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We Would Rather Overpay a Good Scout

June 25, 2019, 9:31 AM ET [4 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
Blogger •NHL Hall of Fame writer • RSSArchiveCONTACT
They don’t pay the big bucks here at Hockey Buzz for you to read how time will tell. We gotta come up with something more prescient than, say, on second thought maybe the Sabres should have kept Ryan O’Reilly or conclude that Eddie Lack may not have a future in New Jersey.

So before all the signings of next week, we’re here to tell you unequivocally that most of them will turn out to be bad ones.

We haven’t been in the Toronto locker room to fully assess the impact of Patrick Marleau on the young Leafs over the last two seasons and do not doubt the sincerity of those touched by his veteran presence. But bottom line, a young and ubertalented team did not get out of the first round during Marleau’s two seasons in Toronto and he became such a financial liability towards keeping rising players that the Leafs had to give up a first-round pick just to get rid of the final $6.25 million on his contract.

The third and fourth years you have to give a player who should fill a hole for one or two eventually will swallow you whole in cap space. It isn’t growing fast enough–by only $2 million for 2019-20–to obtain another good player or cover even one mistake. So we don’t give a Tweet whatever you will have to say next week about who did well and who didn’t. The salary cap turns hockey management into pool. It’s not only what you make but also what you leave for a better move down the road.

That said, barring catastrophic injury the Leafs are not likely to ever have to say they are sorry for signing a true star in his prime like John Tavares. But so few players of that highest-tier category reach free agency that the pool has gotten shallower than even Mario Tremblay’s thinking when he got rid of Patrick Roy.

This year Artemi Panarin, 27, is the only UFA with an elite skill level that probably will be worth max, or close-to-max, in years and money. Sergei Bobrovsky, not so much, due to his about to turn 31 years and also because his position has never been this deep in quality, meaning a commitment of huge length may not be wise or necessary. Ergo, Carry Price, as good as he has been. Still someone is going to give Bobrovsky more years than is frugal. And, of course he won’t be the only player to take advantage of an increasingly unsustainable market place.

Inevitably good teams will have one hole in their depth chart for which they will risk going over slot value, rationalizing they won’t make a habit of it. But there always is a price to be paid because, after your core five players that make you a true contender, cap room becomes the most critical commodity you have. This includes even coaches. They get fired so often for so little reason that is even more of a glut of good ones than there are of goalies.

What is irreplaceable in putting together a team is good drafting. It always comes down to what you have coming up that saves you from having to overpay for what you need. Having cap room for P,K. Subban, Ray Shero was considered in an enviable position but now has three years to sweat out how much an apparently declining player has left. Wiser would have been drafting Ivan Provorov or Zach Werenski instead of Pavel Zacha in 2015, eliminating a glaring need for an anchor defenseman.

Hard to fault the number of good young players the Flyers have drafted over the last decade, but depth at center has been an issue ever since they beat the clock on Mike Richards’ precipitous decline. Even after selecting defensemen in the first round three straight times between 2013-15–and choosing well besides–Philadelphia still felt it had to trade for two veterans at that position in the last two weeks to become ready to contend. Chuck Fletcher next spent $50 million over seven years for Kevin Hayes for the previous regime’s failure to come up with a good No. 2-3 center in the draft.

Hayes, being only 27, has a better chance of providing value to the near-end or very end of his deal, than most UFA signings, however. And, of course, what is over slot right now for a player of a certain type and value probably won’t be within a few years as the cap increases. So this one has a decent chance of working out. But holy Ville Leino, three have been some horrendous signings. And, as silly season begins, you don’t even need a rear view mirror to identify them.

Zdeno Chara, never mind he was considered a bust after his first year in Boston, is one veteran who signed for five years that provided value to the end of his deal. We’re waiting to hear from you on another. Two or three year deals, like Brett Hull received with Dallas and Detroit can deliver, which is why, if I can get Mats Zuccarello, Joe Pavelski, Michael Ferland, Ryan Dzingel, Marcus Johnasson, Justin Williams, Anton Stralman, Wayne Simmonds, or Robin Lehner for two years, I’m keeping the check book within reach. But not three seasons for anyone but Matt Duchene or Anders Lee, and not five for even those guys.

Of course, they’ can get more than what I am offering .So I’ll close it up and spend the money more wisely by stealing some valuable scouts from other teams and use their advice on hidden gems in the draft or veteran pros who have played in winning situations and can give you a good year on the fourth line or third pair for about $2 million.

Beware not just of any free agent over 30 but also any coming off by far their best season. In the end, you won’t even by able to justify getting two good seasons out of somebody if the commitment for a third forces you to lose a No. One draft choice or not have enough room to keep a Mitch Marner or a player who will make a Marner that much better. Alexander Radulov appears to be working out with Dallas but he’s 32 and there are still three years left on his deal. So we will see.

The catastrophe of taking Neil Yakupov first overall is compounded when a Mitch Morov is taken in a second round when a Jimmy Vesey still was on the board. Take any franchise and if you go back through its drafts you will see blown opportunities to build a team in a much more dollar-friendly way than signing a UFA.

Of course, to hold a team responsible for hitting every pick, and spotting every diamond in the rough, is an impossible standard. But the more foot soldiers you find in the second and third rounds and the odd star, the more effective players you will have on affordable second contracts, saving you from overpaying a Gustav Nyquist when you could have drafted a Brayden Point five years earlier.

One doesn’t have to go draft by draft and call 30 teams idiots for not seeing any particular late bloomer to prove my point. Just look at the last five Stanley Cup winners.

The Blues had seven players they drafted in the second round or later , including Colton Parayko. The second of the two Kings’ titlists in this decade had seven, too, including Jonathan Quick. So did the third of three Blackhawk titlists, the 2015 champions Duncan Keith being the most prominent. The 2017 Penguins had only four, but among them was Kris Letang and Matt Murray, Same with the Cups, just four, but one was Braden Holtby.

The market was open on all those guys years before any July 1. Get in early or inflation will eat most of your savings for a rainy day.

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Thanks for reading and reacting through another season. We will see you again the first Tuesday in October.
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