Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Slip Sliding

I always found it interesting during the lockout and postlockout as well to hear people bemoan the end of the non salary cap era. Now to be sure I am biased, being an Oilers' fan, but I'm not sure how allowing certain teams an advantage over others due to market size and revenue streams is good for a sport. Being a small market or mid market team (NJ) did not mean certain failure just as being a big market team (Rangers) did not mean success but allowing certain teams to have a better chance of success then others based on their population base and revenue streams (not to mention that the owner might be a pizza baron or some such) just seems foolish to me.

Surely smart drafting and development could help a small market team compete - God knows the Oilers wasted too many picks on the likes of Kelly and Bonsignore over the years - but the apologists (especially here in Toronto) who noted that Calgary and Tampa were in the finals in 2003/2004 also failed to note that both teams had struggled for years to get to that point and that without a Cap both would have been picked apart quickly, forced to trade players whose salaries ballooned in arbitration or who held out for bigger money and losing veterans to free agency. So a year or two of competitiveness and then back in the toilet while the Leafs, Flyers, Wings etc banked payrolls twice or three times that of competitors.

No guarantee of success but certainly an edge.

Without a cap would the Wings have seen Shanahan depart and replaced Legace with Hasek. Or would they have signed Gerber or Roloson as well as traded for Pronger and for good measure added Peca for some grit. Or maybe signed Chara? Or would they have added Khabibulin last summer?

Anyhow, I know the age of the dynasty is probably over and for many parity is a dirty word but I prefer a league where my team (inherent bias) has a chance to win the Cup or at least make the playoffs regularly if their management team is smart and where a team which neglects the draft and has a poor record of developing its own players will continue its 39 year streak of not only not winning the Stanley Cup but not even making the finals.

Which leads us to today's team - the Avs. Now, like the Wings, Stars and Devils I don't really begrudge the Avs their success of the past decade. They always drafted well and then filled the holes by trading youngsters (Robyn Reghyr) for the veterans they thought might put them over the top. Or not.

But I think they are about to join the Caps, Blues and Leafs as former big spenders on the post lockout scrapheap. First Forsberg and Foote, now Blake and Tanguay. I look at this team and they are a real mishmash which generally means a whole lot of trouble. They have a goalie who seems to have lost it, a pile of defencemen who, with the exceptions of Leopold and Vaananen, really leave a lot to be desired and up front, Heyduk, Svatos and Joe Sakic, who looks like he is going to end a terrific career (one of the best) where he started it. At the bottom.

Of course I thought they would be out of it last year too. Joel Quennville is one of the best in my book. And they have some other guys I like - Lapierre, Konawalchuk and good Sudbury (actually he's from the Valley I believe) boy Andrew Brunette.

But Brisebois? Turgeon? Arneson? Etc. Etc.


Lacroix got out when the getting was good.


Anonymous said...

I think that you overlooked a key point in their rise. I think the one thing that put them over the top was a player that they did NOT develop - Eric Lindros. They (Quebec) received Forsberg, Hextall, Ricci, Duschene and 2 picks for him. In most peoples' minds Forsberg for Lindros is an uneven trade - let alone all of the other assets that Lacroix was given to play with. (As an aside, I think that the Pronger trade will provide the Oiler's with a similar bonus, but it'll take longer to show up because of the younger assets in the basket from Anaheim.)

You're exactly right that Lacroix got out while the getting was good.

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

The Lindros deal turned out to be beyond huge for the Nords/Avs of course. Funny to note how the Sundin trade did little for their fortunes but to get Roy and Mike Keane they gave up three decent guys but nobody like Mats.

Can't even remember who they gave up for Bourque.

The Avs played it smart. They drafted well. Still do. They traded to fill areas of need. They were able to resign key homegrown guys, one of the keys to being a big money team. The Wings, the Stars, the Yankees in baseball, all retain their star players.

How many big name free agents did the Avs sign over the years - not many.

Steve said...

Couldn't agree with you more re: salary cap. I'm sick and tired of hearing people, even Oilers fans, talk about how the salary cap has punished success and in so doing ruined the game.

Basically, the problem with the old NHL is that there was no equality of opportunity - some teams, as you stated, just had a better shot at success than others. The salary cap fixed this, to a pretty great extent (though as long as Edmonton is Edmonton, it appears that we're going to be at some kind of disadvantage at attracting and retaining top talent).

The thing is that the salary cap and the simultaneous lowering of free agent ages (which was clearly undesirable from a fan's perspective, but which was probably necessary to get the players to agree to a cap) brought with it a certain amount of equality of condition, which is unfortunate (because it means that even if you draft well, trade well, and develop prospect - basically, even if you take advantage the opportunity you have better than all the other teams with approximately equal opportunity - you'll still have to ship away talent).

To simplify, then, there used to be neither equality of opportunity nor equality of condition. Now there's both. I certainly prefer the latter to the former.

(Ideally you'd have equality of opportunity but no equality of condition - a perfect meritocracy). But unless we're going to turn the clock back to the days when players were basically serfs, that's not going to happen.)

Oh, and you're probably right about the Avs, too.

lowetide said...

Quenneville's almost too good in a Gene Mauch kind of way. He got so much from a mediocre St. Louis squad that they inevitably drafted down the ladder instead of rebuilding.

Add to that the Pleau glue-sniff trades of guys like Nagy and Hecht and Quenneville was underrated even before he got to Denver.

uni said...

I have to grudgingly agree with you here BD. The only thing that rankles is that tendency emerging where the 'high' end talent gets all the money, the 'low' end guys all get snapped up, and the 'mid' level guys get screwed.

Then the guys like JFJ who kibosh everything by signing a lot of D for certain prices.

I think the cap is a good thing, but I would really like to see some sort of 6 million maximum limit for players or something (although I know it won't happen) and GMs have a mandatory psychosis check to make sure they don't pull any JFJs.

I would also be very interested in having the NHL open their books to public scrutiny. Sure sucks for the bigger market teams like the Leafs though.

Earl Sleek said...

Can't even remember who they gave up for Bourque.

I know it involved uberhero Sami Pahlsson and I'm pretty sure Brian Rolston was in that package also.

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

uni, you can't legislate against stupidity - the only positive now is that JFJ is locked into four dmen for the next three years at least and cannot just buy two or three more next summer to cover his mistakes - so if you're not too smart then you will lose your job, unless you are Mike Milbury or Bob Pulford.

cap sucks for the Leafs etc sure, although they never did anything with that big advantage except rake in extra cash from playoff dates, but as I said (actually steve put it a lot more eloquently) there is now an equal shot for all teams - the idea that this is like real life and thus the free market should just play itself out (Al Strachan's argument) is ludicrous - its a sports league and as a member of the club you should have the opportunity to at least compete with other members of the club if you have the smarts to do so

now, another argument is that certain teams still can spend more money then others - the Leafs will always bump against the Cap while the Preds will not - but what is better - a 10 Million spread between payrolls or a 50 million dollar spread?

As for the players - it will be interesting to see what happens as it plays out - the stars will get their money but I think the midlevel guys - Stoll, Kubina, Roloson etc are doing ok too - its guys like Carter and Dvorak who may have overplayed their hands who seem to be taking a bath

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

no kidding Earl - damn the Avs can draft, huh?

Anonymous said...

uni - the salary spread was wider before the cap - Pronger, Bure Jagr were making $10M. There seemed to be just as many $500,000-$1M players then as now. Now the difficult spot is in the $2M-$3M range - look at the free agents still sitting. These mid-level guys had wide variations on their worth depending on the market they were playing in and none of the small markets could afford to pay them well. (Holik) That is gone now. I say good riddance. The top level talent have been cut back to $6-$7M now and total league payroll is the same as it was the year prior to the lockout so, that reduced payroll is being paid out to the rest of the roster. It seems to mee that more $1M-$2M players are around now. How is this less fair?

This whole bimodal salary is unfair arguement is just crap invented in Leafland. It was less fair before when the Rangers and Predators had totally different abilities to add a player like Anson Carter to their roster.

Strachan needs to take a look at the real facts.

Earl Sleek said...

no kidding Earl - damn the Avs can draft, huh?

Yes, although I think Rolston was a NJ draft pick. If my memory is any good, he was sent to Colorado in exchange for Claude Lemieux before the Devils took another cup in 2000.

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

I believe you are right.

I always include that type of deal when I evaluate a team's smarts too - scouting out another team and finding out which young players or prospects are going to work out is such a big part of it as well - I look at the Oilers for example and while a guy like Raffi Torres was not an Oiler draft pick per se I almost count him as one - being able to separate the real players from the pretenders counts for a lot

one such trade - when the Leafs sent Gilmour to NJ and received Alyn MacCauley, Steve Sullivan and Jason Smith - a terrific trade really except of course they dumped Smith and Sullivan and then traded MacCauley and Brad Boyes for Owen Nolan -

Still can't figure out this whole 39 year thing and why it will be 40 years next summer

uni said...

Well, I'm not saying the cap is a bad thing, I agree with it anon. I was just saying it sucks to for the Leaf fans now.

BD I agree that JFJ's aucmen or lack thereof will result in him leaving eventually, but he has the Leafs strapped down for 5 years into 3 D and 3 years into 4. Net result is JFJ walks away with a lined pocket and the Leaf fans are the ones that get screwed =(.

It's still too early to see how the salaries settle down seeing as it's only been 1 year of the cap so far, and the learning curve seems to be very steep for some GMs, it'll be interesting to see what happens and what trends develop.

By the by, I'm happy that teams like Buffalo, Pittsburg (if they survive), and especially the Oil get to compete on a fairly level playing field now. It wasn't much fun watching Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Phili, and Toronto throwing mad cash around and signing up all the big names and 40 million differences in payrolls. I would mention NYR, but seemed more of a curse than a blessing to have money to spend on that team in the recent past.

Doogie said...

I think the cap is a good thing, but I would really like to see some sort of 6 million maximum limit for players or something (although I know it won't happen)

< Tom Benjamin's site post >
Well, there is the 20%-of-the-cap limit, which is a great idea in principle, until you realize that two (presumably elite) max-earners will completely fuck you for the length of their contracts. 15%, this year, would be $6.6M, though that still probably wouldn't have a significant impact. 10% ($4.4M) would be ideal in the sense of being able to both keep the talent you have and add to it meaningfully, and opens the possibility of pulling a early-00s Rangers (Sather needs a budget to build a proper team), just to keep GMs honest. I mean, would Tampa have had to give up Khabibulin, Modin, and Sydor if the Big Three were only totalling ~$13M? It'll also never happen, because the players are not stupid, though reducing the individual cap might be something the owners want to consider, anyway, even if it is by only a couple of percentage points, in order to counterbalance the impact of arbitration and liberalized free agency (which, by the way, I totally agree with you on).
< /Tom Benjamin's site post >

As for Colorado, I see them dropping in the standings for the fourth straight year, this time right out of the playoffs. I should also point out Wojtek Wolski, who played pretty well in his 9-game cup of coffee, and should be good this year. Still, the question is whether either Khabibulin in Chicago or Theodore in Colorado will respond after simply awful years last year. I think Theodore was a better goalie than Khabibulin when both were at their best, but I don't know that either is going to significantly jump back into the All-Star forms they once had. Oh, and that D? Uh-uh.

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Yep, I noted Wolski as well when I was looking at their lineup - interesting to see if he sticks (he likely does) and if he can produce over a full season (???).

I have serious doubts as to Theodore or Khabibulin bouncing back. It may happen but I can't see it - confidence is everything and its not like either guy is playing behind the 95 Devils.

As for the individual cap numbers the interesting thing to note is how many guys get that number - you look at ho wmany teams are bumping against that 40-44M number now and the fact that so many guys are getting long term deals - as an example where would Toronto find the space to sign a 20% guy in th enext couple of years? or NJ? Etc etc etc.

Only so much money to go around which means some guys aren't going to get that dough and some lower end / middle guys are really going to get squeezed.