Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Team building in the 'new' NHL

Eric Duhatschek has a fascinating piece on-line today on how the general managers remaining in the playoffs have built their teams under the league's new salary cap.

It offers some great insight from Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, who says that during his time on the unemployment line, he looked to the NFL — and Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Polian in particular — for ideas on how to build a team in a salary-cap league. Here's Burke:

"Managing a team these days is still about asset management, but the premium now is going to be on drafting well and keeping those draft choices until they get to unrestricted free agency, even if you have to take them to arbitration.

"But no matter what, you're going to end up driving guys to the airport, saying thank you very much, far more often than you did in the past."
That's wisdom that goes against what some have said, namely Tom Benjamin, about the decreased value of draft picks in the salary-capped NHL. As the reasoning goes, when you're losing players by age 25 (in the case of the elite) to unrestricted free agency, how valuable can they be?

You really need to read the whole piece to understand exactly what Burke's getting at here. One last bit from Duhatschek:
Of the four teams that held 2-0 leads into the third game of the Stanley Cup quarter-finals, three — the San Jose Sharks, the Buffalo Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes — are winning, with young improving teams operating well under the salary cap.

For the most part, they were on their way down this path long before the NHL salary restrictions were put in place.
If this truly becomes the accepted 'path' to winning in this league, I'm guessing we'll soon have all sorts of imitators — which means, among other things, that being a UFA won't be as much of a ticket to riches as it's been in the past. It's something we'll definitely get a better idea of in the offseason.


At 6:00 p.m., May 09, 2006, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

The UFA age has not come down yet. It begins to drop this summer. I think Tom is right about how to build a team when the UFA age drops.

This question cannot be addressed properly for another year or three.

At 7:10 p.m., May 09, 2006, Anonymous Robert Cleave said...

James, most of the imitators will be low income teams trying for revenue sharing, a la the Hurricanes or Predators. When the UFA age drops, as Tom and others have noted elsewhere, draft picks will be less valuable. That will also be the time where a smart GM will look at a major RFA signing. If the UFA age was 26 or 27, the draft picks required to get Brad Richards wouldn't seem like much of a price. If you're an elite team, you'd be hard pressed to a get a player at that level in the bottom half of the first round over a 4 year period, and the depth guys you'd normally need to draft could had as UFAs, already developed.

At 10:14 p.m., May 09, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

A lot of the guesswork as to how lower UFA ages are going to affect team building include an implicit assumption that team behavior won't change except in the manner posited by the writer.

One that I think might happen is that teams are more reluctant to sign their players out of juniors/college/European leagues as early precisely so that they get more of the players' peak years without losing him.


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