Quick Fixes: Why They Don’t Exist

As much as I’d love for the Jets to go instantly to perennial contender, it’s just not realistic.  General Managers have 3 tools at their disposal to change their rosters; trades, free agency, and drafting and developing talent from within.  When the going gets tough, fans love to scream for options 1 and 2, but I think option 3 is the only real long-term solution (bottle of rocks notwithstanding).

Trades, by definition, are zero-sum endeavours.  The overall talent pool of the league is left unchanged after every trade, so unless you think you are smarter than the other GMs, trades are not a way to build a team (I know, I know, being smarter is part of the game, but realistically there aren’t a lot of dummies running NHL teams).  What trades are good for is giving up pieces from positions of strength to address positions of weakness, and for shifting talent from the future to the present (dealing picks and prospects for roster players) and vice versa.

Free agency is fresh on the mind and if there’s one thing you should have taken away from last week, it’s that acquiring players via free agency is EXPENSIVE.  Free agency can seem like an attractive way to add talent because you don’t have to give up anything from your current roster, but you end up paying in a much more subtle and sinister way – cap space.  All teams have some sort of spending limit, be it an internal budget or the external cap, so taking up valuable roster spots with too many overpriced UFA’s will leave you spinning your wheels in mediocrity (see Rangers, New York).  Free agency should be used to augment your core roster or to make that final push as a cup contender.

So that leaves us with drafting and developing talent from within. It’s a painfully slow way to rebuild a team, but if done correctly it can have the most lasting impact. That means scouting well so you can find those late round gems and developing talent properly so that your players reach their max potential.  Everything Chevy and company have said and done so far indicate that is their plan.  It will be interesting to see what happens when the fans scream for action if these first few seasons bring more losses than wins.

I like a lot of things about the Jets roster, but one thing that’s lacking big time is depth in the prospect pool (and depth throughout the lineup really).  It’s going to take some patience to build that up.

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Ladd Deal Gets Done!

I’m sure everyone is well aware that Ladd signed a new contract this afternoon.  He will earn $4.0M next year and $4.5M in years 2 through 5 for a cap hit of $4.4M per year.

I freaking love this deal!

The dollar value and the term are both great.  After all the craziness over the past few days, I was expecting something north of $5M per year.  This contract will take him through his prime to age 31 at which point the situation can be appropriately re-evaluated.

Ladd seems to be a quality player and person.  On top of his skill, he brings all the intangibles that teams look for, plus he’s only 25 years old and he already has 2 Stanley Cup rings.  This bodes well for the perception of Winnipeg around the league and should carry some weight with other players, both on the Jets and still remaining in the free agent pool.

Great job Chevy!  If he continues to sign common-sense, appropriate contracts like this, all will be well in Winnipeg.

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My apologies folks… I messed up here.

The compensation for teams that lose restricted free agents to offer sheets is actually as follows:

  • $1,034,249 or below —> no compensation
  • $1,034,249 – $1,567,043 —> 3rd round draft pick
  • $1,567,043 – $3,134,088 —> 2nd round draft pick
  • $3,134,088 – $4,701,131 —> 1st and 3rd round draft picks
  • $4,701,131 – $6,268,175 —> 1st, 2nd and 3rd round draft picks
  • $6,268,175 – $7,835,219 —> two 1st, one 2nd and one 3rd round draft pick
  • Over $7,835,219 —> four 1st round draft picks

I dutifully pulled the numbers from the collective bargaining agreement but failed to recognize that they get increased in proportion to the league average salary increase each season.  Thanks to this Illegal Curve article for making that clear for me.

I also messed up here in that Blake Wheeler is eligible to file for arbitration (and has done so according to the Hustler and Lawless show this afternoon).

Whether or not you are arbitration-eligible is dependent on a combination of the age you were when you signed your first contract and the level of pro experience you have.

  • Signed first contract at age 18-20 means you need 4 years of pro experience.
  • Signed first contract at age 21 means you need 3 years of pro experience.
  • Signed first contract at age 22-23 means you need 2 years of pro experience.
  • Signed first contract at age 24+ means you need 1 year of pro experience.

Blake Wheeler didn’t sign his first contract until at least age 21 and he has 3 years of pro experience.


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Potential Arbitration For Ladd

Who’s got 2 thumbs and is nervous as hell that the current captain of the Jets has until Tuesday at 5:00pm (EST) to sign a new contract or he can file for arbitration?

I’m really hoping that Andrew Ladd and his agent can come to terms with Chevy and get a deal done ASAP.  The thought of this getting to arbitration does not sit well with me.  As I understand it, an RFA is eligible to file for arbitration if they’ve been in the league for at least 4 years, so thankfully it doesn’t appear to be an issue for Wheeler or Bogosian.

Why do I care so much that the Ladd deal gets done on good terms and avoids arbitration?  Well, there are a few reasons:

  1. By most accounts, Ladd is the heart and soul of the team.  It would be a huge blow not to be able to keep him.
  2. Dragging this negotiation out doesn’t send a strong message to the fans, the other players, or the rest of the league, especially on the heels of an unspectacular first few days of free agency.
  3. Uncertainty – leaving the ultimate contract decision up to an independent 3rd party means anything could happen.  It gets especially hard to predict the outcome given the crazy contracts that were handed out on Friday.
  4. If the amount awarded is so ludicrous that the Jets decide to let him walk, they lose a very valuable piece of the puzzle and get nothing in return.
  5. Arbitration is a messy ordeal that can sour the relationship between player and organization forever.  Imagine going to arbitration with your current boss and listening to him or her list all the reasons why you shouldn’t get a raise.  It can be a big blow to the player’s ego.
  6. Contracts offered in arbitration are short in term which pretty much destroys any hope of getting Ladd locked up long-term.

The good news is that even if Ladd ends up filing for arbitration, the hearings are usually not held until late July or early August so there will still be plenty of time to get a deal done assuming both sides continue to negotiate in good faith.  Also, it’s not uncommon for deals to be struck within minutes of the hearing since it’s not a pleasant experience from either perspective.

Get it done Chevy!

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It occurred to me yesterday as I was throwing around some acronyms that it might be worth a post to explain how the free agency system actually works.

I’ll do my best to cut through the legalese, but for those of you that enjoy torturing yourself (or if you suffer from bouts of insomnia and need help nodding off), here is a link to the full NHLPA collective bargaining agreement.

Note: contract years run from July 1st to July 1st, hence the free agent period always starting at noon eastern on July 1st.

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) – these are the players who are free to sign with any team once their existing contract expires and the free agent period begins.  Up until the free agent period begins, the player can only negotiate a contract extension with his current team.  In some cases, teams that are about to lose a player to free agency opt to trade the exclusive negotiating rights for that player to another team in order to get something for him.  We saw that this year with Christian Ehrhoff (his rights were actually traded twice) and James Wisniewski.  In both cases, the players got signed by their new teams before making it to free agency.

Types of UFA:

Group 3 – The most common type of UFA.  Includes any player who is 27 years of age or older as of June 30th or has accrued 7 seasons in the NHL.

Group 5 – Includes any player who has played 10 seasons of professional hockey (minor league or NHL) and did not earn more than the average league salary in the final year of his last contract.

Group 6 – Includes any player who is 25 years of age or older and has played 3+ professional seasons, as long as he’s played less than 80 career NHL games as a skater or 28 career NHL games as a goalie.

Other – Includes any undrafted player who is not eligible for any future entry drafts and is not on any team’s reserve list.

Restricted Free Agents (RFA) – these are the players whose existing contract is expiring, but do not qualify as unrestricted free agents.  Essentially, restricted free agents can agree to “offer sheets” from other teams when the free agent period begins, however as long as their current team has “qualified” them as a restricted free agent, they retain the right to match any offers made by other teams.  Should the team who owns the rights to the RFA choose not to match the terms of the offer sheet, they will receive compensation from the “poaching” team based on the salary level of the new contract as follows:

  • $660,000 or below —> no compensation
  • $660,000 – $1,000,000 —> 3rd round draft pick
  • $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 —> 2nd round draft pick
  • $2,000,000 – $3,000,000 —> 1st and 3rd round draft picks
  • $3,000,000 – $4,000,000 —> 1st, 2nd and 3rd round draft picks
  • $4,000,000 – $5,000,000 —> two 1st, one 2nd and one 3rd round draft pick
  • Over $5,000,000 —> four 1st round draft picks

There has been a bit of drama this year surrounding potential offer sheets for guys like Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty, but so far nothing has come of it.  There’s an interesting dynamic with offer sheets in that other GMs consider them to be somewhat of a faux pas.  It requires a pretty big set of cajones for a GM to go against the norm and try to land another team’s restricted free agent.

Types of RFA:

Group 2 – The most common type of RFA.  Includes any player that has fulfilled his entry level contract but does not qualify as a UFA or a Group 4 RFA.  Note: when players are first drafted, they are classified as Group 1 and are subject to some complicated rules for signing an entry level contract (ELC).

Group 4 – This one gets a little messy but it basically includes “defected players”, which are players who either (a) never fulfilled their current NHL contract but went on to play with an unaffiliated club (non-NHL) or (b) got drafted by an NHL club but never signed an NHL contract and instead went to play for an unaffiliated club.

Hopefully this cleared things up a little.  There will be a test next year ;)

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Still No Splash

It’s becoming fairly obvious that there will be no earth-shattering UFA signings in Winnipeg this summer.  Now all we have to look forward to is getting the big 3 RFAs locked up sooner rather than later (Ladd, Wheeler, and Bogosian)… which kind of begs the question, will the lack of a splash in the free agent pool impact Chevy’s ability to sign those guys?

While there’s nothing wrong with any of the UFA signings per se, it’s pretty clear that the guys coming in are nothing more than temporary plugs to buy some time for Chevy and his staff to assess what exactly they have here.  All 4 deals are 1 year terms with very modest salaries.

I’d love nothing more than to play armchair GM and assess each of these moves in-depth, however I’m in pretty tough for the summer until I can actually watch some live hockey and develop some opinions based on fact (well, ‘fact’ might be a stretch, but at least I’ll be using my own 2 eyes).  In the meantime, here is an unbiased take on the newest Jets from The Hockey News.

Derek Meech – D/LW, Age 27, Height 5-11, Weight 200, Shoots L, Salary $0.70M

ASSETS: Is a strong skater who is not afraid to jump up into the play. Has above average hockey sense and an ability to find the open man. Can also play wing, so his versatility helps his team.

FLAWS: Lacks NHL size, particularly for a defenseman. Can be prone to defensive lapses, and his lack of strength hurts him when defending against big NHL forwards.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Versatile depth defenseman.

Tanner Glass – LW/RW, Age 27, Height 6-1, Weight 210, Shoots L, Salary $0.75M

ASSETS: Likes to be involved in physical contests and is never afraid of throwing his weight around. Is a solid team player, can drop the gloves and play either wing.

FLAWS: Is extremely limited in terms of natural offensive ability. May sometimes take a bad penalty to put his team behind the eight-ball.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Rugged depth winger.

Randy Jones – D, Age 29, Height 6-2, Weight 200, Shoots L, Salary $1.15M

ASSETS: Has good size and solid puck-moving skills. Is capable of logging important minutes and can play the body. Can also go on hot streaks on offense.

FLAWS: Makes a lot of mistakes in his own zone. Is extremely inconsistent in the hitting department and could stand to play a grittier game, overall.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Puck-moving defenseman with consistency issues.

Rick Rypien – RW/C, Age 27, Height 5-11, Weight 190, Shoots R, Salary $0.70M

ASSETS: Is a freight train on skates, with the ability to both hit and fight effectively. Always gives maximum effort every shift. Has solid defensive instincts. Is not an easy player to line up against.

FLAWS: A little undersized, his hard-nosed approach will often lead to serious injuries. Doesn’t have a lot of offensive weapons to hurt opposing goaltenders.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Rugged energy forward.

Meech is on a 2-way contract.  The other 3 are all on 1-way NHL contracts.  Looks like depth, depth, depth and depth!

Edit:  The Mark Flood and Aaron Gagnon signings were not lost on me, however they aren’t on CapGeek so I can only assume they are minor league contracts which is a little out of my scope.

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So here we are 7 hours into free agency and, with all due respect to Derek Meech, not much has happened from a Jets perspective.  Now before we start hitting the panic button, let’s dig a little deeper.

Firstly, the money that is being thrown around out there is ridiculous.  Here are the annual cap hits for the guys I had identified as potential targets:  Radim Vrbata ($3.0M), Tomas Fleischmann ($4.5M), Michael Ryder ($3.5), and Scottie Upshall ($3.5M).  The one notable omission from my original list was Ville Leino who I left off because I knew he’d get overpaid; and at $4.5M it looks like I actually got something right.  In my opinion, that’s just too much money for players that might slide into a third line role on a really strong team.

Secondly, do we even want to add over-priced talent if we’re truly in a mini-rebuild situation?  My heart might have wanted Chevy to make a little splash today, but my brain was pretty sure this is how it would go down.  The relative inactivity of the day confirms that True North is not going to take any shortcuts on their path to building a winner.  I’m okay with that.

The next few weeks will be when the real GMs earn their money in the trenches.  I suspect Chevy will be fairly active trying to pick up some good value from the guys that are still unsigned (and there are still some decent players out there).  Perhaps even more importantly, he can try to take advantage of the teams that are up against the cap via trade.

Not the most glamorous or sexy outcome today, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I’m off to learn a little more about our newest acquisition – Derek Meech.  It’s great to see a local guy being signed as a depth player.  Speaking of local guys, my dream scenario would be for Andrew Murray to get signed for a bottom 6 role.  Make it happen Chevy!

Oh, and Go Bombers!

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Free Agency – Let the Frenzy Begin!

We’re 3 hours away from the beginning of the free agency period and I’m so giddy with excitement that I can’t sleep.  Yes, I am a hockey nerd and proud of it.  This being my first real post, I figured what better way to make myself look like an idiot than try to guess what Chevy and his staff will do when the clock strikes 12:00 (EST).

First off, it’s no secret that the True North folks are intending to build this team “the proper way”.  What exactly does that mean?  It means good scouting, good drafting, and good development from within.  That last sentence has become fairly cliché in hockey circles, so while I’m at it, let me throw a couple more clichés at you:

  • we’ll only use free agency to supplement the core that we’ve built through the draft
  • you don’t build a winning team by overpaying in free agency
  • we’re not just one piece away from winning the cup (which implies that we’re not going to break the bank on player X - who happens to be Brad Richards in this case)

That last one is a real beauty because it applies not only to free agency, but also to the trade deadline.  All kidding aside though, those clichés are popular for a reason – they are generally true.  Although I would love for Chevy to make a huge splash today and go after some big guns, it’s just not a wise strategy for a budget team who is nowhere near ready to contend.  So while it pains me to say it, I’m willing to be patient and give these guys 3 to 5 years to build a team “the proper way”.

All that being said, there is no doubt that this roster will need some pieces added to it this summer.  Without further ado, here is my top 5 list of the kinds of players that Chevy might target in free agency:

5.  Radim Vrbata, RW

4.  Antti Miettinen, RW

3.  Tomas Fleischmann, LW

2.  Michael Ryder, RW

1.  Scottie Upshall, RW

0.  Temmu Selanne, RW (this is a pipe dream but I couldn’t not include him)

I started off talking about each player individually, but the reasons for targeting these guys are so similar, I was just repeating myself.  None of these guys are superstars (Selanne exlcuded), but they can all chip in offensively and are very serviceable top 6 or top 9 players who can slot into the Jets roster and add some depth.  It’s also worth noting that all of these guys (possibly with the exception of Fleischmann) can play the right wing if needed, which is a huge organizational weakness on the depth chart.  Hopefully Chevy can make something happen and shore up what is looking to be a fairly anaemic offense.

Happy Free Agent Day and Happy Canada Day!!!  I can’t wait to settle in on the couch and find out that I was nowhere close on any of these guesses.

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Coming Soon!

Now that I’ve got this site physically up and running, some actual content will be soon to follow.  Got lots of work to do on the format as well.

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