There’s an old idiom that says “familiarity breeds contempt,” which seems to apply to all walks of life, especially in love and business. But quite the opposite rings true in the world of hockey.
Often no one thinks higher of a player than those who know him best: those who watch him day in and day out, both at practice and in games. It’s this infatuation, a skewed view based on any number of reasons, which has been at least partially responsible for the downfall of many teams, the latest of which is the Edmonton Oilers.
In the two years following their impressive and unexpected Cup run in 2006, then-GM Kevin Lowe handed out a quintet of contracts to Ales Hemsky (six years at $4.1 million per season), Shawn Horcoff (three years/$3.6 million per followed by six years/$5.5 million per), Fernando Pisani (four years/$2.5 million per), Steve Staios (four years/$2.7 million per) and Ethan Moreau (four years/$2 million per) that continue to haunt the team – in one form or another – to this day.
It’s not to say all these players aren’t worth the money, but clearly some are not; I’ll let you draw those conclusions. But locking in players to long-term deals, especially when the contract is partially or fully based on a small sample of work, also ties a team’s hands when it comes to needing a culture change.
Thanks in big part to the above deals, in addition to other ill-advised signings and trades, the Oil are in horrible shape both now and in the foreseeable future; no cap room to sign help, no players with palatable contracts other teams would want.
For examples of how to properly navigate the new cap world by avoiding unnecessary allegiances, look no further than last year’s Cup finalists.
The Detroit Red Wings likely could have signed Marian Hossa to an extension similar to the deal he eventually inked with Chicago (12 years/$5.275 million per), but it would have resulted in the team sacrificing the depth that has made it so successful. (And make no mistake, this team would still be among the West’s leaders if it hadn’t been ravaged by injuries.)
Allowing Hossa – and Tomas Kopecky and Mikael Samuelsson – to walk for nothing was the right move from a big-picture, long-term perspective.
Penguins GM Ray Shero was faced with a similar situation (though not to the same degree), as Wings GM Ken Holland when stay-at-home blueliner Rob Scuderi became a local hero with his post-season play, forming a sturdy shutdown duo with Hal Gill.
Shero could have fought hard to keep Scuderi at a number similar to the $13.6 million over four years he received from L.A., but at what cost? Who would he have been forced to cut loose? Instead he trusted that youngsters such as Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang could take on a greater role (and he stumbled upon similarly skilled Jay McKee for a bargain-basement price. That sort of thing happens when you win; players want to come play for you).
The key is talent evaluation. Long-term deals aren’t a universal no-no, you just need to be pretty damn sure said player will be of value for years to come. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury will surely be productive through the duration of their deals, while Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen will certainly retire before their contracts become burdening.
There’s always more fish in the sea and knowing when to cut bait is a trait all successful GMs must have in the salary cap world.
THE HOCKEY GODS SMILE
Just when it looked as though all hopes for Finland were lost with Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu destined to watch the Olympics from the sidelines with injury, the pair of veteran Ducks returned recently after missing eight and four games, respectively.
Though THN has the Finns pegged for a fifth place finish, don’t count out the boys in blue. Selanne and Koivu, though certainly long in the tooth, elevate their play internationally and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is more than capable of stealing a game or six.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
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