An uncalculated risk
Why Raycroft's deal could cost JFJ his job
I'm a day late, I realize, in bringing this to light, but there was one contract among all the unfathomable signings since Saturday that I just can't slip past.
Andrew Raycroft, Toronto Maple Leafs, 3 years/$6-million
I'll admit, I wasn't a fan of the deal the Leafs made at the entry draft when they acquired Raycroft, but the truth is he was a very good goaltender in his rookie season for Boston. If Toronto wanted to add him to their goaltending mix — they already have both Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin signed — he was as decent enough a low-cost third as any one.
Or so I thought.
Now, $2-million per season isn't much to spend on your starting goaltender, provided you know who that goaltender is. Raycroft's new deal pretty much guarantees he's their man, rain or shine.
The Leafs reasoning for giving the NHL's worst goaltender from 2005-06 a quasi-guaranteed starting role through 2008-09? Let's see here...
Before making the trade for Andrew Raycroft at the draft, Leafs general manager John Ferguson leaned heavily on pro scout Craig Button and goaltending coach Steve McKichan before making his final decision.The key word there being could.
Button told Ferguson that he believed Raycroft could return to the form that earned him rookie-of-the-year honours two years ago and McKichan was confident he could help Raycroft find his game.
Now, I don't know any more than any other pundit what kind of a season Raycroft is going to have. He certainly could rebound and go on to hit his sunny totals of 2003-04 — and that's definitely the basket where Ferguson and Co. have put their hockey eggs. An equally plausible scenario, however, has Raycroft struggling through the season's first handful of games, the Toronto fanbase and media calling for his head, the pressure mounting and, ultimately, the young netminder playing to 2005-06 form.
In other words, this could get ugly.
It's a risk, to be sure, but one that works if there's a plan as to what happens under scenario No. 2 that doesn't ultimately end in another buyout down the line.
What is truly unbelievable, however, is that Raycroft's agent, Jordan Neumann, was able to pull such a longterm deal given that his side had so little to bargain from. Raycroft's last decent season in the NHL, after all, was now more than two years ago behind one of the league's top teams (Boston was 2nd in the Eastern Conference in 2004) and he was downright awful last year — worse than even Patrick Lalime, who signed a one year, $700,000, attempt-to-save-his-career deal with the truly awful Chicago Blackhawks.
Speaking of Lalime, he was just one of the glut of goalies on the market, a list that still includes unrestricted free agents Manny Legace, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, Mike Dunham, Brian Boucher and Martin Prusek, and trading-block candidates J.S. Giguere, Evgeni Nabokov and one of Los Angeles' three netminders.
Point being, there's a ton of stoppers available, and there isn't anywhere near enough jobs for them. If you want a decent netminder, they're available at a low price — or at least a price lower than what Ferguson forked out for Raycroft. How he's worth a longterm deal at $2-million per year is hard to piece together.
But it's not just the money the Leafs gave up: They also forfeited 19-year-old Tuukka Rask, one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey.
Now, play armchair GM with me for a second — if you've got the option between dealing Rask and locking up Raycroft for $2-million/year, and keeping Rask and signing Legace for similar dollar figures, which do you choose? (Do remember that Legace had a .915 save percentage and a 37-8-3 record last season.)
As Ken Campbell later notes in the Toronto Star piece I quoted above, "in the new world of salary caps the move will prove to be a brilliant one if Raycroft can get back to playing the way he did in his rookie season."
The real question we should be asking, however, is 'what if he doesn't?' And that, my friends, seems in this case to simply be an uncalculated risk.
Let's just say there's a good chance Raycroft ends up sticking around a whole lot longer than the GM who brought him to Toronto.