Something in Elliotte Friedman’s always-excellent 30 Thoughts really caught my attention yesterday in a way that things in it often don’t. Not that the information isn’t always excellent, but it’s a lot of stuff like, “Oh, I’d never thought of it that way,” or “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.” However, items Nos. 8 and 9 absolutely baffled me.
Both Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Briere have gone from terribly disappointed to pleasantly surprised and excited by the amount of interest in them. All of that interest means both players will command a bigger dollar than expected. … That said, there are a couple of executives who said they wouldn’t be surprised if a team asks to bump [five-year demands] up to seven years with the last two at lower salaries to lessen the cap hit. It’s also expected that Lecavalier will ask for no-move or no-trade protection.
This made me sad and confused, but that was obviously before all the reports about Lecavalier settling on the Flyers for five years at $22.5 million total with a no-movement clause and everyone started getting their jokes about goaltending in. Now I’ve been pushed even farther into my confusion.
Here’s what is fundamentally difficult to understand about deals like the ones Lecavalier apparently commanded, and what Briere will likely pull as well: how silly they are.
The reasons they were bought out of their deals were different, to some extent, but partly the same as well. The Lecavalier deal was untenable in Tampa because both the money and the term were ridiculous, and only the payout was at issue for Briere, who had just two years left on his current deal.
These are deals that weren’t built with anything resembling the new CBA in mind, and thus were unsuitable for this new — some would say “unfortunate” — world. Back-diving deals are dead in the dirt and probably with good reason, but that doesn’t change the fact that these are two players who are very comfortably on the wrong side of 30 who shouldn’t be getting this much attention from fawning suitors. Obviously the market for guys is whatever the teams interested in them set it at, but the Lecavalier deal screams that the few bidders who stuck around long enough were whipped into a frenzy for no particularly good reason.
Lecavalier at $4.5 million per season is good right now. He averages 0.8 points per game, and you’re not going to just find that in a No. 2 center for Claude Giroux on the open market. But five years is too many, and a no-movement clause is exactly what the Lightning were trying to avoid the whole time any way. Instead of the Bolts paying him until 2020, the Flyers are now doing it instead until 2017, at which point he’ll be “just” 37, instead of 40. The odds that he’s going to be worth that kind of money in even two years, let alone five, seems rather low.
Don’t get me wrong, this deal could be a lot worse, and it certainly addresses something that at least resembles a team need; perhaps not one that would be in the Flyers’ actual top 3 needs, but a need nonetheless. I also don’t think that’s where a team that’s fairly tight against the cap, or will be when they put Chris Pronger back on the LTIR, and with Philly’s myriad problems should be spending its money, but then logic seems never to have dictated a Paul Holmgren contract offer. (This also probably necessitates that rumored Braydon Coburn trade, which still doesn’t make any sense to me.)
If Friedman’s conjecture is to be believed, the same will likely be true, though probably to a lesser extent, of Briere. He comes in with a significantly diminished scoring numbers by comparison, but if his deal is even in Lecavalier’s ballpark in terms of salary and not specifically term, that has to be considered a huge win. Teams have reportedly been sniffing around and very interested, but one has to wonder exactly how valuable he will be. He will almost certainly be overpaid, as anyone who hits the open market tends to be, and that’s what I don’t understand.
The thing that baffles me — and I suppose we’ll see where it lands with Briere — is the fact that teams are willing to go long-term and, more importantly, front-load these deals as a means of keeping the cap hit down, or even, as Friedman notes, push them out an additional year or two more than they would have liked. Do they not understand that cap recapture is a thing now? Do they not realize that amnesty buyouts go away at the end of next summer? You can’t just stash a problem contract, which any theoretical long-term agreements with 33- and 35-year-old players almost always become, any more; they’re going to count against your cap no matter what happens to that player.
These are the things that just caused a lockout, more or less: Overpaying aging free agents because of who they used to be and not necessarily who they are and certainly not who they will be; tacking on extra dummy years as a means of circumventing the cap by driving down annual impact. We’re less than six months from the memorandum of understanding being signed on that thing and this is what the first open-market deals of the summer will be? Gosh. Lots of suppositions going on here, I know, but it never would have been a stretch for someone to tell you, “GMs won’t have learned anything about what the owners consider untenable.”
The good news for Holmgren, and whoever signs Briere hoping he’ll round back into form, is that these deals won’t look so bad when the cap explodes once the new Canadian TV deals come in. Three years from now when Lecavalier is playing like Briere did this season and Briere is out of the league, the cap will slightly higher than it was for 2013. People probably won’t make as big a deal about these contracts, but they’re going to stink, and the Flyers and Briere’s new team will probably still have holes in their lineup. If they’re lucky, they won’t get saddled with the blame there, not that they won’t deserve some of it.
Teams will always hamstring themselves in pursuit of a Cup. That much is plain. Will contracts like these for players like this get anyone any closer? History tells us that they probably won’t. But NHL general managers seem to specialize in not learning from history, so here we are. Can’t wait to see what Jarome Iginla gets on Friday.