Sunday, July 16, 2006

Confusion in the swamp

Tom Lycan, who writes the Devils Due blog, appears to be very mixed up:

In James Mirtle's blog, he covers the whining in Ottawa about the new salary cap. After all, it sure is unfair that owners can't buy their teams into the playoffs by stockpiling talent without doing any scouting or salary balancing. What is the new NHL coming to?

Um, what?

The post he's talking about from everyone's favorite copy editor, err sports journalist, is here. Mirtle quotes me as one of the "whiners". I was just happy with all the hits I got as a result of the linkage. I disagree with what James said, but could at least see where he was coming from.

Lycan? I think he's out of his friggin' mind.

No one is "whining" in Ottawa about not being able to buy our way into the playoffs or stockpiling teams. Show me when this franchise has ever done that and how this new cap has restricted it.

Just to be clear, we're "whining" about the fact we can't hold on the players the team has scouted and developed. A sort of important difference, I believe.

And really, "whining" is a bit of an exaggeration. The whole motivation for Mirtle's post was a paragraph in a 3,200 word post I wrote. If you want an example of whining in blog form, this is usually a good place to start. Don't say I didn't warn you though.

The reality is that the current CBA is designed to create parity. It's intention is to distribute talent throughout the league, which in turn punishes clubs that draft and develop well because the system in place punishes those who teams, rendering them unable to hold onto all the talents they've established. As a fan of such a team, I'm not necessarily jumping for joy at this undeniable fact.

Now, Mirtle is right when he points out that even in the old system it would have been difficult for the Senators to keep all the talent together. Even in the years of free spending, Ottawa operated with a tight budget. In order to maintain this roster, they would have to raise ticket prices to level that this market cannot pay. However, a part of the new CBA is the lowered age of UFA status. Previously, Ottawa was able to hold on to their players until 31. Now, it's become much more difficult, as even if a player isn't a UFA yet, it's looming much sooner. It's changed the way things are done.

And James is also correct that, at the end of the day, Sens fans can't treat all this as a grand travesty because it's not as if this team, as talented on paper as they may be, have accomplished a whole lot as a unit, a fact I also made mention of when talking about why I wasn't suicidal over the Martin Havlat trade. The Senators have zero Cup banners hanging from the rafters, so maybe changes, even if they don't seem wonderful initially, are a good thing.

However, what it all comes down to, and what really burns me, is that I feel misled. For a year, we heard from the talking heads throughout the league, including one currently employed by the Senators organization, that the new CBA and the salary cap that makes up so much of it was necessary for teams to thrive and that in particular Ottawa would see the benefits of it.

I don't doubt that there are in fact upsides to the new CBA for the Senators organization, but when I realize we lost a year of hockey for all this, I sometimes sorta think it sucks.

UPDATE: Adam Proteau of The Hockey News has an article about this very subject. Very little new ground besides his generalization of every Canadian hockey market that I'm sure will go over very well. Also confirms my belief that THN gets much of their editorial ideas from blogs.

Awww eff it, I have to point this part out, because it shows just how out of touch Proteau is with this piece
"If you’re not successful I guess it becomes a lot easier because you become a buyer," Muckler said. "If you’re successful you become a seller."

Easier? Beg pardon, John? Nobody’s got it easier these days, not when the margin for error is precisely the same as it is in 29 other markets.

I really don't want to be the John Muckler defender of the Internet, because I believe I've made it pretty clear how I feel about the job he's done, however, dropping this quote in there, out of context, does Proteau's readers a real disservice and paints a misleading picture, though I imagine that's the point, as it furthers his argument.

Having read the source article of the quote, Muckler's "easier" referred to a team's ability to hold onto their good players, not winning, though one might argue the two are closely linked.

It's pretty basic logic, I assumed. If a team does well, their assets are considered hot commodities. If a team struggles, it's usually because their players have underperformed, and thus, the other 29 clubs won't be as eager to scoop up their youngsters.


At 9:23 PM, Anonymous oglethorpe said...

That's a pretty sad blog you pointed us to. I don't know what's worse-the clichéd tribute to the "superiority" of North American players are the only ones who can bring a team a cup or that he somehow thinks KLM(otherwise known as Royal Dutch Airlines)is somehow related to Scandinavia.

At 10:15 PM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Good post, Chris. And you're right, losing a year for this CBA does sorta suck, especially given all of its flaws, and we should be pointing all of those out. Still, this agreement benefits a team like the Senators more than the old one — just not to the degree it probably should. The revenue-sharing model the league's gone with is, in particular, pretty dismal.

Keep up the good work and I'll gladly send all the traffic I can your way.

(Not sure what to take from your 'copy editor' comment; I make it pretty clear who and what I am on the site. I have, in the past, worked as an NHL reporter — just not in my current job — so I don't think I'm out of line there.)

At 10:28 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Not sure what to take from your 'copy editor' comment

It was just a friendly jab. No offense meant at all, I assure you.

At 11:52 PM, Anonymous TOMD said...

well when people start whining and complaining...about other people supposedly whining and complaining they better be right....and in this case they are not

lowered free agency requirements is inherently inflationary in terms of players salaries...just look at athlete's salaries before and after free agency

the new CBA does not help Ottawa and it does punish teams who draft well. At least in the old system a player did not turn free agency until he had reached his peak...the team that drafted them at least got the benifit of their best play which hopefully corresponds to championships before they go to the highest bidder.

My biggest fear is that the NHL will resemble the CFL at its worst..where at the end of each season most of the players names are thrown into a hat and new teams are formed picked at the beginning of each season.

Watching players and a team develop is one of the major satisfactions of following a sport...take that away and all we are doing is watching professional fantasy hockey

At 8:40 AM, Blogger pale said...

One point missed was that even if Ottawa could not afforded to sign Chara, Havlat et al under the old system - they would have been able to TRADE them for a hell of a lot more as the new team would have had a them for a couple of RFA years!

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Dennis Prouse said...

As painful as the lockout year was, I think it was worth losing a year of hockey in order to get the new CBA, even in the Senators' current circumstances. Allow me to explain:

The notion that the new CBA does not allow the Sens to retain their home-grown talent is based on the assumption that Melnyk would have been willing to bump his payroll up past the $50 million range or so in order to keep Chara and Havlat. I don't think there is any evidence to suggest that he would have, or that smaller market teams like Edmonton or Calgary COULD have done so with their star players. Under the old system, lower revenue teams and those with owners who weren't inclined to lose buckets of money would lose their free agents to high revenue teams, or those with owners who regarded the team as a toy. (Hello, Mike Ilitch!)

In other words, Chara and Havlat weren't going to stay anyway. Eugene Melnyk is determined to run the team with at least some resemblance to a business model, which means that he would not have been willing to expand his payroll 20% in one shot without a corresponding increase in revenues. At least under this system, everyone is in the same boat, and we have the comfort of knowing that clubs like Detroit, the Rangers, and Colorado can't skew the market by constantly inflating their payroll whenever they deem fit.

We are in the early days of adapting to this new economic order, but it is my contention that teams having too much salary tied up in a select group of players will not be the ones achieving long term success. I think the winners will be guys like Bob Gainey, whom you correctly pointed out managed to play the waiting game quite successfully. Identifying undervalued free agents, and staying away from bidding wars for second-tier stars like Pavel Kubina, is going to be critical under a capped system.

I'll leave you with one example, one that Muckler may have been thinking of recently. Last year, the Canucks deemed it important to "keep the core together". As a result, they signed Markus Naslund to a pricey, $6 million a year deal. The problem is that Naslund is no longer a $6 million a year player, and the Canucks had a ton of salary tied up in a small group of players. (Naslund, Bertuzzi, Jovanovski.) When two of them underachieved and the third missed large chunks of the season with injuries, they were screwed, as they had no cap space left to address any holes. Moral of the story -- putting all of your eggs in one small basket of "star" players is a risky strategy in the new NHL.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Groane said...

Copy editors can dream too.


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