You know you’re in the dog days of summer when things NOT happening are the main story lines in the NHL-related media. Lately the only NHL news is non-news: with Tomas Kaberle NOT being traded and Ilya Kovalchuk NOT being signed. These two non-stories have definitely made me think about the NHL and the slow changes that we are witnessing to the way teams approach free-agents and trades in the Salary Cap era.
What I’m getting at is this: Over the years we’ve witnessed a lot of ludicrous management by those desperate to land the big fish at any cost. I can think back to countless deadline days in which teams ponied up WAY more than a player is worth – setting precedent after, horrible precedent for how to land impact players. I think back to the deal for Marian Hossa in which the Penguins gave up young roster players (Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen), a highly touted prospect (Angelo Espisito) and first round pick. While the Penguins were in a good spot, it had the potential to be a king’s ransom for the Thrashers – in return for a guy who signed with another team the very next year.
It was a sign that the hockey community had gone star-crazy. It was a sign that it was a seller’s market – which was terrible for teams who wanted to build responsibly – and trade on fair terms. While some could argue that Hossa – who is a perennial a top-level forward was worth the bounty given up, they cannot argue that other lesser talents did not reap the same sort of reward.
But something has seemingly changed recently. Maybe the Salary Cap has caused a renewal of fiscal conservativism among NHL general managers? Maybe the collective group is plain-tired of being fleeced in order to make a move? Clearly with the Kovalchuk contract the NHL has drawn a line in the sand. Have we seen NHL GM’s make a similar stand on Kaberle?
I’m not going to say that Tomas Kaberle isn’t a good offensive defenseman. He is. A guy that can put up points like he can is a valuable commodity. But just because you’re the best player on your team does not make you necessarily one of the best on every team. Tomas Kaberle can put up 30-60 points just about every year. He’s also as soft as it gets and has been a minus player consistently on an admittedly bad team. The important question then, is what is Kaberle’s worth in a trade – not in the eyes of Leafs fans – but the rest of the league.
Clearly the league has spoken. There was interest in a player who could make an offensive contribution on a contending team, but no one was willing to over-pay to the tune of Brian Burke’s lofty expectations. I for one could not be happier about it. We’ve come to a point in which mortgaging your team’s future by giving away prospects and draft picks for a year-long rental is no longer en vogue. Don’t tell Brian Burke. And don’t tell Leaf fans who thought that Kaberle would somehow return one of the high-first round picks that Burke “pee’d” away in the Phil Kessel deal. Maybe that is not fair. I do not mean to dump on die-hard Laffers who over-value their players and prospects in exactly the same manner that we do here. But there is no way that a team is going to give up a potential star to rent Kaberle.
The fact is that Kaberle’s value was MUCH higher with two years left on his contract. Burke missed the boat. His highly-public media-infused negotiating tactics aside, Kaberle’s value simply isn’t where Leaf fans think it is. In past years he would have commanded a lot in return – but not these days. Not when GM’s are being so careful about their prospects because of the Salary Cap. It gives new light to the kind of conditions that Pierre Gauthier was working with when he traded Halak. The current climate isn’t going to provide the same kind of bounty as in past days. Gauthier got a roster player (1st rounder) and a prospect for a young emerging goalie who was arguably the MVP of the playoffs for his club.
Something tells me Burke was looking for much more than that. The problem is that it is a buyers market. The only team that “needed” to make a deal was the Leafs. Now they have 8 defenseman, and Cap problems to boot. I’m sure they’ll be fine by the start of the season, but when you play these things out in public – you have to deal with the public backlash when they fall apart.