I wrote a piece for SB Nation Pittsburgh debating the value of Tyler Kennedy to the 2011-12 Penguins and beyond. The Synopsis: “Everybody Chill.”
Posts Tagged ‘Free Agency’
My thoughts on whether or not the Pens can afford to retain Max Talbot, and whether his ultra fan-faveness makes up for his disturbing drop in production:
[UPDATE 7/21: The NHL has tentatively rejected this contract, bringing up a whole new mess of issues. Regardless, here's what I wrote before we learned the NHL was able to do that]
After a lengthy negotiating process, Ilya Kovalchuk has indeed signed a 17-year, $102 million contract with the New Jersey Devils. The length appears striking at first, but the last five years of the deal are all worth $550,000, and $750,000 in the year before that, so in essence, Lou Lamoriello has jumped on the Marian Hossa / Chris Pronger / Henrik Zetterberg bandwagon and taken advantage of the salary cap by dragging Kovalchuk’s average annual cap hit down to just $6 mil with dummy years at the end of the deal that he’ll almost assuredly buy out.
There may be a handful of tricky seasons in between Kovalchuk’s formative years and his inevitable buyout/retirement, but basically, Lamoriello has shrewdly taken advantage of an increasingly-exploited salary cap loophole to keep a bona fide superstar with his franchise at an exceedingly reasonable annual cap hit.
Still, that “17 years” just looks really, really crazy on paper, and it’s brought up a whole series of objections — some legitimate, but most just angrily uninformed — which Scott Burnside lays out in this somewhat-bewildering post. Let’s dissect the four oddest paragraphs:
Some will immediately draw a line between the Kovalchuk deal and the 15-year contract that made netminder Rick DiPietro and the New York Islanders the butt of jokes around the sporting world. Too much. Too long. Those were the prevailing comments in the wake of the much-anticipated signing.
They will? Then “Some” are stupid.
Burnside isn’t making this point himself, fortunately, just relaying the general implication that the Kovalchuk deal is comparable to the albatross the Islanders gave Rick DiPietro (I’m pretty sure they had him sign his name on a literal live albatross), which is completely unfounded. DiPietro’s deal earns him exactly $4.5 million in every year of his deal, for an annual cap hit of $4.5 million — the length of the deal wasn’t deliberately lengthened to drag the cap number down, the Islanders just wanted to lock up DiPietro for fifteen years.
The Kovalchuk deal, by contrast, was deliberately lengthened by the Devils so they could pad the end of the deal with $500k seasons, drag down the average annual cap hit of the contract, and pay Kovalchuk fair market value over the next decade without totally destroying their cap space, giving themselves the option to buy him out with 5-7 years left on the deal once most of the money has been paid and allow Kovalchuk to retire, sign a latter-day NHL contract, or finish his career in the KHL. It’s far more similar to the deal the Blackhawks gave Marian Hossa; the 17-year Kovalchuk deal appears oppressively long-term on paper, but it’s actually far less restrictive to the franchise than, say, a 7-year, $60 mil deal with a $9+ mil cap hit would’ve been.
The Devils will have an awkward decision to make when Kovalchuk turns 36 with 8 years remaining on the contract, about when to precisely buy out his deal — do they take a $6 mil cap hit at age 36, then buy out 7 years, or take another $6 mil hit at 37 and buy out 6 years, or wait further? — but these concerns won’t arise for nearly a decade when the cap will have increased and a new CBA may be in place, and the concerns aren’t nearly as suffocating to the Devils as a shorter-term deal with an $8-10 mil cap hit would have been.
Also, Rick DiPietro is an average goaltender (who’s constantly injured, though he wasn’t before the deal was signed), while Kovalchuk is a perennial 40-goal-superstar. These mysterious “Some” who are comparing the contracts because the number 17 is close to the number 15 are hopelessly uninformed.
The NHL Free Agency signing period has slowed to a trickle (today’s blockbuster Brian Willsie deal notwithstanding), even though many of the league’s most prominent free agents remain on the market and a number of teams remain significantly under the Cap.
Some might speculate that teams are waiting for the Kovalchuk domino to fall before the other non-Kovalchuk dominos can fall (I good at analogy!!), but if the Kovalchuk talks are indeed limited to L.A., New Jersey, the Islanders, and Russia, then what are other teams waiting for?
My theory? Every free agent conversation has gone something like this:
Every Team: We’re interested in signing you – how does a 2-year, $4 mil contract sound?
Every Free Agent: But Toronto gave Colby Armstrong 3 years, $9 million, and he’s Colby Armstrong!
Every Team: Oh come on, we all know that deal doesn’t count.
Every Free Agent: Fine. I’m calling Toronto.
Every Team: Fine!
[Standoff Continues x Infinity]
Penguins Sign Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek On First Day Of Free Agency, Will Have To Try Harder To Screw Up In Their Own Zone Next YearJuly 1, 2010
Hey, it’s nice to have one Pittsburgh team that isn’t afraid of free agency, isn’t it? I say this with all due respect to the Duce Staley signing, of course.
The Pens massively solidified their defensive corps with a two-headed signing of the Devils’ Paul Martin for 5 years, $25 million, and Phoenix’s Zbynek Michalek, for 5 years, $20 million. The signings instantly fill the Pens’ most glaring, immediate need: Reliable defensive defensemen.
I really like these signings, and not just because it’s exciting when your team spends a lot of money on new dudes (though that too). Martin is a responsible defender from a notoriously structured organization, but he’s also extremely mobile, makes smart plays, can man a second power-play unit, and moves the puck extremely well. He’s coming off an injury-marred season, but it was a broken arm, which isn’t theoretically lingering, and he’s played in at least 70 games every prior season in his career, so I’m not worried.
Michalek, I’ll admit, I know almost nothing about except secondhand info; the Pens signing him instead of Hamhuis essentially boils down to them choosing a dude I barely know on a team I never watch instead of a different dude I barely know on a team I never watch. Michalek has a reputation as a shut-down, stay-at-home defender, which I don’t question, but I’m skeptical whenever anyone is described as a “great shot-blocker,” because all too often — as in the cases of Jay McKee, Jason Smith, and even Mark Eaton to an extent — guys are described as “shot-blockers” because they don’t have many other noticeable skills. In this instance, though, I’ll give Michalek the benefit of the doubt for his universally outstanding defensive reputation, and for the fact that he’s still only 27 and likely entering his prime as an NHL defenseman.
This gives the Pens tremendous depth at the blue line, with a 2010-11 defensive depth chart that looks something like this:
1. Orpik, 2. Martin, 3. Letang, 4. Michalek, 5. Goligoski, 6. Lovejoy, 7. Engellund, 8. Skoula-type veteran free agent
If Martin and Co. are healthy, that’s a potential Stanley Cup caliber defense. And, if Goligoski develops positively (and isn’t traded), the Pens could very conceivably boast 3 defensemen on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team, which isn’t particularly significant, but cool nonetheless.
The downside, of course, is that the Pens now have $9 mil of cap space locked in for the next five years towards two defensive defensemen (plus another $3.75 for Orpik), which leaves them precious little wiggle room to add a goal-scoring winger. They currently have about $2 mil of cap space remaining with their current roster, and that’s not taking into account the $1 mil or so Shero likes to set aside as a cushion for in-season dealings.
This begs the obvious question: How much would ‘hitting the net’ classes for Tyler Kennedy cost?
I’ve been up and down on Gonchar throughout his career, but this was obviously the right move for the Pens to let him go. He took a lot of flak his first year with the Pens for his poor play, and rightfully so, but his two-way play in the subsequent seasons after that led me to believe in retrospect that the Penguins were probably just a total mess that first year and it wasn’t Gonchar’s fault, when they randomly signed Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, John LeClair and Jocelyn Thibault and threw them with Lemieux, Mark Recchi, and 18-year-old Crosby and asked Ed Olczyk — in his second year of coaching ever, at any level — to make it work somehow.
Gonchar regained his form as a top offensive defenseman in the league very quickly after that, but this past season — and perhaps not-coincidentally, ever since getting kneed by Ovechkin in the ’09 Playoffs — he’s proven to be a defensive liability slightly more often than is acceptable for a 24-minutes-a-game #1 defenseman, and while his offensive skill remains sharp as ever, and as pathetically as the Pens’ power play operated when he was out of the lineup last year, the Penguins cannot commit a three-year top-flight salary to a 36-year-old who’s already showed noticeable signs of decline.
Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski have a long way to go both offensively and defensively (people forget Letang scored precisely three goals last season, same as Mark Eaton), and handing the power play reigns over to them will be risky for a while, but not as risky as committing that much cap space to an aging player and ensuring that three of the Pens’ six defensemen possess limited defensive abilities.
Again, I’m sad to see Gonchar go, but I’m frankly surprised the Pens’ negotiations with Gonchar even lasted as long as they did, as the writing appeared to be on the wall for some time. I will miss his offensive contributions as badly as I’ll miss screaming his name sandwiched between two F-words.
The Pirates have officially signed outfielder Ryan Church to a one-year, $1.5 million deal with incentives after he passed a physical earlier this week.
Church is a 31-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder coming off a mediocre, semi-injured season in which he hit .273 / .338 / .384 in 399 PA for the Mets and Braves. He is a purportedly excellent defensive outfielder, both statistically and by reputation, and would represent a defensive plus as a corner outfielder for the Pirates, and in the three seasons prior to 2008 hit a combined .274 / .352 / .468 in part-time duty while displaying some moderate pop (averaged 20 HR per 162 GP in that span).
Ostensibly, any player who willingly agrees to be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ fourth outfielder prrrrrobably isn’t the league’s most sought-after free agent (he may have been – we’ll just never know for sure), but that also doesn’t mean he’s a bad fourth outfielder option. Church may be coming off an injury-troubled season with just 4 homers, but he’s a solid defender and a decent on-base guy, plus his cheap one-year-deal should keep him from blocking Jose Tabata should Tabata prove major-league ready by midseason, as opposed to a longer-term, more expensive deal for Rick Ankiel, whom the Pirates might have felt more obligated to play. Fangraphs offers some more numbers in support of the move, calling Church “a perfect fit for a a rebuilding team like the Pirates.”
Because Church is left-handed, he doesn’t create an ideal platoon situation in first/right between himself and lefties Garrett Jones and Matt Clement, but whatever, so the Pirates have a glut lefties at the corners — it’s not exactly their biggest problem. They’ll be just like the Phillies, only terrible.
The Penguins rounded out their defensive corps by signing bought-out blueliner Jay McKee from the St. Louis blues to a one-year deal reportedly worth less than $1 million.
McKee’s time with the Blues was highly dubious, in no small part because he was on an absurd 4 year, $16 million contract that he somehow kept a straight face and signed before breaking down into laughter in front of the Blues’ front office brass, which resulted in a ruptured funnybone, his first of many injuries in St. Louis.
Still, McKee is exactly what the Pens need — a stay-at home defenseman with a decent physical streak who can eat up Rob Scuderi’s vacated minutes — and the fact that his contract is so reasonable only enhances the shrewdness of the signing. McKee is making a free $2.7 mil from the Blues this year from the buyout, but still, if Scuderi’s worth $3.5 million in this market, McKee could’ve easily gotten a bigger free agent deal from another team; McKee and his agent must be extremely confident that one successful season on the high-profile Pens to set up a deal next offseason will be a smarter long-term strategy than signing for $2 million this season with, say, Atlanta.
What’s even more ridiculous about this deal is that up until probably May of this season, if any team in the NHL were offered the chance to get Jay McKee or Rob Scuderi for the same amount of money, surely everyone would’ve taken McKee. Yes, we can’t just ignore Scuderi’s ’09 playoffs or McKee’s recent injury history, but factoring in the respective financial commitments to the two players — 4 years, $13.6 mil versus 1 year, less-than $1 mil — I’ll happily take on the McKee contact every time.
Now we get to answer a hypothetical question about the universe: can the words “Jay McKee” and “underpaid” actually appear in the same sentence? At least, without being followed by “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL”?
I really like Rob Scuderi. His contributions to the Pens’ 2009 Cup Run were absolutely irremovable, if unquantifiable, and he rose to the occassion as the Pens’ most consistent blueliner against elite opposition at a time when the rest of the Penguins’ defensive corps was anything but reliable.
That being said, there was no way the Penguins were going to match the L.A. Kings’ 4 year, $13.6 million offer for Scuderi, nor should they have; Scuderi is a solid but utterly replacable player, and in current NHL salary-cap economics, doling out a $3.4 million annual cap hit for four years on a 30-year-old who before March of this year was viewed as no better than a 4th or 5th defenseman with zero offensive skills is severely inadvisable.
Remember how irreplacable Brooks Orpik seemed after the ’08 Cup run, particularly after all the stupid contract-inflating sportswriter columns about “The Shift?” The Pens ended up signing him to a 6-year deal that certainly doesn’t look painful now but also doesn’t seem entirely necessary; that’s the inflated price you’ll always have to pay for a player entering UFA status off the best two months of hockey they’ve ever played. Rob Scuderi is an ok NHL defenseman, but even excepting the Pens’ cap situation, he’s simply not worth that much money.
The St. Louis Blues made a mistake when they envisioned Jay McKee — a 28-year-old defensive defenseman coming off his most prominent season in 2006 — as the instant answer to all their defensive woes, signing him to a 4-year, $16 million contract that ended up being a disaster and which was recently cut short with a buyout. I surely wish Scuderi more success in L.A. than McKee had with the Blues, but the situations aren’t entirely dissimilar; Scuderi is two years older than McKee was at the time, both had showed little indication of offensive ability, and Scuderi’s reputation was largely bolstered by his team’s strong season in his UFA year (McKee’s Sabres won 52 games and fell a game short of the Cup Finals in ’06.)
Different situation, different results? Maybe. But I’ll happily allow another team to pay Scuderi’s contract while we find out.