jakob Silfverberg? Trevor van Riemsdyk? Maybe even an established veteran who waives a no-movement clause, like Dion Phaneuf or Rick Nash?
Those are all reasonably big names, and if the Golden Knights wound up picking any of them, you'd think it would make for a memorable moment.
Then again, maybe not. You see, sometimes NHL expansion teams end up taking big name players, and everyone just kind of forgets about it. That's because there's no guarantee that any player taken by an expansion team will ever actually play for that expansion team.
So today, let's take a look back at five fairly big names that have been called at expansion drafts of the past, and how they managed to avoid ever actually suiting up for the fledgling franchises that chose them.
Tim Kerr, 1991
Early NHL expansion drafts of the 60s and 70s were fairly standard. A handful of good players were picked, including names like Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall and Bernie Parent. But for the most part, the established teams didn't offer much in the way of talent, and the expansion franchises patched together a team with whatever they could find. That's why most of the early expansion teams were awful.
But by the time the second wave of expansion had hit in the 1990s, the new teams were willing to get a little more creative. Oh, they'd still be awful. But they realized that just because they drafted a player didn't mean they had to keep him, and it became common to see trades worked out as soon as the expansion draft was over (and sometimes even sooner).
Take the 1991 draft, for example. That was the weird expansion/dispersal hybrid that featured the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota North Stars, which we covered in some depth over the summer. The most famous weird pick from that draft was the very last one, in which the North Stars picked quasi-retired Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur because they didn't want any Quebec Nordiques and the rules wouldn't allow them to pass. But another well-known sniper was also taken that day.
That would be Tim Kerr, a four-time 50-goal scorer for the Flyers who'd been slowed down by injuries. By 1991, he hadn't put together a full season in four years. But he was still scoring at well over a point-per-game pace when he did play, and seemed like the sort of guy who could be a good gamble for a contender.
The Sharks weren't a contender, but the Rangers were. And so the Sharks grabbed Kerr off of the Flyer's unprotected list, and then immediately flipped him to the Rangers in exchange for Brian Mullen. It was a smart deal for San Jose; Mullen ended up being their second-leading scorer in their debut season. It worked out worse for the Rangers, as Kerr struggled through another injury-shortened year before being dealt to Hartford.
Heading into the 2016-17 season, there was something odd going on with the NHL's 30 teams. For the first time in years, everybody was trying to win.
That sounds like it should be standard operating procedure, but it's not, at least in today's NHL. In recent years, a handful of teams have clearly gone into each season with the intention of losing. Oh, the league swears that tanking never happens, and you're supposed to use terms like "strategic rebuild" in polite company, but fans know better. With surefire franchise players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews waiting for whichever team could secure the top pick in the last two drafts, some clubs were more than happy to camp out in the cellar and improve their lottery odds.
But not this year. This year, everyone came into the season looking like they were actually trying. It was kind of nice.
It was also two months ago. A quarter of the way into the season, it's becoming clear that some teams just aren't as good as they'd hoped to be. And it won't be long before the NHL's tank brigade starts to appear, engines revving as the race for Nolan Patrick begins.
So today, let's try to answer the question: Which NHL franchise is most in need of a good ol' fashioned rebuild?
Clearly, we don't need to do this for everyone. We can eliminate any team that's already contending, or reasonably close to it. That's a tricky thing to define, but let's go with this: Any team that's won a division title or been to a conference final over the last two seasons is considered a contender, and we won't worry about them hitting the reset button any time soon. That knocks 11 teams off the list.
We're also going to rule out a few teams that are already rebuilding, or were very recently. That means Buffalo, Toronto, Arizona and Edmonton are all out; nobody expects them to start over again so soon. And of course, we're not going to worry about the expansion Golden Knights, since you have to build something before you can rebuild it.
As it works out, that leaves us with 15 teams, or half of the current league. That seems about right. So let's start with the teams that are in the best shape and count our way down to the dregs as we ask the question: Is it time to tank?
15. Nashville Predators
The case for: They've had a disappointing year so far; after being a trendy preseason pick to contend for a Cup, they've struggled to even stay in the playoff mix.
Blame PK! Photo by Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
The case against: They've spent years building toward contender status, and seemed like they'd arrived this year. Pulling the chute because of a tough 20-game stretch would be a classic case of overreacting to small samples. They're reasonably young, the cap situation is solid, and the prospect pipeline is already in decent shape. With Pekka Rinne having just turned 34, goaltending is going to be an issue at some point soon, but otherwise, they should be fine.
The verdict: David Poile knows what he's doing. Next.
14. Philadelphia Flyers
The case for: They haven't won a playoff round since 2012, and a disappointing start to the season already has them looking like a long shot to break that streak this year.
The case against: The Flyers are a good example of a team that's spent the last few years executing a reload instead of a traditional hit-rock-bottom rebuild. They've only picked in the top ten of one of the last five drafts, but GM Ron Hextall has been building patiently and amassing good young players. Between Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, they've already got some excellent young talent.
The verdict: Philadelphia fans aren't known for their patience, but Hextall deserves some time to see his plan play out.
13. Winnipeg Jets
The case for: In five seasons since returning to Winnipeg, they've yet to win a single playoff game. And they've been a letdown yet again this year, struggling to climb into the playoff race in a tough Central Division.
The case against: They're already the league's youngest team, with a stocked pipeline that had some experts handing them future Stanley Cups—and that was before they added a legitimate blue chip stud in Patrik Laine. If anything, they're one of the teams that might want to be moving picks and prospects to make a leap right now.
The verdict: Hope can only sustain you for so long, and at some point soon, all that future potential has to start translating into something in the present. If it doesn't, that will fall at the feet of coach Paul Maurice, or maybe even GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. But a rebuild? Not for a while yet.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Last week, we looked at ten types of bad NHL contracts, along with some tips on how general managers could avoid them.
This generated a fair amount of discussion and feedback, much of which fell into one of two main groups.
The first — and by far the most common — of those two groups was something along the lines of this: “Hey dummy, you listed a player on my favourite team as a bad contract but he’s not because he’s really good and my team’s GM is super smart and never makes any mistakes!”
Fair enough. That was probably to be expected.
But the second most common feedback was: What about the other side of the coin? Where's the post on all the good contracts?
That's a decent idea. Who says we're only allowed to focus on the negative around here?
So today, we're going to flip the script and focus on the good contracts.
But we'll need one caveat. Unlike the list of bad contracts, we're not going to do ten different types. (Yes, the blogger's handbook says we should aim for some symmetry between the two posts, but that's not going to be possible here.)
To be honest, I had to trim the bad contracts list down to get it to ten, which is why categories like "The overly aggressive new owner who orders his GM to do something dumb" and "The GM who doesn't care about the future because he knows he's getting fired soon" didn't make the cut.
That won't be the case with the today's list, because the reality is GMs still sign more bad deals than good ones.
So we won't get to ten, but we'll do the best we can. And we'll start with the very best contracts of all.
(Specific cap numbers in this post are via CapFriendly.)
THE ENTRY-LEVEL DEALThe contract: This is easily the most obvious category. Entry-level deals almost always provide good value, and at times can be almost ridiculously cost-effective.
That's how the CBA is designed – players have to pay some dues on their first contract before they can start down the road to making the big money.
In a league where young players (especially forwards) often have some of their most productive years early on, that adds up to the potential for team reaping enormous value on these contracts.
Sure, occasionally a youngster with a bonus-laden deal will trigger those bonuses for a cap-strapped team, rolling the cap hit into the following season and causing headaches. But even in those cases, it's other bad contracts on the books that are causing the cap squeeze — not the young star who's still making far less than he could on the open market.
How to make it happen: Stockpile picks, draft well, and then develop those prospects into players who can contribute in the big leagues. In other words, exactly what every team in the NHL already says it wants to do.
We did say this was the obvious category.
But if you want a degree of difficulty, the real trick here is to find a way to compete for a Stanley Cup while at least a few of your best players are still on their ELCs. That's what teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping they can manage, but it's rare to see a team pull it off. See the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks for an example of what can happen if you do.