Sunday, September 17, 2006

The more things change...

There's nothing better than staying away from hockey coverage for a month, and coming back to a story about the zany New York Islanders. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and also, like I haven't missed a thing.

Of course, I'm talking about the lunacy that is the new contract they signed Rick DiPietro to. 15 years. $4.5 million per.

If you've been sitting with baited breath, waiting to see what I think about it, I'll feed the need: the New York Islanders are out of their friggin minds.

It's a terrible contract from an organization who continues to solidify their status as the laughing stock in a league full of quite a few contenders for that crown. Their moves back the way the Chicago Blackhawks have managed their team over the last 10 years look good. I'm sure, somewhere in the Windy City, a Hawks fan read the news and said, well, it could be worse. We could be fans of THEM.

I've seen some defend the signing by saying if DiPietro turns into the elite goalie most seemed to think he would when the Isles picked him first overall so many years ago, the contract will be regarded as a steal. I suppose that's true, but dishing out long-term deals for what a guy might become, with little evidence that destiny is likely, is foolishness only found on Long Island.

I'd love to pin this idiocy on Garth Snow, who I must admit I love whipping at every turn, but this looks to be a move from above. If you recall, this same contract was talked about last summer when DiPietro needed a new deal then too.

Back then, I was unsure if it was wise, and was more intrigued by the precedent it might set. A year later, there is no confusion.

The reality is, there is no way this can go well. If DiPietro does become that new Patrick Roy/Martin Brodeur hybrid Charles Wang seems convinced he will be, he'll be grossly underpaid at $4.5 million and more than likely be quite resentful of that fact. If he doesn't, they have a massive financial albatross around their neck in a league that now has a salary cap and thus requires every penny pinched regardless of market size.

What I think this is about, ultimately, is an organization still unwilling to admit they made a mistake.

The Islanders unloaded Roberto Luongo, who's much closer to the status of next franchise goalie than DiPietro, to make room for the guy, and in the process, when selecting the American netminder first overall six years ago, passed by a couple pretty great players in Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik, who I have to think most fans of this circus would prefer over the guy with the rich new contract.

The Islanders organization, upon drafting Rick DiPietro, billed him so significantly as the next big thing that unless he did become Dominik Hasek dominant instantly, it was hard to view the guy as anything but a bust. He was destined to fail and the way they've handled him hasn't helped.

Make no mistake. He's a decent, above average goalie. But if you were to make a list of the best 10 goaltenders in the NHL, would his name even chart? I know he wouldn't crack my list.

The Islanders built DiPietro up and instead of resigning themselves to the fact he just hasn't become (yet) what they hoped, they continue to cross their fingers and assume it's just around the corner. I'd love to give them the benefit of the doubt, and figure they know what they're doing, but with this club, and these knuckleheads, that would be even more insane than the contracts a rich, jock sniffing billionaire with a hard on for athletes gives out.

And to think, not even 30 years ago, this organization was the toast of the league.


UPDATE: When reacquainting myself with what's been going on in the hockey blogsphere, I came across what Tom Benjamin (who I'm glad to see hasn't retired to the cave for good after all) had to say about it

I don't think it is fair to bring the Yashin contract into it because that one is a different kettle of fish. That was foolish and I don't think this one is nearly so bad.

I disagree. The Yashin contract looks laughably awful now, five years later, but I don't think it was as misguided as this.

As strange as it sounds in 2006, back then, Alexei Yashin truly was considered by most people to be (in the regular season anyway) one of the best hockey players in the world. He was 27 years old and had already put up nearly 500 points, almost a point a game average for his career up to that point.

The silly part of that contract was a a 10-year committment to a guy who had already renegged on two deals up to that point in his career. The money was steep, but it was around what elite players were being paid and most people thought Yashin was in that class. His previous two NHL seasons saw the Russian finish 11th and 6th in league scoring.

It's quite amusing and enjoyable as a Sens fan to see what the hated Yashin has become since the trade took place, but don't let the last couple years allow people to rewrite history.

The Yashin contract, however excessive, could be defended on some level because they were getting a guy considered to be among the NHL's best, at a time when the franchise, having missed the playoffs for who knows how many consecutive years, needed to do something to make a splash.

In contrast to the DiPietro contract, that one looks downright sensible.


At 8:21 AM, Anonymous shammy said...

Welcome back! Would we give Spezza a 15 year deal at 4.5 million per?

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Adam said...

Welcome back, Chris! Did you got a chance to watch any of the training camp?

At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Yashin contract was worse. You say he was getting paid the market rate for an elite player but that kind of deal had no upside. If he played like he was capable of, he would be earning his money. If he didn't play that well, he would be overpaid. There was no kind of scenario where he would be underpaid.

It is easy to see a scenario where DiPietro becomes underpaid. He becomes an elite goalie or Bettman's vision of the new NHL causes revenues to rise significantly and player salaries rise much higher in the next five years. There is a chance for Rick's deal to be a good one for the Isles. There was no chance for Yashin's deal to be anything but ok.

As for Rick becoming an elite goalie and whining about being underpaid, well there's nothing he can do about it if it happens. The Isles, or any other team for that matter, cannot renegotiate his contract.

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

I disagree. When you consider Yashin's contract he was never going to be cheap. Even if he became the best player in the NHL, with that contract he still wouldn't be considered a bargain. Yashin's contract was horrid.

DiPietro's on the other hand, while very risky, has the potential for big dividends if he does develop into a top 5 goalie like many think he can and will. In the salary cap era it is all about having bargains on your team and if you can get a $6.5 million goalie on your team for $4.5 million that is a huge bonus. That gives you a $2 million per year player advantage over your competitors. That's significant.

And if it doesn't work out, put him in the AHL and he won't cost a penny against the cap and it only costs a billionaire owner some pocket change or play money. If he doesn't want to play in the AHL and retires, you owe him nothing.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading the above comments and the Tom Benjamin thread, I can accept the possibility that this contract may make lots of sense for Wang.

Perhaps we fans should accept the possibility that we do not perfectly understand all the monetary and legal details of the CBA and the business of running a franchise. Wang has his money on the line. His lawyers have their jobs and reputations on the line. I'm willing to bet they put significant thought into this deal and that it makes sense from their end. Just because fans don't see or grasp all the details doesn't mean the details don't exist.


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