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CANUCKS HOCKEY BLOG

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Looking For Some Bang For Their Buck

Randy Turner (Winnipeg Free Press via Manitoba Moose official site) examines one of the impacts of the NHL's salary cap:

Remember not so long ago, when NHL observers looked at the signings of big-ticket free agents to $5-million and $6-million deals and asked: "So what's changed in the NHL economically if GMs continue to unload the bank for every Zdeno Chara and Ed Jovanovski who comes along?"

Well, don't look now, but the much-less hyped other shoe is about to fall, and you can notice it in the NHL transaction wire, of late, which is littered with teams loading up on American Hockey League veterans and refugees from European leagues to fill out rosters under the $44-million salary cap.

Just do the math: If the Ottawa Senators have five players -- Wade Redden ($6.5 M), Daniel Alfredsson ($4.33 M), Jason Spezza ($4.5 M), Dany Heatley ($4.5 M) and Martin Gerber ($3.7 M) -- eating up over half of their cap space, who do you think is going to fill out the other 16 or 17 roster spots?

Enter the lowest-paid yet most critical component of the new NHL: The minimum wage player.
Specifically about the Vancouver Canucks, he says:

Look at the Vancouver Canucks, the NHL affiliate of the Manitoba Moose, who are a prime example of a team up against the cap. So far, the Canucks have committed about $35.9 million to 13 players, most notably Roberto Luongo ($6 M), Markus Nasland ($6 M), Daniel and Henrik Sedin ($3.575 M each), Mattias Ohlund ($3.5 M) and Willie Mitchell ($3.5).

Since the Canucks are aiming for about a $42-million roster, that leaves the team to add about eight players for some $6 million. Hello, Moose prospects, several of whom will hope to follow in the footsteps of former teammates Nolan Baumgartner and Kevin Bieksa, who took full advantage of the new NHL last season.

Baumgartner, after bouncing around the AHL for almost a decade, was so effective in his role with the Canucks last year that in the offseason he signed a two-year, $2.4 million free-agent deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. Bieksa, meanwhile, quietly signed a two-year, one-way deal with the Canucks ($500,000 in 2006-'07, $550,000 in 2007-'08) last week.

Both defencemen were poster boys for a new economic reality where contending teams must ensure their third and four lines and sixth and seventh defencemen do not betray a team loaded with top-end, high-priced talent.

In fact, Moose head coach Scott Arniel, who last year was behind the bench for the stellar playoff run of the Buffalo Sabres, believes openings for AHL players looking for their NHL shot have never been more apparent. Or needed by NHL teams, for that matter.
Reading this article actually reminded me of something that Tom Benjamin had mentioned in the past:

A Tyler Bouck is far more common than a Patrice Bergeron. A player like Tyler bounces up and down for a few years before disappearing or earning a fourth line spot. If he does make it, he tries to work his way up the depth chart. If he ends up being a pleasant surprise, it does not happen until the player is in his mid twenties. Until it does happen, the team is both better and cheaper if they hire the right veteran free agent at the minimum wage.

For example, Mike Keane in 2003-04 was a better buy than Tyler Bouck. He was a more useful player and he was cheaper. If Ryan Kesler is merely a role player, why play him at $800,000 when Tim Taylor will be available at $450,000? Why play Mike Commodore or Steve Montador if Marek Malik is the same price and better? Brian Pothier or Shane Hnidy may not be very good players, but they will be cheap and they will be better than most 22 or 23 year old defencemen including lots of first round picks. Heck, most veteran AHL defencemen are better than most NHL rookie defencemen. The young guy used to get the job because he had a better future, not because he was better.
The context of Tom's post was to compare the importance of good drafting versus signing good free agents, but I think the same principles apply. The new NHL is about value. Salary cap or not, the high-end players will always make their money. However, there's only so much money to go around and the key, simply, is to find other, lesser-paid players - including some who may come from the minors - who are able to contribute just as much as the highly-paid ones.

Last season, Anson Carter was a steal at $1 million. At his current asking price of $3 million per season for three seasons? Not so much and is still a free agent despite coming out of a 33-goal season. Ditto JP Dumont. He had a nice contract ($1.6 million) for the type of season he had (20 goals and 20 assists in 54 games), but is now a free agent after the Buffalo Sabres walked away from his $2.9 million arbitration award.

To replace Carter, the Canucks acquired Taylor Pyatt ($700K) and signed Jan Bulis ($1.3 million) to hopefully provide the same value that Carter did last season. They'll hope for the same from Moose graduates Kevin Bieksa ($525K), Rick Rypien ($450K) and Alex Burrows (RFA).

$3 million for one player who had one good year or for 4-5 players who can contribute (hopefully) similarly?

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Comments/Questions: Feel free to post in the comments section or email me at gocanucksgo10 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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posted by J.J. Guerrero, 7:32 PM

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