Friday, January 18, 2008

Guilt-free spending

Greg Ballentine picks up on something I failed to mention in the Alex Ovechkin contract coverage last week, and I think it bears repeating:
From the standpoint of a GM, what does George McPhee have to lose in signing Alexander Ovechkin to a 13-year deal? McPhee's job is in jeopardy now. He could very possibly be fired this season or this summer. If he loses Ovechkin, the likelihood of that is increased. Ovechkin is one of the top players in the game and will in all likelihood be worth a huge salary — at least as long as he can stay healthy.

If the time comes that Ovechkin is no longer worth his salary cap hit or is no longer healthy, McPhee knows he will likely be long gone from the Washington organization. It is somebody else's problem. There is little downside to him personally.
It's true. The only two general managers in the league who have had the kind of longevity Oveckin's deal provides are Lou Lamoriello (21 years) and Jim Rutherford (14).

Barring a trade, injury or buyout, he outlasts McPhee — and likely a host of other managers that will have to build a team around him.

It's something that's related to what's gone on here in Toronto with the Maple Leafs, where GM John Ferguson has essentially been given a one-year mandate to 'win now' with little regard for the future. He's dealt prospects for has-beens, first-rounders to cover mistakes, and signed ridiculously long, lucrative deals with ageing players like Jason Blake.

In short, it's been a mess.

But with the kind of longevity that Ovechkin, Mike Richards and Rick DiPietro — and, soon enough, quite a few others — will enjoy, what used to be a fairly long term for a GM will be nothing. McPhee, Paul Holmgren, Garth Snow and the majority of the others in NHL management positions are almost all dealing with that same 'win soon' mentality, especially with standings where everyone's still in the cluttered race.

It's pretty difficult to think of long-term ramifications when it's the games next week that matter, and you wonder just how many teams are betting the farm in the hopes of short-term success.

Judging by the nonsense that went on at the trade deadline last season, quite a few.

N.B. Ballentine lumps a lot of blame for the deal on McPhee, but in the Capitals' case there were a lot more hands in the pie and ownership certainly played a role in the length of the deal.

That, too, is something we have seen play out with ugly results in Toronto.

Extra Longterm Contracts [The Puck Stops Here]
When is the end for a goal scorer? [James Mirtle]
Ovechkin deal all about the risk [James Mirtle]
Scoring by Age: An In-Depth Look [Dan Tolensky]

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At 1:56 a.m., January 18, 2008, Anonymous Danny Tolensky said...

And that's where the risk lies for the player. Ovechkin went on about how much he likes Washington and management etc and that's why he wanted to stay so long. But in 13 years he'll have gone through at least a few coaches, a couple GMs, maybe a new owner and all new teammates a few times over. What's to say he'll be just as happy at 27, 30 or 34 as he is at 22?

Depending how productive he is if/when he becomes unhappy with the current state of the franchise, he may be untradable due to the contract. Think about Jagr in Washington, without the ability for the Caps to pick up half his salary.. what would have happened to him?

At 2:00 a.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

You are right. I should have placed some of McPhee's balme on Ted Leonsis

At 9:43 a.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

McPhee did the job his owner wanted him to do. Wang negotiated exclusively with DiPietro... Snow wasn't all that privy to the direction of that deal. Richards I would think was a bit of a mutual agreement between Holmgren and Snider, though I can't be sure. Snider likes to be involved, so I assume he was on this monumental deal rather than as just a rubber stamp guy.

These are owners looking beyond the current GM. None of these GM's will be fired for this deal, they will be fired for not building winners around these cornerstones if it doesn't pan out.

What happens now will be interesting when one of these guys does get fired. Now a future GM applying for the opening will have to explain how they plan on building a winner around the player with the lifetime contract... he has no choice but to do so. It'll be interesting if this keeps certain potential candidates away from these teams with these contracts already on the books.

At 10:33 a.m., January 18, 2008, Anonymous baroque said...

It'll be interesting if this keeps certain potential candidates away from these teams with these contracts already on the books.

Good observation.

I think it will be a negative for the best candidates, if they have a very clear idea of how they want a team to be built, and it doesn't include the owner's chosen cornerstone. They probably would shoot down any overtures very quickly if they don't want to be stuck with a particular player for the duration with no possibility of getting rid of him if he no longer fits in the team as being reconstructed.

At 11:15 a.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger Dennis Prouse said...

Other than the fact that he wanted to keep Ovechkin, (duh!) I doubt McPhee was involved at all in these negotiations. In a contract of this magnitude, the owner, in this case Leonsis, would have been the one calling all the shots. McPhee may not have even been in the room when the final deal was reached. That's not a slam on McPhee, but rather the reality of a deal this size. When it gets that big, and it has to do with the future of the franchise, the responsibility has to rest with the guy who writes the cheques. That's the way it is in any business.

At 11:20 a.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

And it's also important to note that McPhee wasn't fired for the Jagr deal, and Milbury wasn't exactly fired/forced to step down for the Yashin deal, either.

At 11:35 a.m., January 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, the new CBA was designed to take matters out of the hands of GMs and leave it to the owners. The GMs no longer have as much power in terms of rule changes and contracts of this length are almost exclusively conducted by the owner.

At 11:51 a.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger Jes Gőlbez said...

It's been a constant theme in the business world that managers are rewarded for short term goals (profits this year) rather than long term goals, which are much more important to the health of the organization.

Until owners figure out that a long-term plan is more important than WIN NOW, GM's will always do what it takes to save their jobs, rather than what is best for their teams.

At 12:16 p.m., January 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with Ovechkin might be his Russian heritage. They're like boxers from Bronx. You get everything and you lose you killer instinct.

If I say Yashin, everybody is going to say that Ovechkin is totally different player, right?

Well, when Yashin came to Ottawa he was very much like Ovechkin. Fans and media just loved the kid. He stayed on the ice after practises honing his great skills.

Yashin was always smiling, always happy. And a darn good hockey player.

He also had his parents everywhere with him. As do Ovechkin.

Ok, would Yashin still be the same smiling guy if Sens would have given him 13 yr. deal or would he have become what he was before he left NHL this summer?

My point is that everything that you love about Ovechkin was once Yashin's make-up, too.

At 2:42 p.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) The Yashin/Ovechkin comparisons are ludicris. Yashin QUIT twice! His M.O. was well known BEFORE the Isles gave him that silly 10 year deal.
2) If Ovechkin were like Yashin he'd of waited till the summert to sign a deal then ask for the max allowed,
3) Yashin may be a great guy off the ice, but he has NEVER been known to be a real team leader. If fact he may very well have been a locker room cancer
3) BTW, what does one's heritage got to do with it? We're sure any of a number of folks could name players of multiple nationalities who 'quit' once 'they got the money'

At 2:49 p.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger Bruce said...

Lest it be forgotten, Wayne Gretzky set the early standard for extra-long-term contracts, signing a 21-year personal services contract for the unheard-of sum of $5 MM (for the lifetime of the contract, not per annum!) on the occasion of his 18th birthday, January 26, 1979. There happened to be a home game that night so Peter Pocklington, ever the showman, did it up right, signing Wayne at centre ice before the game, presenting him with two birthday cakes in the shape of 9s which added up to 18 but spelled out both his number and the expiry year of his fresh new contract! I remember being so excited about the prospect of watching this wunderkind for the next two decades (turned out to be just one in Edmonton) that the game itself assumed secondary importance, and frankly the whole Oiler team played it that way. I still have the program from that game, a 5-2 win by the Cincinnati Stingers, featuring second-period assists by Gretzky, Mark Messier and Mike Gartner, teenagers finding their professional legs in the WHA who would become three of the greatest scorers in NHL history.

The personal services clause protected Gretzky from the general rape and pillage that the NHL performed on the incoming WHA teams in the subsequent merger that fall. Gretzky did indeed play through 1999, but his contract was rewritten after a few years to pay him something closer to his actual value and to provide him some flexibility. But for most of his greatest years his extra-long-term contract was the best bargain in sports.

At 3:00 p.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3:02 p.m., January 18, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

1) Ovechkin's big problem is that he was drafted 1st overall. Much like Doug Wickenheiser, he's doomed to failure.

2) Ovechkin's big problem is his first name is Aleksander. Much like Alexandre Daigle, he is sure to flame out.

3) Ovechkin's big problem is he plays left wing. Much like Luc Robitaille and Trevor Linden, he will suck for any team but the one that drafted him.

4) Ovechkin's biggest problem is that he won the Calder Trophy. Much like Barret Jackman and Andrew Raycroft, the previous two winners, his star will fade.

5) Ovechkin's biggest problem is his Russian heritage. Much like Igor Larionov, he will prove to be a quitter.

6) Apologies to FAUX RUMOURS for stealing his bit.

At 11:08 a.m., January 19, 2008, Anonymous Gerald said...

Adam, you forgot to riddle your posts with spelling errors and other assorted manglings of the language (such as "would of"). A true stealing of Faux's bit would have included those features.


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