30 July 2009

The Detroit Red Wings newest franchise defenseman...

With the 15th pick in the 2nd round, #45 overall, in the CLS redraft, the Detroit Red Wings selected defenseman Duncan Keith. With a cap hit of only 1.475M/yr (for this year, at least), and a stat line of 77GP 8G+36A=44P and +33, playing ~25 minutes a night, Keith was a bargain that couldn't be passed. Especially after having deviated from my original plan of grabbing a defenseman in the first round, I really wanted to get a top end defender in the second. Jay Bouwmeester was considered, but with a cap hit reaching close to 7M, it just wasn't going to happen. I'm not unhappy to "settle" for Keith though, as I think he is either at the top level of defensemen in the NHL, or very very close to it, and at only 26 years old, I don't think he's hit his ceiling yet. What's not to love about this pick?

One of the interesting things about how this CLS redraft is working out is the way some people are drafting, based on what metric they want to win by. RudyKelly has discussed the fact that he doesn't care about any other metric except winning the NHL10 simulation. Some people are drafting to try to win the fantasy hockey league that will be created out of this. What am I trying to win by? I guess I'm going for the judging panel win.

I don't just want to build a team on paper by putting a bunch of snipers on my team, and ignore the fact that there would be no one to do the dirty work on such a team. I want to build a team that would actually work, if it were put together. Even if I come in last by every "metric", if I have a team that I think would be fun to watch and hard to play against, I'll be happy. Picking up Jarome Iginla in the first, and Duncan Keith in the second is a long way towards making a competent and tough team. Your team might be flashier than mine, but my team will knock you on your ass.

Also, since I couldn't find it for the Iginla selection post, here's the "Shift" commercial with Iginla. Personally, I think its right up there with the "35 pounds" commercial at the top of the NHL commercial mountain. Massive props to James O'Brien for grabbing it off Youtube for me, since I was at work.

26 July 2009

Jarome Iginla is now a Detroit Red Wing

In the CLS NHL redraft, that is.

With the 16th overall pick in the first round, I was able to snag Jarome Iginla. The pick was agonizingly hard for me though. Having stalled for a little bit on pick 14, I was given plenty of time to agonize over who to take. Personally, I would prefer to build a team from a pillar or two on the blueline and out, much like the Red Wings and Ducks have over the last few years, though I would prefer the physicality of the Ducks' system, if I got to choose. Heading into the draft, I was sure I would take a top flight defenseman. Since this redraft is for one season only, I was not constrained by issues of age (except as it would effect this year's performance), so I was really considering Chris Pronger, for reasons explained before, as well as Zdeno Chara. Unfortunately, Chara went at #15 to the Blue Jackets, so that Chris Pronger sitting alone on my chart of top-notch elite defensemen in the league,

However, as I copied a bunch of players off the NHL stat sheets into a spreadsheet to switch around and make a "big board" for my draft, one name in the forward column was screaming at me. Jarome Iginla embodies everything that I love about hockey. He can score. He fights. He hits. He can help out in his own end. He has endless amounts of passion for the game. He won't be knocked off the puck. He can put an entire team on his back. I love everything about Iginla, but he went completely against the philosophy for how I wanted to build my team. But picking Pronger would make me feel like a dirty traitor. What to do?

What ultimately settled it for me was this passage from wikipedia:

Iginla married his high school sweetheart, Kara, and the couple has three children: Jade, Tij and Joe. They had been dating since they were in the eighth grade.[4] He has two brothers, Jason and Stephen, and two sisters, Theresa and Elizabeth.[68] He is an avid golfer and a regular participant in the Calgary Flames Celebrity Charity Golf Classic.[4]

He is well known for his kind-hearted nature. Former Flames general manager Craig Button described Iginla as being grounded: "he doesn't carry himself with any attitude or arrogance. He's confident in his abilities. He's self-assured. He's genuine. He's a better person than he is a player, and we all know what kind of player he is."[69] In 2002, while in Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympic Games, Iginla struck up a conversation with four Calgarians sitting next to his table, and found out they were sleeping in their car outside of the hotel. He excused himself from the conversation, and booked them accommodations at his own expense at the hotel his family was staying in.[70]

Since 2002,[71] he has operated the Jarome Iginla Hockey School in Calgary as a non-profit organization, donating proceeds to the Diabetes Research Association.[4] In 2004, he was awarded the NHL Foundation Player Award for his community service and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition of his humanitarian contributions.[72] Iginla supports many charities. In 2000, he began donating $1,000 per goal he scored to KidSport, a figure he doubled to $2,000 in 2005. From 2000 through to the end of the 2008 season he donated $430,000 from this initiative.[4]

Iginla is a part owner of the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.[73] He purchased a minority share in the franchise, along with fellow NHL players Shane Doan, Mark Recchiand Darryl Sydor, in October 2007.[74] He is also an ambassador with the NHL Diversity program, which supports youth hockey organizations that offer economically disadvantaged kids the opportunity to play.[75] Since 2008, he has been a hockey spokesperson for Scotiabank, appearing in commercials and at events supporting its grassroots hockey programs,[76] as well as for Samsung Canada.[77]

I've said in multiple places before that the way to grow this game is not to put it on ESPN or turn every game into a shootout, but instead to grow the game manually, but putting hockey sticks into the hands of more kids. Getting kids out there, whether its with just a tennis ball and a trash can or a fancy ice rink and a rubber puck, thats the best way to grow the game. One of the commercials that I really like on the NHL network is the "Hockey is for Everyone" commercials, which Iginla is a part of, because its the truth. Everyone, whether its rich suburban white kids, poor inner city black kids, or anywhere in between, should have a hockey stick put in their hands at a young age. Sometimes there is a tendency for people to think that just because you're black or mexican or whatever, that hockey isn't for you. This stereotype is one of the things that holds the game as a whole back, and keeps it from reaching a wider audience. Iginla does a lot of work in this area of growing hockey amongst minorities and the poor. For that alone, I'd be proud to have him on my team.

(Plus, unfortunately I can't get a link to it right now, but wasn't the "Shift" commercial one of the two best NHL commercials of all time? To me, that and the "35 pounds" commercial are 1-2 in some order.)

21 July 2009

Is an offer sheet in the cards for Phil Kessel?

Puck Daddy has an article up today discussing the Boston Bruins' options for dealing with Phil Kessel, and they touch on whether or not he is even worth the potential cap headache that would ensue with getting him signed to any sort of contract. One thing that stuck out to me though was the complete dismissal of the idea of an offer sheet being floated to Kessel, based on this post from the Blueland Chronicle. I've always thought that offer sheets were an interesting and effective way to add pieces to a team, without having to get into the bidding wars of July 1st. I think the offer sheet route is still a very attractive way to end this stalemate between Kessel and the Bruins, and I think that route is totally doable, because Blueland Chronicle is missing a couple of important facts here.

First of all, per the Puck Daddy article, the Boston Bruins only have 2.862M in cap space for this coming year. My understanding of the way the cap works is that you don't have to be cap compliant until a game starts, so if the Bruins wanted, they could sign Kessel to a deal for more than that 2.862M in cap room, but then they would be in a bad situation in trying to get back below the cap. If you're already above the cap, rival GM's aren't going to do you any favors. In trying to shed that couple million in salary, they're going to ask for draft picks or prospects in return for helping you get back under the cap. Getting into cap trouble late in the summer is a pretty bad situation to be in.

Because of the Bruins cap situation, an offer to Kessel doesn't need to be somewhere north of 5M, as Blueland Chronicle suggests. Unless the Bruins have a transaction in their back pocket that is going to create more cap room, their offer to Kessel has to be 3M at the top end. Kessel obviously would be most happy with a contract in excess of 5M, but the reality is that his options are somewhat limited. The Bruins aren't going to be giving him 5M/yr any time soon, unless someone forces their hand. Kessel has to be aware of this, and so if he gets an offer sheet for say 4M-ish a year, it's going to look pretty good by comparison. A 4M/yr offer sheet would be a little harder for Boston to match.

The second important thing that I think Blueland completely missed here is that Blueland seems to think that an offer sheet that does not land a player on your team is a failure, and I think that supposition is patently wrong. In the article, Blueland Chronicle discusses an offer sheet of 5M/yr for Kessel, and guesses that Boston would match it, making the offer sheet a lost cause for the Thrashers. I would argue that making Boston spend 5M on a player they don't want to spend that much money on would be a victory in and of itself. If Boston is forced to spend 5M on Kessel, suddenly, they're forced to rid themselves of 2.2M in salary to get under cap. This means they're going to give up depth in terms of roster players, as well as probably draft picks or prospects in order to get other people to take on the salary when they're in a pinch. That definitely helps the rest of the Eastern Conference to help knock down the recently competitive Bruins back to the rest of the pack.

In the 2010-11 offseason, when the cap is expected to fall down at least a couple million, the Boston Bruins already have 37.675M committed to 10 players. If this hypothetical 5M/yr offer sheet for Kessel were matched by the Bruins, that would grow to 42.675 for 11 players, with raises due to Lucic, Wheeler, and Rask, and players like Aaron Ward, Marc Savard to be resigned, as well as filling out a 20 man gameday roster. Depending how much the cap shrinks, that could be a bit of a pinch for Boston. Forcing them to skimp on other positions or lose depth or flexibility under the cap is a big help to their rivals. In this case, while the hypothetical offer sheet wouldn't get another roster player onto the Thrashers squad, it would still be striking a blow against an Eastern Conference power. Knocking your opponent down is often just as good as elevating yourself, and this is one way to do that.

All that said, if I were a rival GM, especially one in Boston's division, I'd try to float Kessel an offer for about 3.9M/yr for 3-4 years. If the Bruins fail to match, you're out a 1st and 3rd, which would be a great trade, and you still get the kid at a decent price. If the Bruins match it, then they will have to give up some sort of depth or pick/prospect, and you're no worse off than you were before.

13 July 2009

Am I the only one who likes to see a millionaire sweat?

One of the most interesting things to me about the NHL is the Business of Hockey, even aside from the hockey itself. On a more personal level, I absolutely love it when people presumed to know what they're doing turn out to not have a clue at all. One of my favorite things about the world of intelligent blogging is that it makes it pretty clear that there is an awful lot of people entrusted with the stewardship multi-million dollar enterprises, presumably because they know what they're doing, who are actually just as amazingly stupid and incompetent as anyone else.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the issues of what a decreasing cap will do to cap-strapped teams (like the Chicago Blackhawks!) next year. Some people think that its not unreasonable for teams to be given some sort of easy "out" to fix their problems next year. Why am I the only one who is eager to see GMs who suck and created these terrible positions for their teams get shown up? How awesome would it be to see a team like the Flyers or the Blackhawks get humbled by a complete inability to manage a team's salary cap in anything resembling a competent manner by being forced to gut the team because of the management's incompetence?

Maybe I'm spoiled because the team I've followed has been managed exceptionally well in the time that I've been following them, but frankly, I think that watching a few teams get their teeth kicked in by sheer incompetence would be a great way to get some fresh blood into NHL front offices. Consider how often the same retreads get shuffled around between front offices in the NHL! There is a small group of people who generally keep playing musical chairs with a limited number of chairs (GM/coaching chairs), and no matter how bad some of these guys are at the game, they keep getting to play. I'd like to see some of those chairs held by people who know what the hell they're doing. If such people were given the job and succeeded with it too, that would go an awful long way to creating more competition for those few job spots, meaning that we would (should, at least) see much better management in the long run of sports teams.

On a somewhat related note: At what point are we going to see a reality show of some sort in which the management of a pro sports team falls upon a couple of exceptionally bright fans? I cannot imagine that, given the chance, any blogger on my "Influences & Inspirations" to the right would not do better than such management luminaries as Mike Milbury, Mike Keenan, Doug MacLean, Don Waddell, Glen Sather, Kevin Lowe, or a number of other people who have/had jobs in NHL front offices. I really wish one of these guys that knows a thing or two would win the lottery and buy a team.

04 July 2009

The Blackhawks apparently forgot common sense, too

Per TSN:

Chicago tendered qualifying offers to several key players this week, including Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser,Aaron Johnson and Troy Brouwer, however the investigation underway is to determine whether the qualifying offers were filed correctly.

If not, there is the remote possibility the qualifying offers could be ruled invalid and the players listed above, conceivably, could be deemed unrestricted free agents because of the blunder.

Seriously? As I mentioned in my last post about the Blackhawk's forgetting their abbacus when they were signing Marian Hossa to a long term deal, the Blackhawks were going to have problems. I basically outlined out it is quite likely that Versteeg and Cam Barker, two important players for the up-and-coming Blackhawks would leave the team one way or another, as casualties of terrible cap management in coming years. Of course, it would help the Blackhawks somewhat, in that they would recieve some sort of compensation for those losses, in the form of draft picks surrendered to sign them (they were supposed to be RFA's) or whatever returns were acquired in a trade. Now, it looks like they may not get anything for them, as Dale Tallon might've accidentally let them walk away:

Chicago general manager Dale Tallon says the qualifying offers were mailed to the players in time, on June 29th, but says because of the July 1 holiday, some of the players didn't receive them in time.

What kind of mistake is that? Not qualifying a potential RFA means letting him become a UFA. Who even uses the snail mail system anymore? Much less uses it for time-sensitive documents on which the fate of multi-million dollar businesses depend? If you were a NHL GM, wouldn't you qualify Barker and Versteeg, at the least, the very first second you were able to do so?

The main stumbling block here may be that the league got the faxes (why didn't you fax the players while you were at it?), but the players never did, and only got the snail mail offer sheets. But as far as I can figure, the players are the important ones. If they didn't get the contracts before the deadline, then they might as well have never got them, and they should be UFA's. Sending the contract/check/whatever after the fact doesn't count for anything, in any business. Sorry, Chicago, but that's the rules, and there's no mulligans in pro sports.

It's easy to say "oh that team has always sucked" or "that team is always really good" or other such things, but its important to remember that oftentimes in sports, you can climb up the mountain in an instant, and you can fall completely off just as fast. The Blackhawks might be a good example of both sides of that, depending how things go for the next two years.

EDIT: Tom Benjamin has posted his take too, and discusses the conflicted feelings the NHLPA may have on the issue. For the NHLPA, while the revenues from a good CHI team are important, I think the issue of individual player's rights in a situation where team management has clearly screwed the pooch should take precedence. Firmly establishing player's rights in the situation of such a mistake is not going to return CHI to the depths of the league's revenue system. Be sure to check it out.

02 July 2009

The Chicago Blackhawks left their abbacus at home

The biggest story of the July 1st UFA circus was Marian Hossa quickly coming to a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. Terms of the deal were 12 years for 62.4M over the life of the contract. That adds up to a 5.2M/year hit against the cap. This leads to one of three possible conclusions: 1) the Chicago Blackhawks can't do simple math, 2) the Chicago Blackhawks don't have access to websites like www.nhlnumbers.com 3) the Chicago Blackhawks have a very interesting idea of how to build a winning team.

This year, 2009-10, the Blackhawks still have some of their best players operating under their entry level contracts, which means they'll be getting a hell of a lot of bang for their buck. Counting Hossa and the newly signed Tomas Kopecky (2 years, 1.2M/yr) and John Madden (1 year, 2.75M/yr), the Chicago Blackhawks one year cap outlook is like such:

48.775M spent on 15 players (11 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goaltenders)
UFA players from last year: Tim Brent, Pascal Pelletier, Aaron Johnson
RFA players from last year: Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Corey Crawford

I boldfaced the more significant players who have yet to be resigned to the club. Total, to fill the club up to a bare minimum that you need for a game (12 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goalies), the Blackhawks really only need to get one more forward under contract. Currently, they have 10.025M with which to play with for the duration of the 2009-10 season. That's certainly doable, and with 10M left, they could easily resign Versteeg and Barker, who are key pieces to the puzzle. Versteeg was a Calder Trophy nominee this year, posting 22-31-53 in 78 games. Cam Barker is a very capable defenseman for Chicago, a former first round pick, and he's just 23 years old.

Its clear that this year, Chicago could ice a very good team for a very good price. One of the most important things in the NHL since the lockout has been getting good bang for the buck. Taking advantage of rookies still being on entry level deals to allow a team to get a expensive free agent, being able to sign players at a discount to play for a contender, no matter how you do it, its important that you do it somehow, if you are to contend in the NHL. Chicago will be in a very good position to do that this year. The problem is going to be the cap dollars committed in the years going forward. In all honestly, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see the next big up and coming team hamstring themselves into becoming Tampa Bay Mid-West. Let's examine the Blackhawks salary structure for 2010-11, where it starts getting really interesting.

35.307M spent on 9 players (5 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie)
Players needing new contracts, not including those who still needed them from the previous year:
UFA's: John Madden, Adam Burish
RFA's: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Andrew Ladd, Jack Skille, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Hendry, Joseph Fallon, Antti Niemi

To fill the club up to the minimum you'll need for a game for this year, the Blackhawks would need 7 more forwards, 3 more defensemen, and 1 more goalie. That's 11 more players. To sign all those players, assuming the cap stays the same (and that may be being generous), the team has only about 21.5M to spend to fill those 11 spots. That's pushing it a bit right there, meaning you'll need some real bargains.

But wait, remember all those players I boldfaced? Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker need new deals this offseason, and franchise stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith all need them the next year. Either of Kane or Toews will easily command 5M/yr, and that would probably be below market value. Even signing one of those two for 5M/yr would push the cap situation to 16.5M to sign 10 players. If you sign both of Kane and Toews to the same deal, its 11.5M to sign 9 players. And that's being generous in that the cap doesn't go down at all, and that those two would take discounted contracts on their first chance to earn big money. If they each want 6M, you're down to 9.5M to sign 9 players. That means almost every replacement would have to be making near league minimums.

This is to say nothing of what it would to in terms of harm to the team itself and the fanbase to let the other players (Keith, Barker, and Versteeg) go, in order to make the numbers work with the cap. Obviously, at least a couple of these top 5 have to be on the way out, and its very hard to see either of Toews or Kane hitting the road. Frankly, there's no reason either one should have to be forced out to be replaced with Marian Hossa. If neither of them are going, it comes back to the Versteeg/Keith/Barker choice again, and of those three, probably one can be kept while filling out the rest of the roster, maybe 2. Of those three, and given the lack of quality defense (Campbell is a forward playing defense, remember, leaving Seabrook as the only good defenseman not listed here), Keith should be the third to stay, and Versteeg and Barker should be given walking papers.

That said, we run into the timing issue again. Versteeg and Barker are both able to be resigned this year, and this year is when they have cap space to spend on those players. Will Chicago be able to plan ahead enough to let these two walk, for the future good of the franchise? Or will they sign them and get into a real nasty situation next year when you have to face the idea of losing one of the boy wonders to be replaced with someone older who doesn't really bring anything more to the table? It's a nasty nasty situation the Blackhawks have gotten themselves into, and frankly, I don't think they'll be good enough to manuever out of it effectively, unless they start sinking money into a time machine.

01 July 2009

Crosspost: Detroit Red Wings 2009 free agency outlook

(This is originally posted over at James O'Brien's Cycle Like The Sedins for his 2009 free agency preview series)

1. Which player, for the love of God, do you NOT want to see in your team's sweater in the 09-10 season?

Frankly, with the Wings' cap situation, they'd have a hard time signing someone for the federal minimum wage, to say nothing of the NHL minimum wage. For that reason, I think I'm gonna have to stick it to guys on the Wings that I don't want to return. First on the list of Mike Samuelsson. Why? People have tried telling me before that he's not that bad, and maybe I'm spoiled and expect everyone to be a franchise player, but I swear, he does a lot of stupid stuff. Nothing I can ever think of off the top of my head (unlike, say, Andreas Lilja costing us a Cup), but I just don't think he's that good, and I'd rather see that spot filled by a developing youngster for a bit cheaper. I just don't like the guy.

Now for my more shocking answer: Marian Hossa. If Ken Holland were to resign Hossa to even a 4M/yr deal (which would be ludicrous on Hossa's part), you'd still have a team payroll of 55.2M, lose my boy Hudler, still need another forward or two, and perhaps a backup goalie (or even a starting goalie!), all with 1.8M to spare. For the sake of the Red Wing's salary structure going forward, it would probably be best for Hossa to move on. Unless Holland can pull off some sort of nice deal to save us some salary (please, someone, take Lebda and Lilja and Stuart off our hands!), Hossa ought to be the odd man out. Sorry bro, you had your chance, and you blew it. Massively. GLHF winning a Cup next year.

(An interesting alternative way for the Wings to get cap space: Lilja missed the playoffs with a concussion which he's still not recovered from, and I think he's had concussion issues before. Slap the LTIR tag on Lilja and he doesn't count against the cap. That's an extra 1.25M of savings!)

Also, I should point out, Ken Holland already announced that the worst player on the Wings would not be back next year. I love what you've done through your career, Cheli, but it really is the end of the line. Go be a coach somewhere, but please, get off the ice.

2. Conversely, pick a potential move by another team that would just crush your soul/favorite team's chances.

A move that would put a stake through my heart? That's a tough one, as I think there are only a couple of teams that could really knock the Wings off their perch. Anaheim getting Hossa would be a tough one, as they're one of the few that can consistently beat the Wings as it is. Calgary could also be a threat if Kipper ever gets his head on straight, so I guess I hope that Calgary doesn't hire a team psychologist or exorcist or whatever the hell he needs. I guess that statement also applies to the Sharks as an entire team. I don't get concerned about the East because we never see them, and frankly, I didn't think any of them could beat the Wings in a 7 game series until a couple weeks ago. So I guess if Giguere/Pronger went to Pittsburgh, that would also suck.

Pronger or Giguere going within the Central Division, San Jose, Calgary, or Pittsburgh would really suck all around. Pretty much the god damn Ducks are the source of any sort of thorns in my side. Except I can't really hate them because they've got some great bloggers and they're a really damn competitive team. Like, Edmonton has good bloggers, but the team and management is a joke, so I just laugh at them and don't take them seriously. Anaheim is actually really damn good, and for some reason they want to get rid of a really great defenseman, and keep pulling phenomenally talented goalies out of their ass. It pisses me off.

Just ship Pronger and Giguere in a package deal to Atlanta so I don't have to put up with them anymore. And I'm glad Allaire left you guys. So there.

POSTSCRIPT: Ok, so I wrote this for James right before the draft, at which point Pronger was traded to Philadelphia. Really, the worst things that could happen to the Wings were things the Ducks could make happen. I don't think Pronger going to Philadelphia is that big of a deal for the Wings, because in the end, only one Eastern Conference team will matter, and I hardly think the Flyers will make the Cup Finals. I mean, come on, they're the FLYERS. With RAY FRICKIN' EMERY. This team could just as easily finish with the #1 draft pick on the heels of an absolutely magical explosion of conflicting and contentious (and mean) personalities. Pronger will help immensely to control guys like Crosby and Ovechkin, but I really don't think its enough to make the Flyers a threat to the Wings.

So now as long as Giguere doesn't go anywhere important (let's see a reunion with Allaire and Burke in Toronto!), and Hossa doesn't sign with the Ducks, it'll have been a somewhat acceptable offseason. I'm far more interested in how the Wings juggle the cap space to complete a full roster for next year, and I'm really interested in who is going to be our backup goalie. Hopefully one of our three serious goalie prospects takes the job, and then takes the starting job.

(I think its important to note here that if the Ducks didn't get in the Wings' way so damn much, I'd probably be a big fan. They play a great mean physical game, they have a style and an attitude that really speaks "hockey" to me, and they have some great coverage between the guys at Anaheim Calling and Earl Sleek. But unfortunately they keep getting in the damn way. Seriously, please go away. We're trying to win some Cups here.)