Dose of Reality #34

February 28, 2007

Dose of Reality

One of the big myths that exploded yesterday was the one about the New NHL and the level playing field that was established after the lock-out. The myth told us that now, all the teams have the same salary cap and they couldn’t spend a dollar more to build their rosters. For us fans in Columbus, we are not to worry about Rick Nash leaving us because the team won’t be able to afford him. It explained why guys like Adam Foote and Sergei Fedorov were playing in Columbus instead of big market cities. We all have hope now because no longer will the small market NHL General Managers be constrained by money. Those GM’s that can evaluate talent and blend it into their teams will be winners.

Which is why a guy like Ryan Smyth was not supposed to be traded away because the Edmonton Oilers could not afford him. There is supposed to be room under the salary cap for your superstar. Unless you overpay for the players on the team who are not superstars. The hockey world saw the Edmonton Oilers forced to trade away not only a superstar but the face of their franchise to the Islanders, the laughing stock of the NHL last summer, a team whose GM (Garth Snow) was a journeyman goaltender just last season and who had a freshly awarded MBA from the U. of Maine.

The myth was shattered, that with money out of the picture it would be my GM against your GM and the one who can evaluate talent better would win. What I saw on Tuesday was a slightly different version of the old game: The GM’s roll the dice and put together their teams and with luck they will be in the play-off hunt at the trade deadline. If they continue to make poor decisions (like in Columbus) they will just send out a fax or email and announce whom they wanted to dump so that they can play the same game next October.

Money is still the major factor in the GM’s world, just a smaller amount than in the Old NHL. Why did the Oilers not have enough in the bank to pay Ryan Smyth? Where did it go? The Islanders have a highly paid unproductive superstar named Alexi Yashin, but they still had enough to go after Ryan Smyth. Garth Snow did not go for Smyth as a rental, by the way; he intends to sign him to a long-term contract. In the New NHL, you still need to pay your players a fair and competitive salary and not a dollar more. That is why Doug MacLean played hardball with Dan Fritsche last summer, why he fought Nikolai Zherdev, and why he let Trevor Letkowski go. At that point Doug went out to lunch and forgot the reality of being a General Manager in the New NHL, which is no different than it always was: You better know talent and you better pay the right amount for it.

The reality of being an ineffective GM is what we in Columbus have to live with. If your GM ties up money in unproductive players, the only thing you can do is smile and say “Thank you sir, may I have another!” We’re stuck, fans. A writer for the Globe & Mail in Canada said back in the first week of October that Doug MacLean is “on the verge of killing his play thing” and it appears that he has succeeded. The team doesn’t have much money, attendance is falling, sponsors are hard to find, and the only real prospect we have is the coach. What will happen next?

– Truth Serum

Drew’s note: Sorry Truth, I don’t usually hijack your posts like this, but I wanted to put my two cents in here rather than a comment.  I agree with your criticisms of Doug MacLean, but I would bet that many Edmontonians feel the same way about Kevin Lowe right now.  He paid premium dollars (and years) to guys like Fernando Pisani, Shawn Horcoff, and Dwayne Roloson.  All are okay in their own right, but none of them can hold a candle stick to “Captain Canada” Ryan Smyth.  Overpaying for marginal talent is not a concept native to Columbus.  Unfortunately, I think it will be a prevalent problem for quite a few franchises in this early age of the salary cap.  General managers are not forward-thinking enough to see how today’s moves affect the team’s tomorrow.  It’s important to remember (from a GM’s standpoint anyway) that the salary cap is not a static thing, where today only matters today.  It’s very fluid, and a skilled cap manager with good talent evaluators can do some real damage in the NHL.  My question is, who are these new star GM’s going to be?  Can we identify any currently in the NHL?  Again, sorry for taking over.


One comment

  1. Darcy Regier of Buffalo is supposed to be one of the sharp GM’s of the new NHL. Rumor has it that he has developed a software evaluation tool much like Billy Bean did for the Oakland A’s that gives him an advantage over his peers.

    As to overpaying, the NHL is littered with examples, but MacLean seems to be at the top of most writer’s lists. He was blasted by Wayne Gretzky when he overpaid Todd Marchant a few years ago and the Anson Carter debacle should earn Doug emeritus status. At the moment, Don Waddell in Atlanta is on the hot seat. But at least neither of these guys traded Joe Thorton!

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