A last word on the Vanek fiasco
I'm going to give it to Matt Fenwick, who makes what I think is the key point at The Battle of Alberta when it comes to the bellyaching we've seen in the wake of Kevin Lowe's $50-million offer sheet to Thomas Vanek:
The Buffalo Sabres have been permitted under the CBA to negotiate a contract with Thomas Vanek for the 2007/08 season for 371 days now. For the first 365 of those, they were the one and only team permitted to do so, all the while with the knowledge that Vanek could sign an offer sheet with another team when those 365 days were up.This is the CBA, and it's high time general managers stop pretending the offer sheet clause doesn't exist simply because it's "not nice."
No doubt they could have signed him to a Ryan Whitney deal 10 days ago, or 200 ago. They didn't.
The only way I can rationalize the fact that the Sabres are this downright inconsolable about the whole thing is if they truly don't think Vanek will live up to the contract, which should have put them in a position to shuffle him off and, given Chris Drury and Daniel Briere already flew the coop, be major players in free agency next year.
The Oilers obviously believe Vanek is worth the contract (and the picks), at least in the long term, and it's that belief that Buffalo opened themselves up to by nancing around the past year.
Whether it's a pending UFA like Ryan Smyth, or someone who's vulnerable like Vanek, teams simply don't have the option of frittering away an asset they want to hold onto. If you've got a Jarome Iginla type who you deem absolutely essentially to the future of your franchise, get a deal done when he's yours to deal with or be prepared to lose him — and in the case of younger RFAs, perhaps in a not-so-nice manner.
Thomas Vanek is 23 years old and has 68 goals in his first two NHL seasons. That's more than Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley, Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik and every other sniper drafted in the last decade (not named Crosby or Ovechkin) has managed in their first two years in the league.
He's a special player, there's no doubt, and you simply don't dangle those assets in times of desperation.
Lesson learned, I'm sure.
UPDATE Colby Cosh has more thoughts both here and here.
UPDATE So much for finding the last, definitive word on this business. Tom Benjamin brings up yet another point well worth making and remaking: The Vanek offer will not drive up player salaries.
In one sense, it's good to see the young stars of the game cashing in while the old-and-busted types that took home big money prelockout are scrambling for contracts, signing one-year deals and often taking pay cuts to stay in the league. As Tom notes, Bobby Holik's not getting anywhere close to $9-million per season under this CBA.
That's all relatively healthy, but the danger lies in the fact that teams are now in the position of having to pay based on future production, something that is all well and good for the Sidney Crosbys (who are guaranteed to earn their dough), but less of a slam dunk when it comes to, let's say, the next Jim Carey.
Some clubs are going to bite down hard on a big-money contract for a flash-in-the-pan, soon-to-be RFA, and the results will be ugly.