Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Nonis files

Canucks GM Dave Nonis gained a reputation — and a nickname (No-nuts) — for being timid and dull early on in his tenure, but considering his outburst yesterday, the newbie manager has learned a thing or two from his mentor, noted blowhard Brian Burke.

Of course Nonis goes a little overboard in his rant, but the thing I don't understand is the relentless pile-on that's come in the wake of his comments. It's almost as if everyone in the hockey world, universally, agrees that an unrestricted free agency age of 25 for the game's top prospects is nothing but a good thing.

Everyone except our favourite madman in the wilderness, Tom Benjamin:
The Penguins did not have to sign Jordan Staal. There are negative consequences to signing one of the best young prospects in hockey? Isn't that crazy? Isn't that, as Nonis said, a joke? The "reality" of this CBA is a reality because Gary Bettman insisted on the tradeoff. That does not make it good for the game or the fan.
No, it doesn't, and simply because Nonis is a GM working within the guidelines of that CBA doesn't make his criticisms any less valid.

To me, 25 is too young an age to be subject to a bidding war, and I'd rather have seen a higher cap figure with only a slightly lowered UFA age brought in with this CBA. While Matt at The Battle of Alberta is correct in blowing Nonis's 'player development' musings out of the water, the one thing a few extra years before unrestricted free agency would allow is for teams to retain some semblance of identity. (And while the Penguins will likely get seven excellent years out of a player like Sidney Crosby, the same can't be said for every 18-year-old future star who plays in the NHL.)

Instead of making the free agency age contingent on when a player joins the league, having one UFA age — even if it is as low as 27 — for all players seems to make the most sense. That way, at least, the best players, regardless of age, will be kept in the NHL, and not sent back to junior as a way of 'saving' a year of service for teams concerned with their future bottom line.

Because that is a joke.



At 5:32 p.m., October 31, 2006, Anonymous Chris DeGroat said...

I don't understand why people keep focusing on "25" when so few players will actually reach free agency at that age. The age for almost all players will be 27 and that is plenty old enough.

Besides, if you look at the NFL where they also have both a cap and an early free agency, you'll see that rarely are star players not retained because of the salary cap. The players that teams lose are generally the mid level players.

The Rams, for example, still have their elite players from their 1999 Super Bowl team except the two whose skills deteriorated (Warner, Faulk). Where they were hurt was the loss of some of their above average defensive players like London Fletcher.

Moral of the story... if the Penguins treat Crosby, Malkin, and Company right they will be able to retain them. The real question is whether or not they'll develop the mid level guys good enough to remain an elite team (assuming they actually reach that status)

At 9:33 p.m., October 31, 2006, Anonymous Rod said...

There's an important aspect that's continually lost when discussing UFA age. What's the difference from the "old" system? Sure, UFA age goes down, but, a team has a much better chance of keeping said player until (and beyond) UFA. The old system had a higher UFA age, but there was absolutely no guarantee they could keep a player that long (see hold-out and trade demand). Perfect example was Mike Comrie bolting from the Oilers after only two and half years. Nowhere near UFA, but Comrie dictated his way out of Edmonton.

Beyond UFA, with a cap in place, teams have a better chance of retaining their stars before and after UFA. If today's system were in place, would Edmonton have lost both Curtis Joseph and Doug Weight to UFA? I doubt it. At the same time, players are compensated very well in the current system.

I agree is would be awful for the Penguins to lose Crosby or Staal at 25. However, the current system at least gives them a fighting chance of doing so.

Seems a reasonably fair balance to me.

- Rod

At 11:07 p.m., October 31, 2006, Blogger Wardo said...

Nonis is being a moron. Would he rather a player not get his feet under him until he's 22, just so he'll be under team control until 27, 28? If you have a player due for free agency by 25, it means that he's already an impact player in the prime of life. It means that your team is probably in a position to be better, sooner. "Oh no, we have to keep another 18-year-old on our roster! Why can't he stink so we can send him down and pick up a fill-in player on waivers instead?"

Regardless of how old a player is when he becomes unrestricted, any team will have to pay the piper for a superstar player when the day arrives.

And hell, maybe it's a good thing it happens by 25. For inflationary reasons, the contract might be less than age 27, and the team then gets the chance to ink the guy to a long term contract that'll take him to his 30's, instead of signing him when all his best years are behind him.

At 10:12 a.m., November 01, 2006, Blogger PK said...

As if the Pens are going to let Crosby go as a UFA when he's 25 ... Nonis is a moron.

Pittsburgh is in a "now" phase, not a "future" phase, with the rapid development of Crosby, Staal, Malkin and Fleury. If the Pens can't win a Cup in the next six years with this nucleus, then the coaches, players or front office will have failed.

Sure, those four guys will cost plenty of cap room. But there will be a host of "character" and "grit" veterans who will want to come to the Pens at moderate or lower salaries for the shot at playing for a Cup with these supernova kids.

At 2:13 p.m., November 01, 2006, Anonymous Frank said...

This is all academic because Crosby will never become a free agent. In July 2008,(at age 21) Crosby's three year entry contract will expire and he will become a restricted free agent (RFA). If he has developed to the point where he has become the "new Wayne Gretzky" of the NHL, the NY Rangers will give him an offer sheet at the 20% cap maximum (currently $8.8 million annually)for 10 years.

Quietly behind the scenes, Bettman and the League Governors will be supporting the Rangers in this move as they will want to get Crosby to NY so that he can be marketed as the "new face" of the NHL in the US media.

Behind the scenes Bettman and the Governor's will also encourage the Pittsburgh owners to not match the offer sheet but take the 5 first round draft choices as compensation. They will indicate that it will be "highly unlikely" (wink wink - nudge nudge)that any GM will present an offer sheet for Malkin when he becomes a restricted free agent in July 2009, allowing Pittsburgh to resign him at a reasonable price.

The bottom line of all this;

(1) The NHL gets its new "Wayne Gretzky" (who is a North American - not a Russian) into the media centre of the US where they can market him as the new "face" of the NHL - and use him to help obtain a new national US television contract.

(2) While Pittsburgh loses Crosby they gets to keep Malkin at a reasonable price, and get 5 first rounders. They would never have been able to afford to keep both players when they reached UFA status in any event.

(3) The Rangers have to give up five first rounders for Crosby. However, if Crosby has developed to "Gretzky status", they will be finishing high in the standings each year and their first rounders will be in the 25th to 30th pick range, which is not much more than a second round pick.


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