Saturday, July 08, 2006

Defending Lou

Lowetide has a great post about Sam Pollock and how he manipulated the expansion draft in 1967 so that he was able to keep his team together as well as all of his youngsters in his farm system.

Its interesting to me because Pollock is known as one of the greatest GMs of all time, if not the greatest, and he helped his own cause dramatically by writing the rules the ways he did. He ended up with an unfair advantage although one wonders what opposing GMs were thinking when they ok'd all of this. They probably just didn't see it coming, I guess.

Now we have a change in the way business is done in the NHL and many of the GMs who ran the big money teams in the 90s and early 'oughts are running into issues themselves now that they don't have the luxury of throwing money after their big mistakes. The guys who had unfair competitive advantage then are, in some cases, being exposed as not being very astute after all. Interesting to note, as a sidebar, that Glen Sather, who built a terrible team when he had all of the money in the world, suddenly has turned the Rangers around now that the playing field is far more level. Weird, huh? It seems now thta he has to use his brain again he suddenly is a far better GM.

Bobby Clarke tied his own hands with the large and longterm deals for Hatcher and Rathje. He cannot trade them. They are untradeable. He cannot buy them out because of how this will effect his Cap room. He is stuck with two dinosaurs.

But the guy I really want to look at is a probable future Hall of Famer, Lou Lamoriello. Under Lou, the Devils won three Stanley Cups and have a team that has been competitive year after year. The Devils were usually around #10 or so in payroll, in the top half of the league, but not one of the big money teams. Lou always played hardball in contract negotiations. Holdouts were left to rot or they were traded. Veterans were almost brought in by trade. The team was built from within. They rarely got involved in the annual UFA sweepstakes. Having said that Lou was always able to sign his key guys it seems. They weren't cash strapped like, well, the Oilers. I would think in the old NHL Lou is the guy you would pick to build a team if you were starting a franchise.

But after the lockout Lou stumbled and badly. With cornerstone Dmen Scott Stevens (retired) and Scott Niedermeyer (free agency) gone, Lou cast about for replacements, misread where the league was going and overpaid. Vladimir Malakhov was gone before the end of the year. Alex Mogilny too. And Dan McGillis. Their salaries - 3.6, 3.5 and 2.2 Million bucks. And the Devils are on the hook for all of it. He's also on the hook for Richard Matvichuk for 1.368, another guy who struggled last season, but at least stuck with the team.

Over 9 million in guys in the minors or at home. Another 1.3+ for a guy who can't keep up.

When the UFA season began it looked like his cornerstone Patrick Elias would be gone as well as useful veteran Jamie Langenbrunner. But he signed them both, as well as Colin White, to longterm deals.

To me, Lou had lost it. He's already pushing the Cap and still has to sign key RFAs Gomez, Gionta, Paul Martin and David Hale. The Devils are doomed, right? Going to Leafland?

Wait a second, I thought today. There is a method to his madness, I think.

1/ Notice the guys have Lou has signed to longterm deals - Elias, Brodeur, Langenbrunner, White - all longterm Devils with Stanley Cup rings. This franchise has always had stability. My guess is that these players as well as a couple of Rafalski, Brylin, Marshall, Pandolfo and Madden will be expected to be the core leadership group moving ahead.

2/ Some of the above players will likely be moved to cut salary and to get picks and prospects. What would Madden bring? Rafalski? Even a player like Brylin? Pretty good return I would think.

3/ Gomez will likely be moved as well - Lou will get under the Cap, at a cost.

4/ The Devils will have a lot of youngsters in the lineup this season and many will be cast in prominent roles. Sink or swim. They may not make the playoffs although they might sneak in. I wouldn't bet against them.

5/ Next season they will have Malakhov and Mogilny off the books. And going forward, McGillis and Matvichuk too. Suddenly Lou will have room. He will have his core of experience veterans. He will have Hale, Martin, Parise etc having gained experience in bigger roles (assuming they can hack it) as well as other youngsters in his system (you know they're coming) and the youth he picked up from the deals he is about to make. If these guys don't replace the guys he had to trade (I'll bet on Rafalski and Gomez) then he will have the money to pick up their replacements - RFAs coming the other way from teams in Cap trouble.

The Devils are going to be alright. They'll pay for Lou's mistakes from last year this season. Hopefully Lowe will be a guy who can benefit. But I'd bet that as early as next season they are on the right track again. And that this won't happen to them again.

Compare them to the mess in Toronto. That's for another day though.


lowetide said...

Lou is one of the greats imo. He got his team into the playoffs and through a series in what can only be termed a transition season.

THEN he signs his two ufa's after all agreed he might not get any.

Someday we might want to feel sorry for Lou, but it's a helluva long way off.

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Agreed LT - its funny - when he signed Elias my first reaction was "what the hell is he doing? Now he's over the Cap!"

I suspect he's kicking himself for last year's mistakes - he is going to lose a couple of good players because of them.

But give him credit for identifying the guys who he feels cannot be replaced, biting the bullet and getting them signed.

The reality of it is - who do you want on your team - Elias or Gomez? That is a simplification but its the question he faced.