July 2002 was the month where everything spiraled out of control. That month almost singlehandedly led to the 2004 lockout.
Bill Guerin signs with Dallas - 5 yrs, $45 mil
Bobby Holik signs with NY Rangers - 5 yrs, $45 mil
Curtis Joseph signs with Detroit - 3 yrs, $24 mil
Ed Belfour signs with Toronto - 2 yrs, $13.5 mil
Tony Amonte signs with Phoenix - 4 yrs, $24 mil
Robert Lang signs with Washington - 5 yrs, $25 mil
Darius Kasparaitis signs with NY Rangers - 6 yrs, $27 mil
Theo Fleury signs with Colorado - 2 yrs, $8.5 mil
Adam Oates signs with Anaheim - 1 yr, $3.5 mil
Scott Young signs with Dallas - 2 yrs, $7 mil
Luke Richardson signs with Columbus - 4 yrs, $11 mil
Andrew Cassels signs with Columbus - 1 yrs, $2.6 mil
Richard Smehlik signs with Atlanta - 3 yrs, $7.5 mil
Philippe Boucher signs with Dallas - 4 yrs, $9.5 mil
Randy McKay signs with Montreal - 2 yrs, $4.25 mil
Scott Lachance signs with Columbus - 4 yrs, $8 mil
We'd seen hints that this was coming the prior summer with three deals (Roenick - 5 yrs, $37.5 mil, Turgeon - 5 yrs, $32.5 mil and Lapointe - 4 yrs, $20 mil) but for the most part everything was still very much under control.
July 1st, 2002 was the day that small markets died.
Then we had the lockout where we lost a full season of hockey for the sake of small and mid-markets, who couldn't afford payrolls of $40 mil+.
And everything was somewhat under control once again (despite a floor of $34.3 mil), until today.
Will July 1st 2007 be the day that we realize the lockout was a complete waste?
Philadelphia: Briere - $52 mil
NY Rangers: Gomez - $51.5 mil
Philadelphia: Timonen - $37.8 mil
NY Rangers: Drury - $35.25 mil
Colorado: Smyth - $31 mil
Detroit: Rafalski - $30 mil
Philadelphia: Hartnell - $25.2 mil
Toronto: Blake - $20 mil
Six big market teams spend a combined $282.75 million on eight players.
We missed a whole year of hockey so that Buffalo, New Jersey, Nashville and the Islanders could each lose two players to Philadelphia, Colorado, Detroit, Toronto and the Rangers?
I feel like I'm watching a bad movie and I already know how it ends. Let's just hope that we don't end up having to watch a blank screen for another year down the road due to the growing disparities between the haves and have-nots.
The newest trend in the UFA market is heavily front-loading deals. For example, the Briere contract breaks down as follows:
Year 1: $10 mil
Year 2: $8 mil
Year 3: $8 mil
Year 4: $7 mil
Year 5: $7 mil
Year 6: $7 mil
Year 7: $3 mil
Year 8: $2 mil
The annual cap hit is $6.5 mil.
At first glance it looks like this deal is structured so that Briere can be easily bought out after six years, which would make it essentially a 6-year, $50.3 million deal ($47 mil to play 6 years and $833,333 for the next four years due to the buyout).
But there's a catch. While the buyout is 2/3 of the remaining value of the contract spread out over double the remaining term (in this case 2/3 of $5 mil, spread over 4 years), the cap hit is different.
When a team buys a player out, any cap savings from earlier seasons will come back to haunt them.
Year 1: Flyers "save" $3.5 mil in cap space ($10 mil salary but only $6.5 cap hit).
Year 2 and 3: Flyers save $1.5 mil per year
Year 4-6: Flyers save $500k per year
Total savings = $8 million
Total buyout = $3.3 million
So here's how that buyout after year six would effect the cap:
Year 7: $4.33 million
Year 8: $5.33 million
Year 9: $ .83 million
Year 10: $ .83 million
Total cap hit for those four years is $11.3 million (the savings from years one through six, plus the buyout).
So in year eight the Flyers could either have Briere in the lineup at a cap hit of $6.5 mil or not have him in the lineup and still pay $5.3.
That is not a deal is structured for a buyout.
If there wasn't a 'no movement' clause, the most likely scenario here if the Flyers didn't want Briere in the lineup would be to trade Briere to a team that is struggling to meet the league's lower cap threshold.
That team would only have to pay out $5 million over 2 years to take a $13 million cap hit.
Team 'X' (let's call them the Florida Panthers) doesn't have to spend as much as they otherwise would have and thus gain a significant cash savings. And the Flyers (and other big market teams) will be able to have lineups with salaries totaling well over the cap, thanks front-loaded deals. This season Philadelphia may well end up with total salaries in the area of $60 million.
To avoid this scenario the next time around, either the term of a contract should be limited to five years or other controls would need to be put into place to avoid front-loading deals.
In the history of players switching teams in unrestricted free agency there have been 14 contracts signed that totaled $30 mil+. Six of those contracts were signed this year and two were signed last year (Chara and Jovanovski).
The other six:
Bill Guerin - $45 mil
Bobby Holik - $45 mil
Sergei Fedorov - $40 mil
Jeremy Roenick - $37.5 mil
Pierre Turgeon - $32.5 mil
Derian Hatcher - $30 mil
At the time most thought that all six seemed like great deals. In hindsight? Not so much...
What can you say about Scott Niedermayer that hasn't already been said? TSN today had him ranked as the 7th best defenceman of all-time and based on his history of success you can't really argue that he's right up there with the greatest to ever play the position:
4 Stanley Cups
Gold Medal, 1991 World Juniors
Gold Medal, 2002 Olympics
Gold Medal, 2004 World Cup
Gold Medal, 2004 World Championships
Conn Smythe Trophy
Memorial Cup MVP
Another huge story of the day was three extensions signed by three superstar players:
Joe Thornton - 3 years @ $7.2 mil
Jarome Iginla - 5 years @ $7 mil (not yet confirmed)
Sergei Zubov - 1 year @ $5.35 mil
Looking at these contracts, the UFA deals signed today seem even more ridiculous. Sure you could argue that these three weren't unrestricted but they would have been next summer and signed for far less than what they would have gotten on the open market.
Iginla's contract may even mirror the one signed by Drury (5 yrs, $35 mil), despite the fact that Iginla has 202 goals and 397 points over the past 5 years and Drury comes in at 129 goals and 288 points. Last year Iginla put up 94-points while Drury has never cracked 70 pts in a season.
Whitney's 6 year, $24 million deal was interesting as well. The key to success in my opinion is to lockup young talent to long-term, cap friendly deals and if Whitney becomes the player the Pens expect him to be, this will be a steal.
It wasn't that long ago that Daniel Briere went unclaimed on waivers - 2000 to be exact.
And now Danny will be the highest paid player in the league this upcoming season, making the maximum allowable salary, $10 million.
Here's how things changed dramatically in 7 seasons:
00-01: 15 pts in 30 games
01-02: 60 pts in 78 games
02-03: 46 pts in 68 games
02-03: 12 pts in 14 games
03-04: 65 pts in 82 games
05-06: 58 pts in 48 games
06-07: 95 pts in 81 games
I'd be weary of signing guys to extremely long-term deals when they put up unusually high numbers in a contract year. For example, aside from Hamilton and Ouellet, I would be hesitant to sign anyone who made a huge jump this past season:
07 UFAs: Increase in Points over Prior Season
Daniel Briere: 58 to 95 = +37
Jeff Hamilton: 8 to 39 = +31
Viktor Kozlov: 25 to 51 = +26
Sheldon Souray: 39 to 64 = +25
Tom Poti: 23 to 44 = +21
Bill Guerin: 40 to 56 = +16
Michel Ouellet: 32 to 48 = +16
Josef Vasicek: 9 to 22 = +13
Jason Blake: 57 to 69 = +12
Roman Hamrlik: 26 to 38 = +12
Which leads me to Jason Blake.
Prior to this season, Jason Blake had never cracked 30 goals or 60 points. Of course then he went out and scored 40 in his contract year and all of a sudden he entered the market as "40-goal scorer Jason Blake".
But will Blake score 30 or 40 this year at age 34? How about in year three of the contract when he's 36? Are the Leafs still expecting big numbers out of him at 37? 38?
Let's face it. Long-term contracts for older UFAs simply are not a good idea.
For proof, here are the longest contracts signed prior to this season:
6 years: Darius Kasparaitis, $27 mil
5 years: 17 players
Bill Guerin, DAL, $45 mil
Bobby Holik, NYR, $45 mil
Sergei Fedorov, ANA, $40 mil
Jeremy Roenick, PHI, $37.5 mil
Zdeno Chara, BOS, $37.5 mil
Pierre Turgeon, DAL, $32.5 mil
Ed Jovanovski, PHO, $32.5 mil
Derian Hatcher, DET, $30 mil
Robert Lang, WAS, $25 mil
Sergei Gonchar, PIT, $25 mil
Jason Arnott, NAS, $22.5 mil
Mike Rathje, PHI, $17.5 mil
Jyrki Lumme, PHO, $17 mil
Vaclav Prospal, ANA, $16.5 mil
Todd Marchant, CBJ, $14.5 mil
Mark Parrish, MIN, $13.25 mil
Luke Richardson, PHI, $12.6 mil
How many of these guys were worth the money by years 3 and 4, let alone by year five/six?
As the week goes in I'll get into some team-specific commentary. You never want to be too quick to judge a team when the market has only been open for 14 hours (although it's hard not to judge when Sarich gets $18 mil, Brett McLean gets $1.7 for three and Jason Briere and Gomez get $50 mil+, Blake gets five years, etc)...
But you have to think that small market teams will be remembered as the big losers on Canada Day, 2007.
Danny Tolensky - [email protected]