Thursday, July 06, 2006

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.

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.
The key word there being could.

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.

13 Comments:

At 3:12 AM, July 06, 2006, Anonymous Karina said...

Honestly, I was shocked. JFJ doesn't seem to like to take risks... and you're right, his job does hinge on this. Raycroft has one year to prove him right. Because they won't give JFJ an extention right now, and if the Leafs don't make it to the playoffs this year, he's gone.

 
At 3:38 AM, July 06, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

Boy would I LOCE to see you proved wrong because that i9s the best case scenario for the Leafs.

You COULD be right - the key word being could - and you are right that none of us know the future, and the Legae scneario looks tasty to me.

But I wonder...I wonder what a decent salary, a committment to number one and a new developmental coach might do for Raycroft...

And I'll give JFJ this much...it's true that his career could hinge on this deal and almost certainly will hinge on the Leafs performance this year. Seems he has some incentive to get it right too, with no one to take the fall.

It's intruiging and it gives me a nice storyline for next season. Can this club come back? Will JFJ blossom? Will the Leafs dressing room become a place where players learn the game rather than get the pep talk from the coach and hands off from there. Will this be an engaging team to watch or one where everyone just gives up when things aren't going well.

This is sea change time. I wonder how it will all play out.

 
At 3:38 AM, July 06, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

LOVE of course...

 
At 4:15 AM, July 06, 2006, Blogger The Acid Queen said...

Unless Chairman Mo's time with the Marlies taught him a thing or two about handling his goalies, Raycroft is hooped.

Mark my words.

 
At 9:18 AM, July 06, 2006, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

The real theme we might see (maybe in this situation or with other teams in the future) is that when a GM gets fired, his replacement will probably start with a lot of dead weight tied up in future years.

I don't know how we'll be able to recognize who is a good 'replacement GM', because likely the first task is to clean up the old guy's mess, which may last another 2 - 3 years of unattractive salary commitments.

In a 'quick fix' NHL, what can a guy do when his hands are tied from day one?

 
At 9:31 AM, July 06, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

My thoughts on this are that the Leafs (or any team for that matter) aren't goung to win squat with Aubin and Tellqvist as your goalies. They also aren't going to win squat with the other 'cheap' goalies you mentioned (Manny Legace, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, Mike Dunham, Brian Boucher and Martin Prusek). Giguere and Nabokov could be had but at a substantially higher cost to the salary cap and Raycroft was better than both of them in 2003-04. And Nabokov was equally as bad as Raycroft (.886 save% to Raycrofs .879) last year and I am not convinced that Anaheim is all that eager to trade Giguere yet. Both Pogge and Rask are at least a couple years away from being ready.

So, considering all that, Raycroft is a relatively low risk, potentially high reward gamble. If the gamble pays off and Raycroft returns to 2003-04 form the Leafs end up with a top-tier goalie (better than all those other options) at a very good price point. This allows them to spend more money on defense and forwards. This is how teams are going to win in the salary cap era. Having bargains on your team so you can spend more elsewhere.

The worst case scenario is that he faulters big time and the Leafs are stuck playing Aubin, who isn't good enough just like all their other options. Well, now they are right back where they started, waiting for Pogge to develop.

 
At 12:14 PM, July 06, 2006, Blogger E Colquhoun said...

It is kinda' funny to hear people talk about Pogge and Rusk as already being bankable NHL players. They are both unproven at the NHL level. They could, the operative word being could, be as good as everyone is predicting but they could just as easily be not. Hockey is littered with the next "Can't miss" prospect not panning out.

 
At 1:48 PM, July 06, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

It is kinda' funny to hear people talk about Pogge and Rusk as already being bankable NHL players.

I don't see anyone here saying anything like that — and I certainly didn't — but the point is, prospects are assets and Rask was one of the more valuable ones the Leafs had. Throwing him away for Raycroft, if he doesn't turn out, will look mighty silly.

I was at the World Jr. tournament this year, and Rask looked phenomenal — better than Pogge. Fundamentally, Rask has the skillset to play in the NHL a long time. Will he? As you said, we don't yet know, but I'm guessing he will.

If the Leafs don't think that's the case and their scouting of Rask was part of this deal, then good on them. That, however, really doesn't seem like that's the case.

And DJ, I agree Raycroft is a good low-cost option, but there's really no reason they couldn't have signed him to this deal once the season was underway and he'd put some solid games behind him. At least then it would be based on something tangible rather than a shot in the dark (which this seems to be).

 
At 2:38 PM, July 06, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

And DJ, I agree Raycroft is a good low-cost option, but there's really no reason they couldn't have signed him to this deal once the season was underway and he'd put some solid games behind him. At least then it would be based on something tangible rather than a shot in the dark (which this seems to be).

Well, if he plays great I am sure he would want more than $2 million a season and I believe he would have been an unrestricted free agent next season. That would defeat the purpose of taking a gamble to try and get a quality, low cost goalie for some length of time. BTW, the new CBA prohibits signing players to extensions until January 1st so Raycroft would have ample time to prove himself deserving of a much higher salary.

The other issue with Rask is that he has to be signed by next summer or else he goes back into the draft. Maybe the Leafs didn't want to take that chance. Maybe the Leafs got hints from Rasks agent that he wasn't sure he wanted to sign if he was going to have to share time with Pogge in the AHL or was considered behind Pogge int he depth charts. You don't know what other issues may have been going on behind the scenes but while Raycroft is definitely a gamble it's a gamble with potentially big reward.

Throwing him away for Raycroft, if he doesn't turn out, will look mighty silly.

Sure, and if Raycroft returns to his rookie year form the Bruins will look mighty silly. Well, ok, they already do for that Thornton trade, so maybe they don't care.

 
At 4:07 PM, July 06, 2006, Anonymous Karina said...

murmurings around the Leafs were that Rask wouldn't sign until he knew he would be the #1 prospect in the system. It made no sense to sign him and bring him to the AHL where he would have to fight with Pogge for playing time, since Pogge is already signed and will be the Marlies goaltender this year, so the likelihood of Rask signing was, I would say, pretty low with the Leafs. I expect to hear the Bruins have signed him any time now.

 
At 4:14 PM, July 06, 2006, Blogger ninja said...

DJ, nice job.

For all the 'ifs' and 'coulds' in this post Rask is Luongo, JFJ is Mike Keenan, and Raycroft is Carey. Or is it the opposite? Basically, it is a wait and see situation; both teams won at the time of the deal.

How feverish is the desire to be the first to announce JFJ's demise in t.dot?

 
At 5:30 PM, July 06, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

ninja...I'll be that desire is even more feverish than the one wanting to announce the Leafs next Stanley Cup victory. Everyone loves to tear folks down in T.O.

Present company excluded of course ;-)

 
At 12:27 AM, July 07, 2006, Anonymous pete said...

that's definitely the basket where Ferguson and Co. have put their hockey eggs

Dude, until this ballsy deal -- which I admit could look like an albatross in as little as three months from now -- I wasn't even sure JFJ had any eggs to speak of.

 

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