Wednesday, March 19, 2008

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.
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9 Comments:

At 7:20 PM, March 19, 2008, Blogger Doogie said...

The trouble with Tyler's argument is that the goalie market has been absolute shit. Bryzgalov went for nothing. Huet went for a second-rounder. What was Garon gonna get, even given the fact that he's signed another year? Not likely enough that it would've made up for not having that lottery pick.

There was no room in the plan for this year for tanking or selling, thanks to the Penner deal. And really, who could the Oilers have sold? Stoll? Who'd take him? Pitkanen? Maybe, but after paying that much, would they? Reasoner? No. Sanderson? No. Glencross? Come on, they just got him two weeks before the deadline. We're running out of potential free agents, here, and then we're on to people who are signed beyond this year, who are almost all either A. injured, or B. key parts of the team going forward. All things considered, I think standing pat was the only move Lowe really had.

And say whatever you will about how they're winning, but they're still winning, and something must be said for that. I know Tyler thinks this run is a load of shit, and that the Oilers will finish 17th in the West next year, but even if I were to agree with that, which I don't, I'm not seeing how dealing Garon three weeks ago would've affected that, never mind what happens two or three years down the road.

 
At 7:23 PM, March 19, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I guess the point isn't that they must deal Garon but that there should be some sort of a plan in place to have this team with a winning cast two or three years from now. If Garon can backstop a contender at 33, then he's your guy. If not, get something for him and find another one.

You're right about the return though: The Huet deal proved a starter wasn't worth as much as you'd think during the deadline (although Garon's signed for another year).

 
At 7:42 PM, March 19, 2008, Blogger mc79hockey said...

The trouble with Tyler's argument is that the goalie market has been absolute shit. Bryzgalov went for nothing. Huet went for a second-rounder. What was Garon gonna get, even given the fact that he's signed another year? Not likely enough that it would've made up for not having that lottery pick.

Well, I would have thought that Garon would have netted a better return than Huet, given his contract status. If anything, the difference between the return Bryzgalov netted (nothing) and the return Huet netted (a second round pick) shows that the goalie market got a hell of a lot better by the deadline. Which, if I recall correctly, is a point that I've made before (*cough* the "we had to move Pronger before everyone spent their money" argument was bullshit *cough*)

I know Tyler thinks this run is a load of shit, and that the Oilers will finish 17th in the West next year, but even if I were to agree with that, which I don't, I'm not seeing how dealing Garon three weeks ago would've affected that, never mind what happens two or three years down the road.

1. I didn't realize I'd already said that next year's Oilers will be shit. As things stand, I don't think that they're a playoff team but, at this point in time, I could see the argument for 10th, which makes the playoffs an outside shot if things go well.

2. The point of trading Garon isn't for next year. It's for a year or two away, when Gagner and Co. are better.

 
At 8:41 PM, March 19, 2008, Blogger Doogie said...

I didn't realize I'd already said that next year's Oilers will be shit. As things stand, I don't think that they're a playoff team but, at this point in time, I could see the argument for 10th, which makes the playoffs an outside shot if things go well.

You're right, you didn't, I'm sorry. That was Vic, wasn't it? I know someone said that in LT's Sharks GDT and I was flabbergasted.

The point of trading Garon isn't for next year. It's for a year or two away, when Gagner and Co. are better.

I recognize that, however, I still don't see where it would have helped. I mean, fine, the goalie market improved slightly -- the needle flickered a bit, I guess -- but I don't see anyone giving up good young talent for fourteen months of Mathieu Garon on the basis of 40 or so largely good games, no matter how cheap he is.

 
At 8:45 PM, March 19, 2008, Blogger mc79hockey said...

I don't see anyone giving up good young talent for fourteen months of Mathieu Garon on the basis of 40 or so largely good games, no matter how cheap he is.

My point, I guess, is that when extreme need - as I perceived Washington to have - meets limited supply (I didn't realize Huet was available; I don't think anyone knew), you get extreme overpayments. Heck, I even pointed to the Oates to Philly deal I think...same type of a situation, although Oates was obviously more established. Look at the price the Oilers paid for Roli way back when, which a lot of people thought was pretty high. Similar type situation. I don't think it's as out there as you suggest and, if I'd been running the Washington Capitals, I would have at least considered it (particularly if, as seemed likely, there was nobody else good available).

 
At 12:22 AM, March 20, 2008, Blogger E said...

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.

obviously i agree, i have very little choice, but the problem for gms is that the 'lock in your stars' method is just plain easier. a veteran can be a known quantity. someone who's 'just rounding into form' isn't. i know that the running example here is the oilers, but i'd like to point out that what you're describing (short contracts, favoring young and cheap players over old and expensive ones) is what gainey's been doing in montreal. turns out it's working for him, but the thing that should be pointed out is that no one thought it would. the habs this year, with their cadre of young and mostly unstarlike darari were supposed to be... what's the word i'm looking for? oh yeah, shit. they're not, but given the unpredictability of player development in the early years, does that make him a smart gm? or just a lucky one?

 
At 12:58 AM, March 20, 2008, Blogger Old said...

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.

Unless they are the Detroit Redwings. I am not a Redwings fan but they have been good, what, the last fifteen or so years. They have won a few Cups in that time, but they are usually in the play-offs, and it would not have surprised me if they had won four or five Cups in that time.

 
At 11:41 AM, March 20, 2008, Blogger Black Dog said...

James, I believe that Hemsky was signed for six years - so through 2012.

 
At 12:03 PM, March 20, 2008, Blogger MetroGnome said...

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.

Please send the above to:

DSutter@calgaryflames.com

 

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