Monday, November 13, 2006

Talented Players Left On The Sideline (Thanks CBA)

As teams are starting to hit the 20 game point in the season, we still see some talented players who are sitting at home with no place to play. Last season, Jason Allison put up 60 points in 66 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is a guy who is only 31 who once scored 95 points in a season. You would think there would be a place for somebody like that in any rational NHL. Brian Leetch is a hall of fame defenceman who last year was second in ice time per game with the Boston Bruins. He put up a solid 32 points in 61 games from defence last year, but so far this season he cannot get an NHL job. Oleg Kvasha is a big winger who is 28 years old and seemed to be finally coming into his own when he scored 11 points in his 15 games with Phoenix after the trade deadline. These three are the best players on the new class of player created by the CBA. They are the out of work veterans who are clearly better players than several people who are holding down NHL jobs on several different teams.

A salary cap is bad for the hockey fan. Not only does it remove all the good teams with enforced parity, it also keeps good players with NHL value out of the league. Teams apportion their salary cap money over the summer to certain players and inevitably some get left out. These guys sit around waiting for a contract offer that may never come. While the NHL brings back retreads like Glen Metropolit and Andy Hilbert, the teams cannot find room for these much more valuable players. More technically, they cannot find room for the player's contracts. Don't you think a team off to a slow start like Philadelphia would love to try any of Allison, Leetch or Kvasha? It might be what is needed to jumpstart this team that is off to a horrid start. They cannot find salary cap room.

As a fan, we do not get to see all of the best available players in the NHL. Some are missing. And for what? So the owners can make an extra buck? I want to see all the best players in the world in one league.

Sure none of these three players are likely to have MVP type seasons, but they are talented players who can make a significant contribution to their team. They would improve many teams in the NHL. Right now they wait until a longterm injury or something frees up the cap space required to sign them. And how does this situation improve the hockey a fan views?

Comments:
The only thing keeping Allison and Leetch out of the NHL is themselves. They have chosen to decline the offers that they have received and we are supposed to feel sorry for them? Sorry... but I don't feel bad for Jason Allison who according to rumors thinks he's worth $3M per year and would rather make nothing than the offers he's receiving.

The salary cap is a great thing for the NHL.
 
Of course $3 million isn't actually $3 million thanks to escrow. And isn't a player who scored almost a point per game last year worth about $3 mill (thats what a comparable player probably gets)?

I'm not crying for Allison, Leetch or Kvasha. I am crying for ME. I dont get to see them thanks to CBA. There is no chance they would be still on the sidelines with the old CBA. They would be playing somewhere. How is my hockey viewing improved if good players are waiting on the sideline for a contract?
 
With Allison and Leetch, time is also on their side. With Leetch's age and Allison's injury history, it probably behooves them to wait another month or so before signing with a team. It gives them a chance to see who's competitive (like NOT Philly), and wait for injuries to current players which may place their skills in higher demand.
 
Allison isn't playing because he is too slow. Glaciers outpace him to the net. He was a marginal skater in the old NHL, but he is now in Brett Hull territory. Sure, he might be good enough to prop up a lousy powerplay somewhere, but that's it.

Leetch has made zero effort to get back to the NHL, as the Rangers and Flyers both took runs at getting him on board. So far, he's been quiet.

If the best two players you can name outside of the NHL are Jason 'Sidereal time' Allison, and a nearly 50 year old Brian Leetch, then I'd say the new CBA is doing just fine.
 
In the last CBA, Jason "almost point per game" Allison and Brian "2nd highest ice time on my team" Leetch would definitely be playing.

Of course this is NOT the only reason I dislike this CBA. This feels like reason number 2753 or something - go back through the archives to find the rest.

Now why would any rational human being say that we have a good CBA when three players who were all core players on their clubs last year can't find jobs for no other reason than salary cap prevention are not three bonafide superstars (they are merely good enough to be core players on pretty much any team). Why would anyone even evaulate it this way? I do not understand.

I want to see all the best players in the world playing against one another in the same league. Anything that erodes that is bad for the hockey fan. This erodes that. I could also discuss the NHL capable players who have chosen Europe instead as another example of that eroding.
 
"three players who were all core players on their clubs last year can't find jobs"

To play devil's advocate for a second: they were core players on the Leafs, Bruins and Islanders/Coyotes. Of those teams, only the Leafs were even close to a playoff spot, and they got close due mostly to a run of games in which Allison was OUT of the lineup.

Players who are "solid" but have faults will only be given chances if GM's feel they can/will improve. Most GM's would rather play a 20 year old $450,000 than pay Allison $3 million, in the hopes that the 20 year old just gets better and better as the year progresses. This would be true whether there was a salary cap in place or not.
 
congrats on posting this, the hockey blogosphere needs more people willing to challenge the NHL's PR department, god knows the media sure hasn't.
 
PSH: Now why would any rational human being say that we have a good CBA when three players who were all core players on their clubs last year can't find jobs for no other reason than salary cap prevention are not three bonafide superstars (they are merely good enough to be core players on pretty much any team)? Why would anyone even evaulate it this way? I do not understand.

CH: Part of the problem is a misconception on your part, that Leetch, Allison and Kvasha simply don't make the grade in the new NHL. Leetch is not the fearsome skater he used to be, and was relegated to powerplay specialist. Ditto Allison who was never a great skater to begin with. In Kvasha's case he's a decent enough skater, but he brings nothing else to the table, not grit, scoring or character. He's a flat out bust. None of these three were 'core' players. So the reason they aren't around isn't because they make too much money (they could always suck it up and take minimum coin just to keep playing) but because they just aren't good enough.

TPSH: I want to see all the best players in the world playing against one another in the same league.

CH: Me too - and that seems to be what I'm seeing. Sure I'll miss Leetch (though I despised the fact he won a Norris over MacInnis who had a far superior season).

I still take issue with two of your contentions;

- that greater parity is bad for the fan

- that the CBA necessarily leads to fewer dominant teams

First, parity is I believe GOOD for the fan, especially the Canadian fan.

Outside of the Leafs, Canadian teams would struggle to field elite teams in a league with unlimited spending vs small market budgets. So instantly, the CBA made the Canadian teams better - it leveled the playing field and allowed them to compete on an equal footing while also allowing them to sign and keep star players (Iginla, Luongo, Spezza, McCabe, Heatley, etc.).

Secondly, while the CBA leveled the playing field in terms of spending powers, that doesn't mean necessarily that there are not going to be anymore elite teams. Teams that get the best value for their buck in their players (check out the Penguins roster of cheap talent) can stack up a formidable array of players and hold on to much of it for many years.

Scouting (and luck) will play an even bigger role in future cup teams - which is also a good thing. By grooming young talent for many years and building around it, teams can develop into elite squads (and if any NHL team is looking for a 'Capologist' I'm available - call me).

Finally, from personal experience running a hockey pool for over a decade, I'll add that when we added our own version of the salary cap (the Franchise player designation - you kept them from year to year as long as you like, but you couldn't have more or less than two at any time), it vastly improved both the identification of GMs to their teams (ie. improved fan relations), created greater parity, and yet still allowed some dominant spurts from a handful of teams (including one team that routinely switches FP's week to week).

What we are seeing now with the CBA cap is the same principle. Teams can only afford to invest big $ in two or three high end players (and EVERYONE can afford to invest in at least 2), and pad the rest out with what's left. More teams have great players to enjoy for longer (Iginla forever a Flame!) = more fun for everyone.

Here's my prediction - not only will more teams be competitive, but you will also see a few teams rise to the top consistently over the next few years; Carolina, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Calgary, Vancouver, Rangers, and Buffalo. Why? Because they have invested more wisely in their talent than other teams. Look for St Louis, Boston, and Columbus to struggle. Why? Because they have invested unwisely in talent.

So I guess I'm saying the reality is the exact opposite of what you describe.

Great blog though, it's been a pleasure to disagree with you.
 
Part of the problem is a misconception on your part, that Leetch, Allison and Kvasha simply don't make the grade in the new NHL.

Last year, all three of these players were among the most important six or eight players on their teams at worst and you could argue that they were better than that. That is the basic definition of a "core player".

First, parity is I believe GOOD for the fan, especially the Canadian fan.

Outside of the Leafs, Canadian teams would struggle to field elite teams in a league with unlimited spending vs small market budgets


This is entirely false also. In principle, parity removes the really great and the really awful teams from the league, but in practise I think the effect is more to remove the truly great while there will remain screwups to run their teams into the ground despite a salary cap.

If we eliminate the truly great teams then we eliminate the truly great games. There wont be any great games between two elite teams because there are no elite teams. We will be stuck with a Stanley Cup final between Carolina and Edmonton level teams. Neither could make a realistic claim as being all time great teams. Its likely a long time before we could ever see another such great team.

My feeling of caps in a soundbite is from this quote:

"Caps might cause greater on-field parity that, ironically, would result in less interest among fans. There is example after example of more fans tuning in for superstar teams and players. But caps with flexibility would allow teams that might simply be smarter to benefit from their strengths."

— Marc Ganis, who has been a consultant for teams in all four major professional leagues.

Most fans get excited when the great team comes to town. The New York Yankees type team. Take away those teams and everybody looks like the same old average team.

You claim that without a salary cap Canadian teams would have suffered. I strongly disagree. Without a salary cap, Ottawa was one of the strongest teams in the league and looked poised to be a potential dynasty. They have had to give up Hossa, Havlat and Chara due to the CBA and now they have a losing record. Without the salary cap that wouldn't be. Calgary was a Stanley Cup finalist in 2004 and they did it without a salary cap. Its a myth that the Canadian teams needed a cap. The biggest money team before the lockout was the New York Rangers and they missed the playoffs the last 7 years there was no cap. They made it again WITH a cap.

This was because of the 31 year UFA age. Sure they could buy a lot of players but they were old and passed their prime so it didn't matter. They filled their roster with old men and the younger teams (often Canadian ones) beat them.

Finally, from personal experience running a hockey pool for over a decade, I'll add that when we added our own version of the salary cap (the Franchise player designation - you kept them from year to year as long as you like, but you couldn't have more or less than two at any time), it vastly improved both the identification of GMs to their teams (ie. improved fan relations), created greater parity, and yet still allowed some dominant spurts from a handful of teams (including one team that routinely switches FP's week to week).

I too run a keeper hockey league and we also have a salary cap. It was brought in because in our ealry days a couple GMs traded for such powerhouse teams that unless we did something would likely dominate for the next decade. Thats no fun for the other guys in the league. It was done to get rid of really good teams. It works. It is more fun because this allows the GMs who take over weaker teams a better chance to improve.

The difference is that we don't actually have fans come to watch our fantasy games. If they did, they would likely be upset that we have done away with the truly great teams that create a buzz when they come to town.

What is good for a fantasy hockey league and what is good for the NHL are NOT the same thing.
 
Is it the case that these players are not bound by terms of their old contracts? So they are free to sign with a club at a new, lower, salary?

If so, is the problem that no team has enough cap space to give them reasonable market value? Or are they signable at what they're worth, but they want too much?
 
Please, tell me you can think of better players than that you want to see in the NHL. I guess the CBA is also letting talent like that guy in Pittsburgh...that young guy, what's his name? The one who can skate and they kept up with them?

Or in let's say Buffalo and Carolina..I'm sure those teams are both frothing at the mouth for Allison. They're just TOO fast, they need a statue like Hatcher to slow themselves down.

Speaking of...Hatcher's contract is ridiculous which would be the same of almost any contract the player you want to see in the NHL would get. I'm perfectly happy if those players never come back.
 
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