NPR Thinks it’s OK to be Hockey

I woke up the other morning (not something I like to do often), to the sounds of Morning Edition on the local NPR station here in Charlotte, NC. They were talking about the various scandals that are rocking the sports world, except for hockey. They even acknowledge the now squeaky clean image hockey has at the moment. Remember when hockey was the bad boy of sports? Remember when fighting was the problem? Now, well, at least we aren’t running pit bulls. Or it’s only Assistant Coaches betting on games.

Listen to the story by going here. If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, fast forward to the last 45 seconds or so. Hockey fans will just shake their heads.

Avs FA Spending: What You Really Should Know

The general accusation of the moment, the group think that seems to have flooded the hockey blogs and MSM right now is that the CBA doesn’t work, mainly because 1) previously high spending teams got high priced free agents, and 2) the salary cap is set so high. If you are one of those people who have this belief, might I say, wake the hell up. Now that I have your attention, let’s get started.

Before I dig into anything deep, let me first disclose that I am a Colorado Avalanche fan. That means that one of the teams acquiring a Big 4 free agent is the one I root for. You can take that as being completely biased in favor of the Avalanche, or you can take that as having watched the Avs a little closer than most. Now that we have that out of the way…

First, let’s tackle the salary cap. The cap is supposed to be tied to revenues. That means that the teams are only able to spend as much on players salaries as they can rightfully afford. You would think that would be a simple concept, much like buying groceries. You can only buy what you can pay for. Unfortunately, NHL teams have been doing the equivalent of borrowing money to buy lottery tickets, or to put it another way, does anyone recall the great depression? You may not have been around for it, but you know what it was. The NHL was headed in the same direction. The rich markets may have had deep pockets, there was very little smaller markets could do to keep up, and so they bet the farm year after year. This was not what we like to call “good business.” In fact, we would call that “bad business.”

We went from players not getting what they were worth, to having players getting more than fair value, to players taking a 24% salary rollback to getting more than they are worth by virtue of the high salary cap. Players will keep getting this much money so long as they are worth it, in the eyes of the owners. That is all that matters. If you believe that Ryan Smyth or Daniel Briere is making too much money, start writing your Congressman. They will care as much as anyone.

What are we talking about here? What are we honestly talking about here? Are we talking about teams spending too much money, or other teams not having the money (and in these days, that means cap space) to go after those players? These days, those are two different things.

So what about the parity? What about the promised land of the small market teams being able to compete with the large market teams? Guess what, folks, that’s exactly what is happening. For all the complaining ONE DAY AFTER FREE AGENCY STARTED, that parity is happening. It was never going to happen instantly, as contracts had to run out, or in the case of Yashin, bought out. Also, you can not look at one season, and scream about parity. Look back since the new CBA went into effect. High dollar teams have thinned, while low dollar teams have gotten their shot at the free agents.

As an example, lets talk about the Avalanche, who I am reading plenty of complaints about being a big spender. And who, by the way, parity happened to rather quickly.

New CBA Year 1: Due to the salary cap and timing, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote both hit the free agency market. Forsberg was a Colorado mainstay, playing his entire career with the Nordiques/Avalanche (remember, he was acquired in the Lindros trade). One of the faces of the Avalanche, he was going to be missed by the fans, and his place on the team would become a big hole that needed filling.. On top of that, Colorado lost Adam Foote, the teams 1B defenseman. And it wasn’t like anyone was crying when Teemu Selanne or Paul Kariya left, but there they went, right out that free agency door. To make up the roster spots, the Avs sign Pierre Turgeon and Patrice Brisebois to two year deals (we know how that worked out). At that point, while not completely instant, parity has made it’s mark. Two big players have left the team for greener pastures, while two mediocre players have replaced them. Then, of course, there is the Jose Theodore trade, which will add serious cap dollars to the Avs for a few years to come. Even though that isn’t free agency, it sure will affect how free agent signings come down the pipe. Dollar for dollar, we see how Theo is working out. The season outcome, the Avs make the playoffs, probably should not have made it out of the first round, but go nowhere fast after that.

New CBA year 2: Money takes it’s toll again, this time from many different angles. Rob Blake and Joe Sakic are owed bonus money from contracts signed in 2001. That bonus money, for a combined total of $4.6 million dollars, counted toward the 2006-07 cap. Blake, the Avs 1A defenseman, knows he can get a better contract elsewhere and decides to move back to LA, where he has a house (I don’t blame him at all, it was as much a money decision as a family decision). Dan Hinote, who is a popular character player follows the money to St. Louis. Blake’s replacement, Jordon Leopold, has hernia surgery shortly after signing as a free agent joining the Avs from a trade for Alex Tanguay (oops, my bad there), and his effectiveness ends right there (15 games?). On top of that, Steve Konowalchuk is forced to retire from hockey, due to a heart abnormality. His salary, while not staggering, counted toward the cap (and I want an explanation on that one). The end result, the Avs mis the playoffs by one point (but really three), and there is little to be happy about for the first 2/3rds of the season.

What that means for this offseason is that the Avs got some cash back. They got:

$4.6 million in bonus money
$1.5 million in Pierre Turgeon contract
$1.9 million in Steve Konowalchuk contract
$2.25 million in Patrice Brisebois contract

For a grand total of… $10.25 million in cap space back, even BEFORE the cap went up. And by the way, that $10.25 million is about, no wait, if I’m doing the math right, exactly what the Avs spent on Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan in free agency. So, money that was not available to the Avalanche last season, when every other team had a full stock of cap cash, was being used for the “big money” free agents, and that is before we get into new, raised cap dollars. And looking over the last few seasons, what is this called?

Parity. No shot the last few seasons, big splash this one.

How about Philadelphia? Bottom of the barrel team last season, and by a mile. They didn’t even get the number one draft pick they should have had. They were in last place, and now they have an important free agent signed for the long term. Yes, I do believe that is what parity is like sometimes. I believe that is what everyone wanted. Everyone to have their shot.

There also has to be some shrewd scheming. A GM has to not only offer up the money, but also sell his team. He has to be able to make sure a star is going to see the light, to come over from the dark side. He can’t just waive a wad of bills in front of a high dollar free agent and say, “These are for you, my good fellow, and you can come and play a game called hockey for us.” There has to be some version of commitment from a team to winning, which is obviously still important to the players. They have to feel like they are playing for a contender, and for a team. Kevin Lowe and the Oilers have money, so do the Islanders. Where are the players? I’m starting to see why Rick DiPietro was offered such a long contract. Who else was going to play for them?

Let me also remind you:
Rob Blake did not help the Kings this year.
Peter Forsberg did not help the Flyers.
Adam Foote has not helped the Blue Jackets.
Zdeno Chara has not helped the Bruins
Ed Jovanovski did not help the Coyotes
Paul Kariya was not that helpful to the Preds
Ed Belfour was not the solution

Do I need to keep going? Free agency is no guarantee.

I understand that fans of teams are upset about the way their team has handled the offseason. Last season, when the Avs signed Tyler Arnason, I was in the same boat. I didn’t like it one bit, but there it was, small batches of dollars being spent in poor places. And as for parity, how about the fact that the Avs went from having five superstars (Roy was gone by the new CBA) to now having two and a half (Sakic, Smyth, and the on-again-off-again Hejduk). After that, it’s been drafting and small dollar signings. It’s been about pulling players in the minors (like Budaj), and filling the gaps with small money (Klee, Rycroft). Because that is all they could do at the time. That was part of the parity that the NHL was touting.

Hey, want to see something done? Raise the minimum spending level. Sure, it’s good to have a minimum, but if the owners and GMs think a $15 million gap after salaries were rolled back 24% is going to keep the upper and lower limits closer together, they got some splainin’ to do. And do the GMs want that sort of tightness in salaries? No freaking way. It’s the best of both worlds, a free enough market, with limits on spending.

Someone remind me again why the Avalanche are on the spending shit list?

It’s like Scotty Bowman once said. “On the road, every boo is a cheer.”


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Spending the Caah

To any and all bloggers, readers, hockey fans, or anyone who cares to complain:

Last season, the Avalanche were behind the salary cap by 4.6 million, thanks to bonus money owed to Rob Blake and Joe Sakic. Bonus money that was agreed to before the new CBA, by the way. This season, that monkey is off the Avs backs, and therefore – and this is the important part -

THEY SPENT IT!!!!

Can you imagine that? Thanks to the constraints of last season, this season they had some extra cash laying around, which allowed them to get back into the game. And the whole parity thing comes around again. They were crap last season, they have a shot this one. It isn’t about having money to burn, it’s about having it available to spend.

So, while people are complaining about the Avalanche spending lots of money, remember that last year, they couldn’t spend as much as twenty nine other teams. This season, they could. You didn’t cry for us last season, don’t cry at us this one.

Here endeth the lesson.

Stepping Off the Plane into Greatness

As the plane touched down in Louisville, an hour and a half late, I turned on the not-a famous-Treo cell phone a little sooner than I should have. Email came streaming in, with one big title from Greg:

YES!

The Avs signed the scariest mug around to a five year deal, for less money than most would have thought. I wonder if the Drury deal had anything to do with it, but for the type of player he is hyped to be, I would have thought Smyth would have gotten more dough. Still, for the Avs, this is a very good thing. I can’t tell you how many times I have yelled at my TV, “Put someone in front of the NET!!!” Now, I have nothing to worry about. In fact, I wonder if they will be able to pry him away.

So, Ryan Smyth, Avalanche. Facing the Oilers eight times next season. I am sure the hate between fan bases will start brewing, jealousy and anger being what they are. But considering that Smyth was the cheapest of the Big 4 free agents, this is a huge coup for the Avs.

Considering last year – the big splash the Avs made was Tyler Arnason (who worked out OK, compared to his previous seasons) – and considering the Avs are keeping Jose Theodore around as a 6 million dollar backup, it was time to show the fan base that the Avs were still committed to winning, and I feel they did that today. The signing of Scott Hannan was also a good move, as they need some more defense, especially since we have no idea how Leopold will work out next season. If there were three things I felt the Avs needed to get in free agency, it was defense, a number 2 goalie who could sit in Cleveland for a little bit, and hope. The first and last things were certainly accomplished today, and Francois Giguere did a good job overall. Now, lets go get us a Curtis Sanford locked up, and I think we have us a team.

And, you know, considering how last season worked out, it’s nice to have a team again. Go Avs!

Hockey Command

Thank goodness for Firefox. Thanks to all the extensions I have installed, I could keep multiple windows open at the same time, set to update every 30 seconds or one minute. This is how I’m keeping the refresh button sane and working.

Hockey Command 2

That and cleaning house have been my day today. Flying in a few hours. See ya soon.

UFA Day / Canada Day post

Happy Canada Day!!!

Again, I wonder why the NHL puts Canadians through UFA day on Canada day. It just doesn’t seem fair. You should be able to enjoy Canada day without all the hand wringing and cursing. Maybe that’s just me.

My UFA thoughts will start here. Don’t look to me to break anything, there are plenty of other places to do that. I’m just here to have a good time.

11:00 AM Mountain Time: One hour in and nothing. Sure, Thornton gets an extension, but whoopide-do. Nothing. I’m listening to 590 the Fan, and they have nothing, other than the firm belief that nothing on this earth will help the Leafs compete for the Cup. It helps me to understand the attitude of the Toronto hockey fan.

Noon MDT: And after two hours of free agency, we have one signing. Todd White signs with Atlanta for 4 years. Wow. Whatever. I’m going to go get some donuts.

12:13 PM MDT: And back from getting donuts. Still waiting for something.

12:22 PM MDT: Finally, we see some movement. Brett McLean is no longer an Av. Brett is following the money to Florida, or at this point, the years, as he gets a three year sentence with the Panthers. I don’t think I’ll miss him that much. Dude was OK, but didn’t light me on fire. Also, Tom Poti continues his NHL career where players go to die in the East, with the Capitals. Four years, which I’m sure is pretty important to him.

1:00 PM MDT: 3 hours of free agency down, and nothing has lit my ass on fire yet. Mathieu Schneider gets two years for a whole bunch of money. Too much money in my book. Over 5 million when you just spent so much on JS Giguere? Seems like an overpayment to me. But hey, if you can get it, go for it. Still no action for the Big 4, and that is what everyone is really waiting for. I’m ready to turn off the radio for now.

1:45 PM MDT: One of the Big 4 are reported to have found their new homes. Daniel Briere is going to be a Flyer for the rest of his life (reportedly 8 years for $6 to 7 million a year). Briere going to the Flyers is interesting, with Biron already there in goal. It looks like the Flyers are taking their rebuilding seriously. From zero to a hero?

2:07 PM MDT: Brian Rafalski is a Red Wing. I now hate him (as much as I can hate anyone). Also, there are too many rumors swirling around Scott Gomez to say anything at all. Calgary and Edmonton have both signed defensemen. Nothing else for now.

2:41 PM MDT: Yanic Perreault is a Blackhawk. One year deal, so at least he doesn’t have to stay long.

3:54 PM MDT: Not much going on right now. Nothing to special in the West (where my attention lies). Except Adrian Dater saying Ryan Smyth may soon be an Av. How crazy would that be? I’ll believe it when I see it.

5:00 PM MDT: Shutting down the laptop, and heading out the door for the airport. I won’t get any updates until I get to Louisville, unless someone emails me or leaves me a comment. If something happens, someone let me know. More later tonight.


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Last Call for Your Team

July 1st. It sneaks up on us, just a few days after the mad scramble of the Draft (which has a capital D for some people). It is a day of excitement for many, but for others, it is a reminder of days gone by, and what the true meaning of NHL Christmas is. Gifts or lumps of coal.

It is now less than 8 hours before free agency starts, and instead of thinking hard about who the Avalanche are going to sign, I am thinking about where I was one year ago. One year ago, I was sitting exactly where I am sitting now, where I will be sitting tomorrow at 10 AM my time, with a cup of coffee, watching my computer screen for any information about who was signed, and who was not. And just like last year, like almost everyone who blogs about hockey, who writes about hockey, who loves and follows the game, I will be wrong.

While hockey blogging is a great sport and art (yes, at the same time), we are all just armchair GMs. The movers and the shakers will be making the hard, cold, and sometimes awful decisions, ones we, as fans, will have to live with. We have our own designs for “our” teams, and they will differ greatly from what really happens. We will spout off about how our beloved franchise missed the mark, did the wrong thing, and couldn’t pull their heads out of a truly dark space. We will lament, react, make excuses and explanations, and eventually concede to reality, because in the end, we have no choice. It is out lot in life, to be hockey fans, and to love our team, no matter what.

There is going to be drama, heartache, anger, love, cheering, jeering, and every emotion you can imagine. And in October, there is going to be hockey, on ice rather than computer screens, and everything is going to go by the wayside. There is going to be our team, and we are going to love them and hate them. This is hockey, and nothing is perfect in it, not in the game, and not in ourselves.

This day, which is not only free agency day, but also Canada Day, will ring in our minds and hearts for the season to come. When someone blows a skate, misses a shot, scores a goal, surpasses a record, or does any number of tiny things, our minds will drift back to this place, to this time, to exactly how we felt when we heard the news, to that fateful moment when we believed, right or wrong, how the season would unfold.

I want to remind you how you felt last season at this time. When you heard about Zdeno Chara signing with the Bruins, or when Roloson resigned with the Oilers. I doubt, in all honesty, that anything turned out like we thought it would. If it did, would we watch the game? Would we care so much? Would we be fans?

So tomorrow, at around 11:55 AM, it’s last call for your team. They will be something different shortly, remade and reshaped in ways you had no control over. They will order another pint, remember the good times, and wish each other good luck. None of the teams, or the players, will be the same. And neither will we.

See you in the morning.