Finding the window
Tyler Dellow had a good post about a month back that I've been meaning to get to, and now seems as good a time as any.
Essentially, he argued that the Oilers should have dealt netminder Mathieu Garon at the trade deadline and that doing so would be in keeping with when Edmonton's going to be able to ice a contender again.
He gets into a bit of a baseball analogy here, but bear with me:
... it doesn't make sense for the Oilers to be holding onto value for this year or, probably, next year. I took some jabs at Lowe last year for trying to bring the Billy Beane when he doesn't quite get it. Beane made an interesting series of trades this offseason that Lowe should be paying some attention to. ... He's trying to build a team that can compete for a World Series, Haren and Swisher weren't going to be cheap contributors in the window when he perceives success to be likely — they're cashed in for guys who might be. It's the absolute right move to make.Let's assume that Kevin Lowe, and indeed every NHL general manager, has one end goal: to win the Stanley Cup. If I was running a team, that'd be what drove every decision the organization made, whether that meant we were aiming to win the Cup that particular season or a few years down the line.
Edmonton's a good team to use an example. Despite a terrific 10-2 run here lately, they're very unlikely to make the playoffs, and even if they do, no one's calling this team a contender. There are some legitimate building blocks in place for the future, however — players like Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner, for example — that offer hope down the line.
If I'm Kevin Lowe, I'm looking for my window and aiming to put together as many key contributers as possible in that time frame.
The Oilers' window starts with three youngsters: Hemsky's on a reasonable, $4-million contract through 2012, while Gagner and Andrew Cogliano are on entry-level deals until 2009-10. Two years down the road, at least, is where this team is going to begin to put things together, and the question should be 'Is Garon the 'guy' for when you reach that window?'
If he's not, throw him overboard for someone who will be (and put 'starting goaltender' on your to-do list going forward).
Now, that's a pretty elementary way to look at team building, but with the Oilers, the plan that should be in place is rather clear. (As long as you're prepared to ignore the fact that Sheldon Souray's $5.4-million contract is along for the ride until 2012.)
The teams that aren't too worried about searching for the window are those that are contenders now — think San Jose, Detroit, Anaheim, etc. There's a certain 'win now' mentality you can take when you're on the cusp, and while the future's always important, long-range planning isn't. Their goal is to remain a contender as long as possible, and when the salary cap necessitates that some up-and-coming pieces need to be shipped out, throw a youngster overboard and add a Brian Campbell at the deadline. Try to make a run.
The other model is what New Jersey's done, essentially not filling holes left by the likes of Brian Rafalski and Scott Gomez. The better you draft and sign the undrafted, the longer you can stay on top by replacing former stars who have climbed the salary ladder with underpaid talent.
But if you're looking for the window, it's small.
Case in point, the Penguins, who have two incredible stars complemented by some pretty nice young talent. Despite the relative youth of Pittsburgh's lineup, the fact that both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both going to command near-max contracts in the near future necessitates that the team-building process is sped up.
Forget the fact that this might be before their time — the Penguins' window is right now, when someone like Malkin can win a Hart Trophy and still be paid under $4-million next season.
Pittsburgh has $27-million committed for 2008-09, but there are about eight significant unrestricted free agent holes coming July 1, and Marc-Andre Fleury, an RFA, is due a raise. Come the season after next, 2009-10, and Malkin and Crosby are making $9-million a season, or about one-third of the Penguins' cap, and Jordan Staal is due a new deal.
There's no room, in other words, for a Marian Hossa, who will command an enormous deal as a 29-year-old UFA. Think $50-million plus over seven years and find a spot for that behemoth long term.
Here's ESPN's John Buccigross from last night:
NHL teams will have to look at things as NFL teams do. You won't be able to fall in love with players, and you can't talk about being a contender for 10 seasons. You have to look through smaller windows. Otherwise, you could have a very good season, then be mediocre for the next five.It's not an easy thing to do. And especially not if you're a team that hasn't stocked the cupboards with pieces that will define when your window should be.
Who, for example, do the Maple Leafs build around? Their 18-year-old draft pick this summer? What is Tampa Bay's short- and long-term plan given that Vinny Lecavalier can jump ship come July, 2009? With Roberto Luongo in the fold for two more years, how do the Canucks go from being on the fringes of contention to right in the thick of things within that time frame given how poor their prospect pool is?
We're going to see an awful lot of different types of teams over the next few seasons, but there's certain to be plenty of mediocrity, rosters that have one or two stars to carry the load and little in the way of support staff.
The difference between who's on top and who's watching the lottery balls is narrower than it's ever been, but the smart teams need to be unafraid to dump veterans when their time has come and add players who are just rounding into form.
The rest will sign Dan Boyle until 2014, and keep their fingers crossed.