Saturday, January 26, 2013

P.K. Subban, Montreal, And The Cost Of Doing Business

I'm seeing a lot of silly things being written or said on Twitter regarding Montreal's inability to get P.K. Subban to sign on the line which is dotted.  Today, Renaud Lavoie of RDS leaked the amount which Montreal is offering Subban - $2.2M (pro-rated) this year, $2.9M next year.  We all know that this cannot possibly be Subban's true value, even in Montreal's eyes.  So why would they continue to hold the line on salary here?

I'm probably suggesting that Montreal is much smarter than they actually are here, but Montreal should be holding the line on RFA salaries for a simple reason:  they can.  It's one place where they actually have leverage.  One of the worst-kept financial secrets around the NHL is that playing in Montreal is a costly affair - according to this graphic, Montreal has the highest tax rate of any NHL city.  Players and agents seem to know this, and it's commented on every year how much Montreal overpays players, but in short, absent other options, they have to.  A player making $2M makes $200k less in actual dollars in Montreal than he does in Florida.  That's going to be an impediment towards building a winning team - it's hard to compete when you've got to pay that much more to retain your talent.  But what if you sat on your restricted free agents and tried to force them into sign-or-else contracts?  What if you paid 25% less for your RFA players than everyone else?  You'd at least be on a more level playing field.  If they leave when they go UFA, so what, it's hard to get 100% of the value of a UFA contract anyway.  If they go to arbitration when they are eligible, let them!  They should still end up with less in actual dollars than they should get, relative to the Montreal tax rate.

I don't know if Habs GM Marc Bergevin is doing this and indeed, by his signings of Pacioretty and Price to large deals, he may not be doing that at all.  But it's still something to consider, and much better than the 'They should pay P.K. his market price' type talk, as if market prices are something to aspire to pay.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How The New CBA Helps Teams Be Smarter, Maybe?

I pointed out several posts ago (don't need a link 'cause honestly were you really going to read it?) how I felt the NHL's bonus system vis a vis the salary cap floor was silly, and that teams shouldn't be able to load up on contracts with bonus money that will never be paid in order to reach the floor.  The NHL powers that be felt the same way and in the new CBA, bonuses are no longer counted towards a team's Lower Limit.  The Islanders, having used phony bonuses for many years, are the intended target, and they've struck back.  Nino Niederreiter supposedly demanded a trade today - Niederreiter of the 1 goal in 55 games last season is currently tearing up the AHL to the tune of nearly a goal every other game, but was not invited to the Islanders' shortened training camp.  Ryan Strome, 5th overall pick 2 years ago, did not make the Islanders despite a very strong junior season.  Defenseman prospect Griffin Reinhart also did not make the team, although the Islanders currently are using 2 players who were on waivers last week and a guy they signed off the street.  I haven't mentioned Brock Nelson, who is also tearing up the AHL, but whose contract is not eligible to slide.

It's hard to look at these actions and not see the pattern - instead of using bonus-laden years to buoy themselves up to the salary floor, the Islanders are now saving Entry-Level years on contracts.  Strome's contract still has another slide year - he'll now be UFA in 2020 instead of 2019.  Niederreiter's contract can't be saved, but they sure can sit on him to make sure he has no leverage at all on his second contract.  And who needs Reinhart eating up minutes and contract time in the NHL when you can get Brian Strait off the street to do much the same thing?  In short, the Islanders seem to be doing exactly what blogger types have always demanded of organizations who have a bunch of high draft picks and aren't very good now - sit on them.  Don't waste their entry level years if they're not great, and even if you can't undo damage, as in Niederreiter, just let him slave away in the AHL for as long as possible, and don't give him critical minutes when he comes up.  All those saved dollars can go towards signing veteran players that just might give the Islanders a fighting chance when they're heading to their new home in Brooklyn.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Likes And Dislikes In The New CBA

The CBA hasn't been ratified, but when it has been, agents and general managers will pore over it to find unscoured ground, in hopes of seeing loopholes.  The league office was none too pleased at the loopholes found in the previous agreement and sought to rectify these.  Let's go over what I liked and disliked - things I think will be good for BOTH the league and players.

Let's start with dislikes first:

35+ Rule Stays:  In fairness, I have followed a team that has had a 35+ contract on its books for all but two years of the previous CBA.  Lou Lamoriello either didn't notice this rule or didn't care about it, and he had to trade away a first round pick and buyout Trent Hunter to rid himself of the onerous contracts he had as a result, in addition to the total lack of value each deal provided.  The 35+ Rule is designed to prevent teams from signing players to long contracts which they have no intention of fulfilling.  However, with the new contract variance rules in place (a contract can't decrease by more than 35% year to year and any given year can't be less than 50% of the first year), the incentives for loading up deals to aging players isn't there.  I don't see why this rule would stay in place - it prevents players from getting the security in a longer deal that they might want, and makes it more difficult for teams to trade players on one of these contracts.

Minimum Salary Increases:  While I recognize that the NHL minimum salary should rise from its current $525,000 figure, I think its rising to $750,000 by 2021-22 is bad for teams.  Although as we'll see later, the differences between two-way and one-way contracts have essentially been obliterated by this CBA, I just don't think 4th liners contribute enough to their team winning to have their contract go up by 50% over the course of 10 years, and that this is money being taken out of the pockets of players who contribute more to their teams.  Are the NHL and NHLPA anticipating an equal rise in the salary cap?

Opt out After Year 8:  I understand why this is in place, but it makes the CBA an 8 year deal, in effect.  It's hard to imagine under what circumstances the owners won't lock the players out.

Rules I Like:

- Re-entry waivers gone:  Fringe NHLers who crush the AHL had a troubling calculus to make each season.  If they signed a one-way contract and didn't make the team out of camp, they could be stuck in the minor leagues all year.  If they signed a two-way contract to make half their NHL salary at the AHL level, the same thing could happen.  The only way they could guarantee an equal shot at being a callup was to lower their salary to $105,000 - I mean, that's certainly a fine amount of money, but hockey careers are short.  The NHL was probably tired of losing these types of players to European leagues who were willing to pay more - it will be interesting to see who comes back to the NHL next year with this rule in place.

- All contracts count on the cap that are in excess of $375,000 more than the minimum salary, counting for the amount they are in excess, whether the player on that contract is playing in Europe or wherever:  Certainly Wade Redden is enjoying his $6.5 million he's been receiving these last few years toiling for the Connecticut Whale.  Still, it's hard to imagine that such a player wouldn't trade some guaranteed money for another chance at the NHL.  Under the new system, the Rangers would be forced to buy Redden out.  One might think this is awful for the Rangers, but they get a benefit:  they can stash players making $1M in the minor leagues for only $100,000 on the cap.  That player would be eligible for waivers (presumably), but without re-entry waivers, if the market considers that player overpriced, it will leave him alone.  Big market teams still get an advantage wrt signing players here, it's just that it's at the NHL's fringe.

- Jeff Carter rule - No-trade clauses can come into effect when a player signs a new contract, not when he starts to play under that contract:  This one feels pretty self-explanatory - the Flyers signing Jeff Carter to an 11 year contract and trading him is a massively bad faith move.  The Flyers repeated this by trading James Van Riemsdyk after signing a 7 year contract.  JVR would likely not have been protected by this rule, but still - it's awfully low to sign a player to a contract, thereby increasing his value, then fobbing him off on another team.

All in all, I think the NHL shored up a lot of loopholes in the previous agreement, but the players made some gains here, gains which are good both for players and for the league.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ian White is Better Than You Think

Perhaps it's because he's been a bit of journeyman thus far, or the result of signing so cheaply with Detroit two summers ago, but I've been getting the feeling that Ian White isn't as appreciated as he should be in the hockey world. Granted, it's not every day that a player is employed by a club facing the loss of arguably the greatest player to ever play their position. However, without Nicklas Lidstrom this season, Detroit is doing just that. Before we all jump to giddy excitement that the Red Wings could be on the outside of the playoffs looking in, let's take a look at a few of White's advanced metrics:

YearTeamOzone% (Team Rank)Corsi/60 (Team Rank)CorsiRelQoC (Team Rank)ATOI
2011-2012DET57.7 (3)13.06 (2)0.944 (2)22:59
2010-2011CGY/CAR/SJS49.4 (6/3/5)2.70 (5/1/5)-0.086 (5/7/6)19:60
2009-2010TOR/CGY57.9 (2/1)10.37 (2/3)0.739 (2/2)22:47
2008-2009TOR52.9 (4)3.92 (3)0.411 (2)22:51
2007-2008TOR53.5(2)10.86(1)0.160 (5)18:48

In layman's terms, White has been a very good Corsi player throughout his career, even when faced with tougher assignments. Problem is, he's moved around so damn much that it's kind of hard to get a clear picture of exactly where these assignments came from. His 2010-2011 is a mess considering he was traded twice, but he played a majority of that season starting in the defensive zone for non-playoff teams. I don't have the data to see if his competition or zone starts changed much in San Jose, but he still had no problem breaking even apart from many common linemates.

Also, before anyone rushes to point out that Old St. Nick was indeed his most common defensive partner last season, White again had no problem producing good numbers apart from Lidstrom. No matter which way you slice it, White is consistently outperforming other players used similarly, in Detroit or elsewhere.

Averaging .37 PPG and 1.97 SOG/G for his career with a good bit of PP TOI/G last season, the Wings could do a lot worse than moving forward with Ian White.

Note: Team rank separated by where White's numbers stacked up on each team, sans those players he was traded for.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Who This New CBA Sucks For

I'm going to go ahead and assume that you are familiar with the broad strokes of the new CBA, happily reached very early this morning.  I'd like to point out who it sucks for, as I don't see anyone in the mainstream media doing that.

It Sucks For Big Market Teams:  Cheat code contracts are out.  8 year maximum on contracts means teams can no longer load up for a championship run by inking a player to a super-long, risky deal.  The salary cap is returning to where it was in 2011-12.  Players can't be buried in the AHL anymore - they count on the cap past a certain threshold.

It Sucks For Mid-Market Teams:  Mid-market teams who want to spend, profits be damned, are limited by the same rules as the above.  The salary cap is still tied to total revenues, a disproportionate amount come from e.g. the Toronto Maple Leafs.  While the cap is at a 'sane' level now, it may not be there by the end of the agreement, which will limit the parity these teams seek.

It Sucks For Small-Market Teams:  The salary floor in 2012-13 and 2013-14 will be higher than the salary cap was in 2005-06.  No doubt NHL revenues have grown a great deal since then, but besides shares of television contracts, have they really grown that much for teams in weaker markets?  The floor has effectively doubled since the beginning and may end up tripling - have revenues done so for these clubs, and will revenue sharing cover that eventual trebling?

It Sucks For Superstars:  No more contracts with huge amounts of front-loaded dollars.  No more contracts where you as a player both get A: financial security for the rest of your career B: more money than if you signed a 'legitimate' contract and C: cost less money on the salary cap than you otherwise would, thus helping your team get better.

It Sucks For Mid-Range Players:  Without superstars getting those huge front-loaded contracts, mid-range players will have to settle for less of the pie, generally.  Big market teams also have no ability to bury contracts anymore, so I expect fewer deals of 5 and 6 years being given out to average-ish players.

It Sucks for Fringe Players:  Fringe players gave up half a year, and while the minimum salary will increase by 50% over the course of the agreement, fringe-type players are unlikely to see what they lost in this agreement come back to them.

We don't have the full agreement yet.  And no doubt I'm taking a pessimistic view partly for rhetorical reasons.  Still, everyone gave something up here, and it's unclear what exactly they gained besides the ability to conduct business again.