Never Mind, Optimism Over an NHL/NHLPA Agreement was Just the 1800 Silver Talking
October 17, 2012 Leave a comment
(UPDATE: 10/18/12 – 5:50 PM: The NHLPA came back with three separate counter-proposals on Thursday, none of which satisfied the NHL in the slightest. The only silver lining is that the framework remains to get an 82-game season up-and-running by November 2nd if the two sides can reach an agreement by this time next week…which is about as likely Sid and Claude Giroux running a foot race and then embracing passionately. People as me why I Drink Constantly, and the answer is lawyers have taken 1.5 NHL Seasons and Counting from me.)
(UPDATE: 10/17/12 – 3:00 PM: Don Fehr went over the NHL’s proposal with a fine-tooth comb, and of course shot holes in it. He somewhat melodramatically referred to the Owners’ previous proposals as “Draconian” while acknowledging that Tuesday’s proposal was the best the NHL had submitted. The two sides are meeting again Thursday. Full details are available here.)
At long last, there is a reasonable offer tabled by Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL. Both Elliotte Friedman and Puck Daddy are all over the available details:
Here were the highlights I took away from the NHL’s latest proposal, as they concern the Penguins:
* Contract Lengths to be Capped at Five Years
Since Sid’s Contract was both Awesome, Team-Friendly, and came in under the now-expired CBA wire, there is not concern about keeping him in Black-and-Gold for the duration of his career. The Five-Year Cap would have been a bit vexing for the Penguins had Sid not re-signed prior to the last CBA expiring on September 15th, but thankfully things unfolded in a positive way for the organization.
Ray Shero has not attempted to Circumvent the Cap in the Front-Loaded Kovalchuk/Hossa Contract fashion, imposing a Term Limit of seven years on “Core” Players (namely Flower’s Seven-Year/$35 Million-Dollar deal). Rather than try to massage the Cap, Showtime has built a culture where he signs players who want to be in Pittsburgh, and are thus willing to leave both dollars and term on the table. This began with Showtime’s earliest free-agent signings (Petr Sykora, Mark Eaton, etc.), continued with Sid’s first Contract Extension, and has basically cascaded down the roster. As in Detroit and to a lesser degree Vancouver, if you want to play for the Penguins, you have to take a little less money and probably a little less term.
Showtime has let very useful players like Ryan Malone, Sarge, and Scuds walk because of his commitment to Fiscal Responsibility; the newly-proposed Term Limit only effects the Penguins in two potential cases: Geno and “The Truth” Kris Letang:
I do not need to say anything about wanting to lock up the reigning Hart Trophy/Art Ross Winner for the duration of his career. As for Tanger, I have repeatedly written about how critical he is to what the Penguins’ do; there is a Norris Trophy or two up Tanger’s sleeve, and you do not need to worry about him getting lazy after signing for Big Money, since he is a Gym Maniac.
What I suspect in the NHLPA’s counter-proposal is a “Franchise Tag”-type provision in which a team is allowed to re-sign 1-2 players for a term over five years. This would prevent the Free-Agency lunacy seen with recent ultra-long-term deals, saving Owners from themselves while allowing teams to retain true Franchise guys. The potential contracts for Geno and Tanger are the only two on the current team that I would like to see “massaged” in any way (and by massaged, I mean signed to Terms similar to Sid’s, which is basically Term with money left on the table for the good of the team).
The Five-Year Cap is very good for the League on the whole, but a Franchise Exception or two would serve in everyone’s best interests.
* Free Agency at Eight Years of Service or Age 28
This is actually great for the Penguins, allowing them to retain their own players for an extra year of service under Restricted Free Agent conditions. While the NHL’s offer did not alter entry-level deals at first blush, it proposed extending RFA term by a single year, allowing teams an additional RFA year to accurately gauge players before paying them big (i.e. Tyler Kennedy). Had this been implemented a year earlier, the team would have been able to keep Jordan Staal for an additional year, had the team wanted to.
For the future, this means additional Contractual Control for our forthcoming Legion of Defensemen (Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin) as well as the low-cost forwards (like Beau Bennett or “Big Dawg” Eric Tangradi) necessary to surround Sid and Geno. This provision actually does wonders to ensure the team’s long-term competitiveness for the Geno/Sid era.
(Note: Dear Lord, those are just our best Defense prospects. Showtime is going to win GM of the Year from 2014-2018 when the Penguins ice four or five All-Star caliber guys on their blue-line.)
While this is a concession that the players are not going to like, as a fan you will be thankful for this team-friendly provision. It is ultimately going to keep drafted players with their respective teams longer, and the concession is slight-enough that the NHLPA is like to concede it in efforts to get the deal done.
* Full 82-Game Schedule
As a hockey fan, this gets me even more excited than Liam Neeson killing Albanians, but as a Penguins’ fan I selfishly want to see an entire season of Sid Crosby Anger-Banging his way to the 2012-13 Hart and Art Ross Trophies. No disrespect to Geno, but if I understand Sid at all, he is going to come out like the house is on fire and prove that he is the Best Player in the World. Quick Note: when your team employs the Best Player in the World and the Best Player in the World as Pittsburgh does, they are both allowed to be The Best Player in the World en route to absurdly-high point totals. There is obviously local precedent to this.
* Revenue Sharing increased from $150 Million to $200 Million
This does not really impact Pittsburgh, as the Pens were one of the “Big 8″ teams that were thriving under the previous CBA. Still, most fans remember that the Penguins were basically the textbook example of why the 2004-05 Lockout was necessary: a mid-market team forced to parcel off it’s best players to the highest bidder because it could survive under the existing model.
If Increased Revenue Sharing helps a team like Nashville keep a player like Shea Weber (and thus keep him away from that despicable codger Ed Snider), as fans we should be all for it. You may love or hate the parity now seen in the League, but both new and veteran Penguins’ fans should support mid-market teams with well-run organizations (Nashville, Phoenix, etc.) in their efforts to become financially-solvent.
As a bonus, the NHL may agree to the Brian Burke Rule, in which teams acquiring a larger salary in a trade may be allowed to retain some salary. In English, this means that if the Penguins wanted to trade a larger Cap Hit (who for arbitrary purposes we will call “Paul Martin”) to a team near the Cap Floor, the Penguins would be allowed to trade the remaining three years and $15 million due to Martin along with maybe $5 million to help cover his freight. This would make a player with a highly-skewed Cap Hit much more-attractive and valuable in the market place.
Furthermore, this would greatly open up the Trading Market, as teams would no longer be matching Cap Dollar-for-Cap Dollar. This would lead to more “Pre-Lockout”-type trades instead of the blatant salary dump and trash-for-trash type deals we have been besieged with lately.
If the 82-Game Season Does Start on November 2nd, How Does This Affect The Penguins?
It is extremely premature to start talking about a deal being completed or what teams will looked like at the onset of the proposed 82-game season, but I am simply desperate to talk about actual NHL Hockey rather than Collective-Bargaining minute.
The League will be in utter chaos as teams go through “Training Camps” that will last no more than one week. As such, it will behoove most teams to simply go with what is familiar, in order to not cede away too many points at the beginning of the season.
Thankfully, Your Pittsburgh Penguins have an imposingly-strong identity: Get the Puck North, Run the Forecheck, Grind These Bitches Down. The team is constructed in such a way that players can be swapped in and out of the lineup, and the team can stay competitive regardless of personnel.
(Note: The exception to this rule is not Sid or Geno, as you would suspect, but Kris Letang. The team simply goes to hell when he is unavailable.)
The Penguins currently have a full 23-man roster and sit very pretty below the expected Salary Cap of about $70 million. This is with Paul Martin still on the books, despite persistent rumors of his eminent departure. Barring something bizarre coming out of the finalized Agreement, such as a massive shift of the Cap Ceiling and Cap Floor for 2012-13, expect the Penguins to roll with the personnel they have on one-way deals.
The team will begin with Flower in goal and “T-Vo” Tomas Vokoun behind him. Flower will have to suck for a month straight (which is not happening) to sway the team away from playing him predominantly. T-Vo will play more than Brent Johnson, especially on the truncated schedule, but Flower should still start 55-60 games.
The Defense starts with Tanger and Brooks Orpik. Coach Disco is a big fan of Deryk Engelland, who by the end of the season was playing almost Top-4 minutes, and Matty Niskanen’s play against Philadelphia last spring should denote increased responsibility. Ideally, an NHL team wants Engel on their bottom-pairing, but he was performing admirably until being over-exposed against Claude Giroux and friends. Nisky’s contract was extended, and he should immediately be given 20-minutes per night and ample work on both Special Teams units.
Barring a sudden shift in the Cap, there is no immediacy to move Paul Martin. Personally, I think Martin deserves one more chance to prove he is the player Showtime signed back in 2010. Paul is obviously not a complainer, but it seems he has been battling injuries since his arrival. Hopefully, the extended lay-off has given him time to full heal, and to possibly regain full strength in his once-broken forearm. A return to Top-4 form would be a boon to the Penguins, who at this point would consider an impactful or productive season from Martin as Money Found.
I am President of the Simon Despres Fan Club, but Simon still has Waiver Eligibility, which skaters like Brian Strait and Ben Lovejoy do not. This may impact the team’s decisions on the Depth Chart, as the organization would likely prefer not to lose either player (or Robert Bortuzzo, last seen recovering from a concussion) in this manner. The team’s older bottom-pairing defensemen may be expendable in the long-term, but it would be poor asset management to allow the Islanders or the Canadiens (or whoever) to simply pluck them off Waivers. The season may start with Lovejoy and Strait in Pittsburgh while Despres stays in Wilkes-Barre, but it assuredly will not end that way.
Up front, the lack of Training Camp will encourage the team to keep Geno with James Neal and Chris Kunitz, while Sid takes Pascal Dupuis. My wild hunch is that Disco will use Brandon Sutter between Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, but will give TK an extended look on a wing with Sid.
My prediction is that Eric Tangradi also gets an extended look on the line with Sid and Duper. The Time Has Come for Big Dawg to parlay his obvious physical talent into NHL production. The other Wild Card is Dustin Jeffrey, who is currently plying his trade in the Netherlands. The extra time-off may have allowed Dustin to fully rehabilitate his knee, which was injured at the end of 2010-11, and playing during the work stoppage may give him a leg-up on a spot in the lineup. Prior to his injury, Dustin was showing pretty consistent production for the team in limited minutes, while also having some lineup versatility; he has an opportunity to play his way back into the team’s plans.
(Note: Simply Dusty is my new favorite Penguin. Check out this Twitter: https://twitter.com/Dustin_Jeffrey. I am fully behind this guy, parody or no.)
The fourth line will be two trusted Disco disciples, Craig Adams and Joe Vitale, flanked by the newly-acquired Tanner Glass. Familiarity is the key word, and Coach Disco will run what has worked in the recent past for a bit before making any ground-shaking changes.
Xbox GMs everywhere should remember that guys currently playing high-level hockey are going to have an edge on guys reduced to holding mini-workouts at the Wilmington Ice House. A player like Benn Ferriero or Simon Despres or Brian Strait, already into their AHL season, may give the Penguins the best chance out of the gate to win early games. You may want to keep an eye on the Baby Pens in particular, as players performing well for that team would be most-easily grafted into the parent roster. It’s also worth noting that Geno is already destroying the European circuit.
Lastly, it needs to be pointed out that every team in the League is going to be shell-shocked coming out of this work stoppage, and that every team is going to have holes because teams will not be certain of what their relative strengths and weaknesses are. While the now-annual battle cries from Penguins’ homers are for Showtime to acquire “a Scoring Winger for Sid” and “a Physical, Shutdown Defenseman”, the reality is that appealing options were not really available. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, regrettably, were never coming to Pittsburgh, and the second and third-tiers of Unrestricted Free Agents were no better than the Penguins’ internal options.
Most fans should be hungry to see Despres and Tangradi, or even Joe Morrow and Beau Bennett, get a shot at filling Team Needs before the team starts vacating assets. Again, barring a major amendment to the NHL’s latest proposal, it is difficult to envision a steady hand like Showtime making any major roster shake-ups prior to the beginning of the season.
This work stoppage has been an abominable, momentum-killing waste of time. It astounds me that seven years of successive growth and $3.3 Billion in 2011-12 revenue were not enough to compel the respective heads of state to get a deal done sooner.
That said, there is finally room for a little optimism. The NHL’s latest proposal looks good on the surface, and in addition to making some realistic concessions, there is finally some urgency on at least one side to get a deal completed in time to save the 2012-13 season. While I am certain the lawyers will spend the next few weeks needling each other over the trivial details of the deal, there seems to be enough framework in Tuesday’s proposal to get something completed in relatively-short order.
Cross your fingers, and hope that progress in finally being made toward ending this wretched labor dispute.