In February of 2011 I was in Florida for my honeymoon. I knew I had married the right lady when she agreed to go to a Florida Panther’s game – please don’t read into the title yet; marrying my wife wasn’t a fear based decision.
Watching the game Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers reminded me of my honeymoon. However, unlike the energy coming out of the MTS Centre, which was evident through my TV, going to a game in Southern Florida was an underwhelming experience. From about 80% of the seats being empty right up until puck drop to the attendant in the ticket window bartering her own tickets down (we got 2 tickets in the lower bowl, row 12, for less than $100 when we asked for a pair of their cheapest tickets), we were definitely not in Western Canada. Actually, the most excitable and entertaining fans were the Sabre’s fans in attendence- they seem almost like a poor man’s Rider’s fan.
When Bryan Little scored the OT winner, I looked him up on NHLnumbers.com. He’s an RFA at the end of the season. Looking at the rest of the Jets on the list got me thinking about the promo which played at several different moments during the Panthers game I attended. It featured GM Dale Tallon standing in front of a blueprint talking about ‘The Plan’ which was going to bring back winning hockey to South Florida. He spoke about how they were going to build with youth and through the draft to ensure years of winning hockey. The Cap floor saw him circumvent ‘The Plan’ and bring in a number of high priced vets (Campbell, Jovanovski, Upshall, Versteeg, etc, etc) in the summer of 2011. These weren’t (I don’t believe) fear based moves, they were moves to avoid penalty.
However, many GM’s are never fully able to execute their plan for different reasons and end up making snap decisions to hold on to their jobs or to placate fans. They are even prey to the whims of their owners who want to ‘make a spalsh’ (Ville Leino, I’m looking at you). These are all decisions based on some level of fear- fear of losing a job, fear of losing the fans, etc. This is not a great way to run any enterprise and a professional sports team should be no different, but yet they are. The burden of emotion combined with ego.
Looking at teams and GM’s who have stood the test of time and had success, you can see evidence of a plan. Detroit is the model which all other teams should aspire to – consistent coaching, consistent management and a thread which has connected the various generations of Red Wing players over the past 20 years. You never seem to hear or read about a Detroit signing that is a blatant overpayment. They always seem to be able to convince their own guys and free agents to sign reasonable contracts. In addition, they have a plan in place for each position; guys like Jimmy Howard pay their dues but eventually move their way up to a role on the parent club. Detroit will be in a state of flux for the next few years while they re-tool, but if management continues to run the Wings the way they have since the early 90’s, it is a safe bet they’ll at least be challenging for a playoff spot or better year after year.
When the Thrashers became the Jets, the entire front office was turned over. Hopefully the new regime has a plan in place and can avoid the fear based mistakes so apparent in other organizations. In a capped league, if you pay a centre 6 million or more per season, he’s your first line centre for the duration of that contract (or at least he takes up the portion of your payroll which should be alotted to that position).
The same is true of every position and role on the team. You only need to look at the Shawn Horcoff contract in Edmonton. The Oilers made fear based decision to overpay Horcoff based on one decent (not fantastic) career season. The fear was they would lose him to a team willing to overpay him in free-agency. Now they are left with one of the most expensive third line centres in the league with a 5.5 million cap hit until the year after they have to re-sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Of course, there are many other examples like this around the NHL. The Oilers may use a one-time lifeline to get out of Horcoff’s contract this summer; a lifeline which won’t be available to the Jets in the future.
For Jets fans, as noted by fellow JetsNation Blogger Jercon Jake yesterday, "The Winnipeg Jets have an interesting off season ahead of them, as several of their key players are pending Restricted Free Agents." Not only do they have RFA’s, but key UFA’s as well. This is where the plan enters and control of fear is crucial. Does the team back up the Brink’s truck for Antropov, Ponikraovsky, and Little?
Before they do, the question that needs to be asked is, "in the role these players are currently in, would they occupy that position on a Stanley Cup contending team?" If the answer is no, which it would be in all three cases, then you need for these players to accept a short term deal so that the team is not tied up with salary cap issues if either a few young players or UFA’s emerge that would garner a ‘yes’ when the afforementioned question is asked. The team also needs to internally identify which of their young players are going to form their core as they move forward. For example, if Scheifele is to be their second line centre of the future, there is no sense in signing someone else on a longer term deal to compete for that role.
With young players such as Scheifele, emerging players like Postma, and key pieces in place which aren’t long in the tooth like Byfuglien and Pavelec, the Jets have a very good opportunity to build a perrenial winner. Of course this is only if they can avoid the temptation of short sighted fear based decisions. I could be wrong, but thats my opinion.
- So Tuesday I wrote about Paul Postma and he makes me look good by having a great game the other night. I’d love to pat myself on the back, but to be honest, I was just looking for something to write about.
- Speaking of bad contracts, what do you think the odds are that Lecavalier’s 10 million cap hit until 2015/16 gets bought out this summer?