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Directing your disappointment appropriately: A Doug MacLean primer

February 27, 2007

I’ve heard a lot lately about how upset some Jackets fans are regarding the return from Carolina for winger Anson Carter.  While it is troubling that a 2008 5th round draft pick is all we’re seeing, I fail to see how the situation could have been made better on Friday.  I think it’s worth our (CBJ fans) time to examine our frustration and disappointment and make sure we’re angry with team management for the right reasons.

In the National Hockey League, as in any professional sport, player value is based heavily on quantifiable performance.  Goals, assists, saves, wins.  These are the metrics that largely determine value and salary.  To be sure, there are other variables not-so-easily measure such as grit, leadership, and toughness.  But I would argue that one’s stat sheet plays a very large role.  And those numbers are viewed through a “what have you done for me lately?” microscope.  I think that this is where Blue Jacket fans need to keep their head and look at these trade deadline deals a little more objectively (and direct their disgust with Doug MacLean to the appropriate point in time).

Anson Carter

Anson Carter

(Former Jacket Anson Carter.  Photo by Jamie Sabau)

In his previous season with Vancouver, Carter put up 33-22-55 in 81 games and was a desirable commodity in the offseason.  Free agency started on July 1, but Anson remained unsigned as the summer steamed forward.  As the Nikolai Zherdev situation in Columbus remained unresolved and training camp was looming large, GM Doug MacLean signed Carter to a one-year contract worth $2.5 million on September 13.  It was being reported at the time of the signing that there were clubs offering in the $1.5-1.8 million range.  Doug decided to take chance (and thus reason) out of the equation and offer $2.5, well over market value. 

If the Canucks had opted to trade Carter at last year’s trade deadline, it would not have been inconceivable to have expected warm bodies (prospects) and or high draft picks in return.  Carter was having one of his top professional seasons, and at least provided a reasonable facsimile of a viable scoring threat.  One year later, Carter has put up 10-17-27 in 53 or so games for the Jackets.  Expecting the same return on vastly different results is an error, in my opinion.  Given Carter’s numbers, it’s hard to expect too much in return.  Unless your prospective trading partner has a perfect spot for that player, or is willing to overpay (a la Don Waddell), any team holding Carter is going to “lose” on the deal. 

It seems to me that all people can see is how well Anson played last year, and then say we should have gotten more.  In this era of the short attention span, last year is not only gone, it barely happened at all.  All anyone sees is a third or fourth line forward with 0.51 points per game.  Besides, it could have been worse.  Which brings us to our next subject up for examination…

Bryan Berard

Bryan Berard - Seive 

(It’s a seive, folks.  And a bad joke, to boot.)

Coming out of the lockout, Jackets management was surely hoping that the fans would forget how woeful the organization was in previous years and would be impressed by big-time free agent signings.  Adam Foote and Bryan Berard were inked to deals meant to show the fan base and the league that the Blue Jackets meant business.  A year after posting (due to the lockout) a decent 13-34-47 in 58 games with the Blackhawks (let’s not forget the -24 rating), Berard was signed to a two-year contract worth $5 million.

It was hoped that Berard would deliver offense, and at least be a serviceable d-man.  The offense was there (at least by CBJ standards) with 12-23-35 in 54 games played over two seasons.  But the serviceable d-man was absent, with Bryan earning a -34 rating  in those 54 games.  I don’t remember what the market was for Berard in the summer of 2005, but I’m betting it wasn’t $5 million over two years.  A guy who returned from a career-threating eye injury to put up 108 points in his next three seasons (220 games worth) is a heartwarming story.  But if I wanted a heartwarming story, I’d watch it for free on the Hallmark Channel.  I wouldn’t pay $5 million for a defenseman who can’t play defense.

The longer Bryan sat out with his back injury (which cost him a total of 82 games over two seasons), the more apparent it became to everyone, including Doug MacLean, that Berard was on his way out if/when he returned to action.  Everyone (management, fans, etc.) was hoping that Berard would do well when he returned.  Why?  So we could get the most in return for him at the trade deadline.  Doug knew he made a mistake, and tried to rectify the situation to the best of his ability.  Unfortunately, a day before the trade deadline Doug MacLean came to the realization that many of us had long before.  Nobody wants Bryan Berard.  He was placed on waivers yesterday.  Any team that wants him will get their shot with nothing being returned to the Jackets.  I wouldn’t give anything for him either.

Ty Conklin

Ty Conklin

(Former Jacket Ty Conklin.  Photo by Jamie Sabau.)

Prior to June 5, 2006 Ty Conklin was regarded as a decent backup goaltender.  But certainly one you didn’t want to have to rely on to win the Stanley Cup.  When Dwayne Roloson went down with a knee injury that day in Game One of the Cup Finals, Conklin was needed to do just that (if only for part of one period).  Coming in cold, Ty mishandled a puck behind the net and gave it to Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour who netted the game winner.  Conklin finished the game, and sat the bench for the next six games as the Oilers got that close to winning another championship.  Roloson was retained by Edmonton, and not surprisingly Conklin was let go.

Shortly after dealing Marc Denis to Tampa Bay for Fredrik Modin and Fredrik Norrena, Columbus GM Doug MacLean decided he needed another goaltender in camp to push the competition and signed Conklin to a one-year contract worth $1 million.  Rather than sign someone for less money or a more experienced name to mentor Pascal Leclaire, CGMDM went out and signed a lightly battle-tested Conklin to a salary worth more than all but eight guys on the roster at the time. 

Some folks will tell you, “it’s a two-way contract, so when he’s playing in Syracuse it doesn’t count against the cap.”  That is true, but to those people, I say this: IT’S STILL MONEY!  The cap is something that good teams worry about.  Losing money is something bad teams worry about, and the Blue Jackets have absolutely hemorrhaged dollar bills for Bryan Berard, Scott Lachance, Ty Conklin, Adam Foote, and on and on.

Conklin spent much of the year in Syracuse, and in his 11 appearances with Columbus he sported a (2-3-2) record, with a 0.871 Save% and 3.30 GAA.  Here’s a guy who makes $3,500 per save.  That’s almost Roberto Luongo money right there, he’s getting almost $3,850 per save (and going down by the minute).  Bottom line for me, one million dollars is too much to spend on a two-way contract.  Unless a guy is in Syracuse on a rehabilitation assignment or is a top level pick working his way through the system, he shouldn’t be making that kind of money in the AHL.  It’s my opinion, maybe not shared by all.

This morning, Conklin was shipped to Buffalo in exchange for a 2007 fifth-round pick.  I’m sure this doesn’t bother folks as much as the return for Carter (it is a 2007 draft pick after all -sarcasm off-), but it should cause all Jacket fans to look back to the signing of Conklin and scratch their heads a bit.

Conclusion

Three players, roughly $6 million in 2006-07 salary, and two fifth-round picks to show for it.  Jackets fans, don’t be upset with Doug MacLean for not getting more.  The greatest GM on the face of the earth couldn’t have done much better.  Be upset with Doug MacLean for overpaying for this talent in the first place.  It’s a theme, one that should be increasingly alarming to fans who keep pumping money into the MacLean machine in the form of tickets (including yours truly).  We need a responsible GM in place who can put together a competitive team for a reasonable price.  Not one who consistently mortgages the future of the franchise on second-tier talent.  At least if you’re going to blow millions, do it on a [edit: former] superstar.  Like Sergei Fedorov… yeah… that’s the ticket.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

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4 comments

  1. Great post… in fact, I think it’s among your best ever.

    Focusing on the future, MacLean and crew need to pick up some players in the offseason that will remind fans that this team is serious- sort of like what they tried with Berard and Foote, but this time they need to be serious about it. I don’t think it would take too much to do that… one or two big names and we’d probably be on our way. I want Hitch to be a key member of the selection committee though.


  2. Tyler,

    Thanks for the comments. This was probably one of my favorite posts to write. It reminded me very much of my rants I’ll go on at home that can last for quite a while when we’re watching hockey.

    Here’s hoping that things get turned around sooner than later.


  3. Finally someone from Columbus with an intelligent post and a clear idea of what MacLean is up against here. In Toronto you get a player for the “Leaf Discount” and in Columbus MacLean has to pay a premium for available talent. I also wonder with some of these aquisitions namely Federov, Modin,Carter,Berard and even Conklin to a lesser extent what influence ownership has on these deals. Or is MacLean such a good salesman that he has fooled ownership into accepting these deals? I thought that MacLean actually did ok with the 5th pick for Carter. Don’t forget that Carolina had to pay the remainder of a bloated salary. Do you ever get the feeling that the agents run the show in Columbus with all of the money that is throw around? Is Modin really worth almost $10 mil over the next three seasons? And we all thought MacLean had learned a thing or two about overpaying free agents. Great post, I like your vision.


  4. Thanks for the comments, Patrick.

    Sometimes I wonder how much management knows/cares about hockey, or if they just care about making money?

    The return on Carter is not optimal, but given the alternative (nothing), I’ll take it. I’m not sure that Modin is worth the money he got here to us, but he sure would be to someone. As Truth noted in a post above, what good is his signing if he’s playing with nobody?

    Thanks for stopping by.



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