Monday, May 15, 2006

Orca Bay's Mistake

It is too early to make definitive statements under the current CBA as to how to build a Stanley Cup winning team, but we are beginning to get some hints by looking at the five teams that still remain in this years playoffs. All of these teams left salary cap room to maneuver as it became necessary during the season. There we other teams that fell off during the season and playoffs such as Vancouver, Ottawa, Philadelphia and New Jersey that were effectively at the salary cap when the season began. By August or September, the team's makeup was determined. Should anything not go according to plan, there was no room for plan B. The teams that left salary cap room, in this case Edmonton, San Jose, Anaheim, Buffalo and Carolina all were able to fine tune their plan into February and the trade deadline in March. Its really not a complex idea, that if I have to set my team in August or September and you can set it in February or March, then you will probably beat me. This is because you will have much more up to date information from which to set your team.

Vancouver is a great case study to see this. Vancouver had Brian Burke as general manager. He had built the team from a non-playoff failure into a serious contender. Burke rebuilt the team while all the while claiming that he wasn't. He did so by always having a plan B. He did so by not locking himself in down one road after it was clear it wasn't likely to work out.

Then Orca Bay ownership decided to go cheap on management (a HUGE mistake - history shows that the best way to build a good team is to hire a very good hockey man as GM and then leave him alone). Orca Bay thought that Brian Burke was essentially interchangable with his assistant Dave Nonis. They couldn't have been more wrong.

Nonis locked in as many of Burke's top players with large contracts that pushed Vancouver to the salary cap limit. Nonis let a lot of Vancouver's depth (Malik, Sopel, Chubarov) leave. It created a top heavy salary structure with no depth. It allowed for no plan B when injuries occured to Dan Cloutier or to the Vancouver defence. Effectively these injuries and the lack of a method to deal with them killed the Vancouver season and cost them a playoff berth.

Brian Burke went to Anaheim. While it looked at first as though he might lock in his whole season's roster with free agent signings (particularly Scott and Rob Niedermayer), this wasn't the case. Burke was not afraid to trade big names such as Sergei Fedorov and Sandis Ozolinsh. Basically, Burke saw that Anaheim had a very good group of young players who needed more playing time, so he got rid of some older underacheiving players taking ice time from them. Burke had a Plan B, when plan A of riding the roster as it stood at the start of the season did not look like the best plan. Nonis had no Plan B, so he rode Plan A right out of the playoffs.

Although I would rather have teams that were built to be strong without CBA provisions such as a salary cap which is designed to prevent elite teams and keep more teams mediocre, if one must live by this provision, one must make sure to have salary room to make adjustments throughout the season, instead of locking in the roster at the start of the year.

Vancouver made the wrong choices. They made it in a serious way that shows ownership has a systemic lack of understanding about how to build a winner. Can Vancouver consider firing their owners?

NOTE: I am moving and will likely not be able to blog for a while until I am set up in my new home.

Comments:
Can't keep the crap like in the old NHL. Guys like Yashin who still has 5 years left on that insane contract will handicap the Islanders for years to come. Teams like Toronto just couldnt get down fast enough but are starting to have good young prospects.

Boston had the least players signed when the lockout was lifted (4) and had millions under the cap (they still do) and they're not going anywhere.

Vancouver's mistake is maybe keeping both Naslund and Bertuzzi at high prices, one of them has to go. My choice would be Naslund.
 
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