There must be times when Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland closes the door to his office, leans back in his chair and laughs uproariously at jokes only he gets.
Take his recent signing of Marian Hossa, for example. Because it was only for one year, there are people out there who believe this is a one-off; that Hossa will make his best run for a Stanley Cup before chasing riches somewhere else and Detroit simply won’t be able to make room for him under the salary cap along with their pantheon of superstars.
Poor, gullible slobs.
In a hockey world rife with uncertainty, you can take this one to the bank: if Hossa turns out to be a good fit with the Red Wings, he will be in Detroit beyond next season and for many more to come.
There is absolutely no way Holland makes this deal exclusively with the 2008-09 season in mind. When Holland makes a deal of any magnitude, it must serve two purposes –that is make the Red Wings a better team in the short-term and a better team in the long-term. And there is no way Holland would have made the deal if he hadn’t already figured out there’s a good chance he’ll be able to get Hossa in the fold on a multi-year deal after next season.
Holland already knows Hossa is ripe to take a hometown discount because if it had only been about the money, he would’ve never accepted the terms Holland presented. (Which, consequently, is the same deal he would have given Mats Sundin, which says a little something about Sundin’s real desire to play for a team under pressure to win, wouldn’t you say?)
By signing Hossa to this deal, Holland has already gained valuable insight into Hossa’s psyche and that being part of a program that is not only committed to winning, but to doing what it takes to win, is important to him. Holland knows in the end he’ll be able to get Hossa to agree to a long-term deal for money comparable to what Nicklas Lidstrom makes.
In fact, Holland learned a ton about Hossa when he hinted to Hossa he might be able to offer him more money, but said he’d have to call Lidstrom first to see whether it was all right with the captain that he was not the highest-paid player on the team. Hossa responded by saying not to worry about the call – that he’d happily accept the $7.4 million Lidstrom is making.
Nothing Holland does is without a purpose and by putting Hossa in the position of usurping the team’s top-paid player and watching how he responded, gave Holland a key psychological chip for future bargaining.
And Holland will fit Hossa under the salary cap simply because he can. Holland has long been a believer that in order to thrive under the cap system, you keep your core players under contract and fill in the rest of your cap with affordable players from within the system or affordable veterans from Europe or around the league who will take less money for a shot at the Stanley Cup.
Holland has long believed one-third of your roster can account for two-thirds of your cap. So let’s assume for a moment, the salary cap rises to $62 million for 2009-10, based on the increments in which it has risen since it was imposed.
Let’s also assume Hossa and Henrik Zetterberg agree to long-term deals worth $8 million each. Add in Pavel Datsyuk at $6.7 million and Johan Franzen at $3 million and you’ve got $25.7 million accounted for already. Lidstrom comes in a $7.4 million on the last year of his deal and is joined on defense by Brian Rafalski at $6 million, Brad Stuart at $3.75 million and Niklas Kronwall at $3 million, while No. 1 goalie Chris Osgood comes in at $1.4 million.
That’s $47.25 million for nine players, which is a little more than one-third of the roster. That leaves almost $15 million for 14 players, which will be difficult, but not impossible considering the core of the team is already under contract. The rest of the parts are interchangeable. They may have to trade one of their defensemen to make it work, but it can certainly be done with some creative thinking.
And the Red Wings have that in abundance. It helps, of course, that they always seem able to unearth players such as Darren Helm or Jonathan Ericsson, young serviceable guys who can make a tangible contribution and do so at bargain basement prices.
The Red Wings have grasped and understood the cap system better than any other team in the league and they have the ability to develop and find players who can supplement their core. That’s why Marian Hossa will be a Red Wing long beyond next season.
You can count on it.
Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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