Organizational Credibility

Loyalty is a funny thing in today’s sports landscape. Of course by funny thing, I mean a virtually non-existent thing. Unfortunately it applies to players, organizations and even fans. With reports over the weekend of players part of trade proposals or being shopped to other teams, I thought it would be interesting to look at how certain trades, or non trades, can impact an organization’s credibility.

Let’s start with Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators. During Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada Pierre LeBrun suggested Bryan Murray and the Senators are listening to offers for the 34-year old veteran, but aren’t actively shopping him. Phillips is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Let’s take the rumours at face value (a cardinal sin I know, but bare with me). Suppose the Senators don’t see Phillips in their future and make him available for a 2nd/3rd round draft pick or a decent prospect (or whatever the return is).

Is it really worth it?

It’s possible that pick or prospect could turn out to be something special, but it’s unlikely. And frankly it’s not worth the risk. Not for an organization who’ve struggled to build an identity since returning to the NHL in 1992. I think it’s pretty important for Phillips to remain a Senator for as long as possible (in addition to captain Daniel Alfredsson retiring as a Senator and having his number 11 hung from Scotiabank Place’s rafters). I’m not ripping the Senators. In fact the same thing applies to many other recent expansion teams around the league too. History, albeit modern history, is important.

It tells the hockey world that the organization stands behind their players, even during rough times. It shows that the organization appreciates their loyalty (both Alfredsson and Phillips have taken discounts throughout their careers to remain in Ottawa). It suggests commitment to players development and growth. It establishes a tone for any future free agents who are evaluating their career options and thinking about playing in Ottawa. It could certainly act as a deal breaker.

Kris Versteeg, Toronto Maple Leafs forward

Same thing goes for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Kris Versteeg’s apparent availability. Let’s assume there’s a trade that can be made which includes Versteeg, for arguments sake. What does it say about the Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs if they move a player they traded for less than a year ago? Sure fans might be happy, but would future free agents look at the Leafs and say “I don’t want to be traded eight months after I move to Toronto”? Would trading Versteeg suggest Burke made a mistake acquiring him in the first place last summer? Maybe not if the return is good (read: Brayden Schenn), but still.

Job security is a big deal for some players.

It’s one thing if an upcoming UFA asks to be traded, or has made it known he wants to play for a contending team etc… It’s quite another when it’s the organization’s decision. I understand roster moves sometimes need to be made regardless of factors like the ones I’ve just described, but organizations don’t operate like we do when playing NHL11.

Decisions like these are one small step teams can make to better themselves, establish a culture, build an identity and solidify their organization. There aren’t that many highly respected teams in the NHL like the Detroit Red Wings or Montreal Canadiens. Credibility decisions sometimes stand for more than one extra draft pick or player at next year’s tryout camp. It’s like Brian Burke says in that ultra serious-super Rambo Toronto Marlies commercial “We’re in the player development business, not the player trading business.”

In the case of Chris Phillips and Kris Versteeg, I think Burke is right on the mark.