A Duke’s Gotta Do What A Duke’s Gotta Do

This is not your mother’s Colorado Avalanche.  It isn’t even the Colorado Avalanche of your youth, or the one from last season.  Things are changing, and it is a bit of a shock to the system.

- Finally fired the coach?  Yep.

- Skipped the top rated draft pick that plays a position of great need? Done.

- Management shakeup?  Oh yeah.

- Talking to the press and fans? Someone released the kraken here.

- Didn’t overspend in free agency, signing depth instead?  It’s dogs and cats living together (mass hysteria).

Anything that comes as no shock might be a shock at this point.  But the fact Milan Hejduk won’t be back by the team might give a few fans whiplash.  It’s… almost shocking.  Almost.

Hejduk previously decided to go the route of Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne (and what I thought Alfredsson should have done with the Senators, but decided to do with Detroit), and sign one year contracts until the end of his career.  In this season, he is going to sign a contract with another team.  From the Denver Post:

Hard as it is to picture, it is possible Colorado Avalanche fans will see Milan Hejduk playing in another NHL uniform next season.

“He wants to keep playing,” Hejduk’s agent, Jiri Crha said Monday in a phone interview. “If there is any team that really wants to use him for his offensive skills, he still believes he could do it.”

The Avs, however, don’t appear to be interested. Hejduk, 37, is an unrestricted free agent and Crha said the Avs have informed him he is not in their plans.

“They are very honest about their different plans. They don’t believe he can play in their top six of forwards,” Crha said. “We just saw a player (Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa) who left after 17 years with the same team. That’s the reality of the hockey life.”

I agree.  He can’t play with the top six forwards on the Avalanche, and the top six just got harder to crack.  Hejduk played himself out of the top two lines over the course of the last season, and unless he had surgery on something that was ailing him or found some serious youth cream to swim around in, he wasn’t likely to crack those lines next season.  So where do you put him?  Third line?  With the youth movement going on now, sticking him with MacKinnon and O’Reilly doesn’t look like a good fit.  He has decent hands, but his feet and legs aren’t going to keep up.  Fourth line?  Hejduk is a lot of things, but a grinder he is not.  He does not belong on a checking line.

So it’s time for him to leave, as he doesn’t fit on with the Avalanche any more.  For some reason, Alex Tanguay fits but Hejduk does not, and that reason is actually obvious to anyone who watched him last season.  The Duke is slowing down.  It happens.  It’s not a slam, or mean to him.  It’s just what happens as time goes by.  If I had the legs and lungs I had when I was bicycling all the time in my teenage years, I would be lighting up the rec leagues.  Nope, I’m 40 and it shows.  In a league that is getting younger and younger, a 37-year-old that is slowing down a bit is something you have to make a hard decision about.

The scary part is that the team that is generally associated with older players looking for one more shot at glory is the Detroit Red Wings.  If he were to go there, it would hurt the fans quite a bit.  The rivalry has cooled between the Wings and the Avs, but not for the fans.  The hockey hate is still there.

But the cap era, forcing teams to make money decisions that force players out, has brought about Team  NHL.  The anger and bile thrown at Daniel Alfredsson was stunning considering this is how the NHL is set up now.  From cap crunches to the penalties associated with over 35 contracts, the CBA forces teams to consider letting go of their aging (former) stars.  Hejduk, wherever he lands, deserves to take another shot, and maybe a change will be good for him.

It’s will be strange to see him in another uniform after cheering for him in an Avs jersey for so long. But this isn’t the same Avalanche.  And I’m good with that.

After the First Day: Free Agency Thoughts

Market, via  Merriam-Webster:

d : the area of economic activity in which buyers and sellers come together and the forces of supply and demand affect prices <producing goods for market rather than for consumption>

I think a lot of hockey fans forget what a market really is when it comes time for free agency.  The market is defined by the supply and demand of the moment.  It may reflect the past and the future of the market a bit, but it’s really defined as what the needs of the moment are and what is available to fill those holes.

My shining example is Mike Smith, Tim Thomas and the goalie market.  Smith signed a five year extension, for $5.666… million.  At the time, it seemed like a lot of money for Smith (it is a lot of money in general, but the scope of that kind of money isn’t the real question here).  My immediate thought was, this isn’t a bad deal for either side.

A few days later, and look at what the market is for goalies.  Ray Emery is in Philadelphia, a bunch of backups shuffled around, but every other team is set with goaltending.  And who is left out there?  Ilya Bryzgolov and Tim Thomas.  There isn’t room for them right now in the league.  Bryz might look to the KHL if things don’t open up in the NHL, while Thomas will be sitting in NORAD waiting for someone to get hurt.

That’s the market Smith was signed in.  If this was next year, where the goalie market is much more open, he might not have gotten this much money.  And I fully expect that market to shrink considerably.  No way are that many good goalies going to free agency.  Most will be resigned.

Smith was able to work a deal in this market that was favorable to him, because the Coyotes were low on options.  Unless they brought back Bryz for another stint, they were going to be looking for another Labarbera / Garon dual backup “solution.”

And if you weren’t convinced of the state of goalie market, Nikolai Khabibulin went back to Chicago.  Yeah. Locked. Up. Tight.

That was what the free agent market was this year.  Lots of needs and not a lot of players to fill those slots.  It was a market that was going to be overpaid, but not by gigantic Kovalbucks.  There was talent out there, but not enough to go around.  Most teams had locked up and resigned the more attractive options before UFA day came (Letang, Ellis, Bickell, etc).  When Briere and Lecavalier are the biggest players involved, and everyone knows where they are going before signing day, it’s going to be a strange day.

There was plenty of action.  The Tyler Seguin move was a bit surprising. I look forward to seeing him in the West.  And the Ducks finally trade Bobby Ryan, which I think they will regret.  I like the way the Senators are building.  It isn’t a great team yet, but they are getting better and better all the time.

Some thoughts on the first day of free agency:

- Nathan Horton goes to Columbus and David Clarkson goes to the Leafs, both for similar money. Yet for Columbus it’s a good signing with risk (will Horton stay healthy) versus Toronto overpaying and making a huge error, according to the experts.  Despite similar numbers last season and Clarkson being a more physical and healthier player.  I wonder if the feeling that the Leafs are screwing this up simply comes from their long history of screwing things up.  I get the impression the media just likes that storyline.  Neither is a bad signing.  Too long of terms?  Maybe, but not bad deals.

- I was surprised we didn’t see more seven-year deals, the longest term allowed under the new CBA.  Only two seven-year deals, followed by 5 five-year deals.  Perhaps it’s the lowering of the salary cap, but I would think that would work towards the advantage of the team.  The cap comes down, they have to fit a player under that cap, then keep the deal / average cap hit rolling to maximize value.  Or the market didn’t hold enough players worth seven years.  I’m guessing it’s the latter.

- Jarome Iginla goes to Boston.  Shades of Marian Hossa?  Should we expect Chicago and Boston in the finals again?  I doubt it, but it makes for an interesting parallel.  Six million seems like a lot for a player on the decline and a team that is close enough to the cap ceiling that they can touch it without stretching too hard.  But considering the skill level (and toughness) Iginla started from, that decline could take a long time to effectively manifest itself.  Iginla has to perform for his new team quickly.  The fans wanted him before, were left at the alter at the trade deadline, and were not thrilled about it.  Since we live in the salary cap, Team NHL era, they may forgive quickly if he shows that he was worth the bother.  Otherwise, I hope he brought some ear plugs.  He’s going to hear about it.

- The three sites I have been going to over and over for UFA info have been TSN’s excellent trade tracker, Capgeek.com, and Spector’s Hockey from Lyle Richardson. The trade tracker is great because it’s a simple spreadsheet that’s sortable.  I’ve sung the praises of Capgeek before, and I hope whomever runs that site makes some serious bank.  They deserve it. As for Lyle Richardson, I love his work.  Enough said there.

- The Red Wings have done nothing to reduce their reputation as being the Detroit Old Folks Home.  Daniel Alfredsson leaving Ottawa to sign there only reinforces that perception.  It isn’t a bad move for either one, and while Alfredsson was the franchise player in Ottawa, he didn’t seem too happy with the team in their last round of the playoffs this year, effectively sounding the alarm that he was quitting the series.  When it’s time for you to go, it’s time to go, and for Alfie, it was time to go.  Whether it works out for Detroit is anyone’s guess.  It could be the veteran they need, or it could be another Mats Sundin situation.  Please recall, that didn’t work out.

- Everyone wanted Andrew Ference.  I don’t blame them, he was pivotal in the Bruins run at the Cup. But considering where he went, for that term and that money (4 years / $13mil), less teams were in the running than the fans thought.  He took less money to go to Edmonton than he could have gotten elsewhere, making it a personal decision for him, and that’s great.  Edmonton is finally getting out of the draft-for-everything mode and starting to build a team.  Whether this set of components works out remains to be seen, but at least they are finally trying.

- As for the Colorado Avalanche, I’m fine with what they did in free agency.  Sure, it would have been great to see them land that perfect piece of the puzzle, but I have bad news for everyone looking to solve every problem with free agent signings.  It doesn’t work that way.  If your team solved all it’s issues in free agency this season, they didn’t have that may issues to begin with.  The sins of the past have not been forgotten in Colorado.  Scott Hannan, Greg Zanon, Jan Hejda, shall I go on?  That’s just the free agent defensemen signed that didn’t work out well.  Shane O’Brien? Oh, you want me to stop now?  OK, so those signings didn’t work out, there weren’t many defensemen on the market that would fit in a 1-2 role, and still, fans wanted to see the Avs make a splash?  Instead, the Avs signed a few depth players to stock up the horrid Lake Erie Monsters, which has been an issue for years.  I hope this means they are going to take the minors seriously.  There is still plenty of time for the Avalanche to make trades to shore up the defense, but this is not a problem that will be fixed overnight.  They are doing something, which is more than could have been said before the new regime was put in place.  That’s a good step forward.  There was no splash to be made this year. Perhaps only a slight ripple to be had.  Good enough.

Free Agency: Buyer Beware

Free agency is a sexy thing.  Lots of interesting players available to anyone if they have the money and the right pitch.  Fans love it, teams love it, and players and agents most certainly love it.  If teams didn’t have success last year, they are looking for parts to make themselves better.  If they did have success, chances are they lost a few good players to free agency or cap-related issues, and need to plug new holes.  Everyone is looking for someone.

There are a few problems:

- Everyone overpays on the first day of free agency.  Why do you think players love it?

- Memories are fairly short on previous free agency blunders, and if you forget history yadda yadda yadda.

- Fans want the world and they want it now, but the teams who need the most help either can’t afford it or aren’t attractive to the players (rebuilding a team is like announcing in the media they have an STD).

The Colorado Avalanche could use some help on defensive (and if you say “why didn’t they draft Seth Jones then?” I would ask you to read this).  The best options are to trade away an asset, or go buy some defensemen. At this point, there aren’t many players they would want to trade, with the ghost of Paul Stastny the one exception.

That means buying defense on the free agent market.  And I’m here to tell you, tread cautiously.  Here are a few names to give you pause:

Jan Hejda

Scott Hannon

Greg Zanon

All of them brought to the Avalanche in free agency.  All of them the new solution to the defensive issues of the team (yes, even Zanon), all of them disappointments.  Jan Hejda is still around, and with the compliance buyout option available, the Avs hanging on to him says they still think he is an asset, either on the ice or as trade bait.

But if it’s D you want, the free agency market may not actually have it for you.  From Capgeek.com, here are some of the ‘top’ defensemen available:

Marek Zidlicky
Joe Corvo
Ryan Whitney
Andrew Ference
Tom Gilbert
Ron Hainsey
Rob Scuderi
Michal Rozsival
Andre Benoit
Filip Kuba
M. Bergeron
Mike Kostka
Wade Redden
Jonathon Blum
B. Sanguinetti
Ryan O’Byrne
Douglas Murray
Mark Fistric
Toni Lydman
Greg Zanon
Kurtis Foster
Alexander Sulzer
Ian White
Adam Pardy
Adrian Aucoin
Tyson Strachan
Radek Martinek

Hey, look, a few former Avalanche on the list. How fun.

Aside from Andrew Ference, who do you want to see in an Avalanche uniform?  Wait, let’s do this a little more realistically.  Who do you want to OVERPAY to be in an Avalanche uniform?  Because other teams have needs on defense as well, they will be bidding for the same talent, sending the price higher and higher.  And the salary cap may have come down for this season, but that doesn’t mean the player’s asking price has.  You are seeing a wider gap between the haves and have-nots, a squeezing out of the NHL middle class.

Is Kurtis Foster still worth it?  A few years for Rozsival?  I wouldn’t mind Ron Hainsey for a year or two.  Corvo?

The interesting thing to me was which teams were buying out players, which ones were speculated to be buying out, and who didn’t.  The big money clubs were the ones doing the buying out, with the Flyers leading the way.  The Rangers were rumored to, as well as the Canucks.  But they held tight, with their coaching changes perhaps being enough to clean up the problems.  The only team that bought out a big contract that isn’t a wildly spending team was the Islanders, removing the mistake of the Rick DiPietro contract.  And why they chose to use the compliance buyout instead of a regular buyout and keep the cap hit (for a bargain basement spending team, they covet that cap hit) is beyond me.

The teams that didn’t buy players out, and haven’t been shuffling their mistakes around are the teams that have a budget and stick to it.  And by budget, I mean they pick a number below the cap.  For teams like the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens, they seem to pick a budget within a few dollars of the cap ceiling.  How’s that working out?  Not so well, unless you consider the Penguins a success (which they arguably are).

If you need a reminder, look at the list of signings for last season.  Scroll down and look at the July 1st signings.  With just that list in mind, does your value of the free agent market change?

This is all to say one thing: free agency is sexy, it’s alluring, but it is a marriage, and it needs to work after the first date.  Fans want to see a splash in the free agent market, but those don’t work out as often as the storyline says they will.  Tread carefully, GMs, and fans, keep your pants on.

UFA Day Notes – Was The Early Talk Worth It?

Today is the start of free agency, but you wouldn’t know it.  Teams have been able to do what everyone knew they were doing, talk to players and agents before the official start of the signing period.  There is no way in hell a player would agree to a multi-year deal with a salary that went up and down year to year within fifteen minutes of the clock starting.  Yet that’s what we saw, over and over.  When dollars were just dollars, before the salary cap, things were simpler.  Here’s your money, yes or no?  Now it’s a lot of math to do a deal.  A LOT of math.

We already know what’s going to happen.  Like a Kanye West album leaking, we know the beats and moves, we know who is going where.  Lecavalier to the Flyers, Briere to the Canadiens.  When the biggest intrigue is what Daniel Alfredsson will do (more on him later), you have the makings of a very dull day.

Is the pre-signing day negotiations a good thing?  As I said, we all knew they did it behind closed doors.  The only difference is the ability other teams that may not have engaged a free agent early to get in on the conversation.  I would argue that it isn’t great.  If the player already know where they are going, it’s fairly pointless.  Most players have teams in mind they want to sign, even if they talk to twenty-nine other GMs.  They see how the other half lives throughout the season, they have friends or contacts (or enemies) on other teams that tell them the skinny.  If the ink might as well be drying on the contract before it’s even signed, then I think it’s useless.

A few thoughts on the UFA market and trades that have happened.

- The Dallas Stars have traded themselves back into relevance.  They lost a good player in Loui Eriksson, but gained a lot of potential in Tyler Seguin.  Did I mention I met him once? Regardless, between that and the Shawn Horcoff  deal, the Stars made a big statement, and at exactly the right time.  Aside from an easier travel schedule with the upcoming realignment, they have made themselves a destination a UFA might consider.  They decided they didn’t like the mediocrity their team was mired in and did something about it.  Whether or not it pans out isn’t yet relevant.  They did something, and that sends a big signal.

I like the move for Seguin.  It seems weird to need a change of location after winning a Cup and being in the finals again two years later, but the guy was blessed with a weird trade that sent his pick to Boston, and was lucky not to be picked by Edmonton.  Everything was coming up roses for him, but hockey is a business.  Maybe the move will show him he has a bit more to learn.

- It’s going to be weird to see Vinny Lecavalier in a Flyers uniform.  More so than Danny Briere in a Canadiens jersey.  That they both got paid, and both are not signing seven-year deals says a lot about their potential.  The Canadiens made a smart move only signing Briere to a two-year contract.  I wonder if they had visions of Scott Gomez when they were negotiating the contract.  If Briere doesn’t work out, at least it won’t last long.

- If you aren’t sure how buyouts work, Capgeek has a great buyout FAQ.  Find it here.  Capgeek is an amazing resource.  How did we ever live without it?  It’s like the double-stuff Oreo.  I just can’t imagine what it was like before.

- I’m amazed at the amount of eight-year contracts we are seeing handed out to pending free agents.  It’s now the most teams are allowed to resign players for, with seven years the upper limit for free agent signings.  Which makes me wonder, how many seven-year contracts will we see signed this off-season.  Looking at the list of free agents, I’m guessing not many.  But who knows, player’s agents can be crafty.

- Daniel Alfredsson should go the route of Teemu Selanne and Milan Hejduk and start signing one year contracts until he retires (if he comes back to the Senators at all).  What does he have to loose?

- It sounded like the Detroit Red Wings were kicking the tires of just about every free agent out there.  Detroit is always a team players want to go to, thanks to their winning tradition.  But keep in mind that they are moving to the East next season, and won’t be in the same division as the pushover Columbus Blue Jackets, the almost always pushover St. Louis Blues, and the sometimes pushover Nashville Predators.  All of those teams are getting better, but it isn’t the same as stepping into a very tough division with the Bruins and… Oh, that’s it?  Well, never mind.  Still, moving East, does that change the perception of the Wings?   Their success was guaranteed, but I would argue that it is less so lately.

- Don’t forget: rumors are useless.  They are a great way to build up a lot of anxiety over nothing.  Most of them never pan out.  Make sure you are paying attention to real sites with real sources and real news, not made up garbage.

Slip of the Lip

I’m fascinated that hockey fans can’t get their heads around how much the players make.  Much of the discontent with the NHLPA and their decision to not take what is being offered seems to be revolve around the dollar figures many of the top players receive for their efforts, and why they don’t take the millions of dollars on offer.  Well, that and the delay to the start of the hockey season.

After the fallout from the comments made by Red Wings vice-president Jim Devellano, you would think there would be a lot more sympathy for the players.

It wasn’t so much the comments that made my hair stand on end (a bit of a feat, considering how bald I am).  That the NHL owners or even just a few executives would look at the players they have under contract as ‘cattle’ doesn’t shock me at all.  These people shell out a ton of cash for near ownership of a person’s life.  It’s amazing they think of the players as people at all.

What stunned me was the amount of the fine that the NHL levied against Devellano.  $250,000.  Chew on that one for a while.  For making comments about how he views the players, and alluding to the owners potential collusion on offer sheets, the NHL took a quarter of a million dollars from Devellano.

Most fans have a hard time relating to the salaries of the players.  They make a ton of money compared to you and I, and we certainly hear a lot more about their money than the owners.  But the NHL just took the price of a nice house from a team vice-president.  $250,000 for one interview.  That’s life changing money for most people.  That’s several years salary for a middle class worker or family.

Yes, players make a ton of cash, and I talked about why in yesterday’s post.  And some of the teams are losing money, no doubt about it.  But it’s obvious some of the executives kicking around the league and the more financially successful teams are doing just fine.

As an aside, I find it highly amusing that a person who has enough money to survive a $250,000 fine is not allowed to speak his mind, in a country where the first amendment allows a person to say whatever they want.  In fact, I would love to see this kind of thing challenged in a court of law.  How is it acceptable to censor a person for comments they make that aren’t harmful to others in a society that protects free speech?

The owners are claiming they are in the poor house.  But they can charge each other half an entry-level contract for saying something stupid.  Something about that doesn’t sit right with me.