Friday, July 06, 2007

Bottle Rocket...


The Edmonton Oilers shot off a bottle rocket of an offer for Buffalo Sabres restricted free-agent forward Thomas Vanek. It climbed and climbed and climbed and then…..



Darcy Regier spent about four seconds pondering the idea of losing another forward (Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, and Dainius Zubrus for those of you scoring at home). Not even four first round draft picks could dissuade Regier from matching the heavily front-loaded seven-year, $50 million offer that breaks down as follows:

Year 1: $5.0 million signing bonus, $5.0 million salary

Year 2: $3.0 million signing bonus, $5.0 million salary

Years 3-7: $6.4 million salary

Buffalo has lost three players to a combined $107.15 million (ponder that number for a moment and ask yourself if you think that lockout year was worth anything more than a bucket of warm piss). Losing a fourth would leave Buffalo looking a bit like Ryan Miller and 911 on speed dial.

As it is, Buffalo overpaid to retain Vanek. At $7.14 million/year, is he worth more than Drury ($7.05 million/year) or Gomez (ok, Gomez is a little higher at $7.38 million/year)? Then again, what was Buffalo to do? Let him walk? You think Sabres were going to sell out the season with Derek Roy centering Jason Pominville and Maxim Afinogenov? I like those guys a lot, but with Vanek going out the door, you’d have to worry about what was behind those three. Buffalo isn’t looking at a Philadelphia-like collapse – they are still (on paper, especially with retaining Vanek) a playoff-caliber team. But they are not going to be thought of in 2007-2008 on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders, not unless Regier has some moves up his sleeve.

Buffalo was stuck. We’ve raised this point before – a team that sells out its season finds itself in financial makes no sense. Then, it watches as two of its core players walk out the door (let’s discount Larry Brooks’ breathless “everyone wants to play in New York theory” for the moment). A player it rented walks soon after. Then, perhaps its best up-and-coming young forward is offered the sun, the moon and the stars, forcing the team in to what might be a decision to stave off and further bleeding in the standings or, potentially, its gate.

There are those who think this league is just fine, that everything is alright, if we just give it some time and nurture it and heed our “cost certainty” structure. I think it’s nonsense.

I think JP is dead on with his question of whether Kevin Lowe is trying to get himself fired in Edmonton (is he trying to out-"Milbury" Milbury?). But meanwhile, looking at what’s happening in Buffalo hockey looks, if not broken, then fractured. And that is the franchise that was supposed to epitomize the new NHL.



Tyler said...

Except: Through better asset management BUF could have kept at least one C and possibly both. They offered Drury $5.X midseason, he accepted the deal, then got steamed because the BUF front office never sent him the contract. There's a Briere story too, but I don't remember it...

Capital Fanatic said...

Buffalo should have never let it get this far. They should have signed Vanek a long time ago.

And I think they should have at least taken a little more time before deciding whether or not to match the offer. Is Vanek really worth 4 1st round picks in addition to $50 million?

He's a good young player, but let's face it he's not on the same level as Ovechkin or Crosby. They better hope he lives up to his potential.

Steven said...

I see your reasoning in the Sabers keeping Vanek, but i don't agree with it. Vanek is a good player - a very good player. That said, he isn't a $7M/year player in my mind, not yet any way. What Vanek has proven is he can flourish in an envirnoment where he is a complimentary piece. This year, he's going to be the man in Buffalo, by no other virtue of the season he had last year with both Drury and Briere in the camp, and the money he got this year.

Would he hae made Edmonton better? Sure. Would that improvement been enough to pull Edmonton out of the draft lottery? I don't think so. Not only did Buffalo commit itself to $50M in payroll to a young player that has had one really good year under what can best be described as ideal circumstances, they rejected the compensation of 4 first round picks - picks that are looking like top-5 picks given Edmonton's current state.

Cap.Fantastic said it well - Buffalo should have never let it get to this point. And Kevin Lowe ought to be thanking God that Buffalo decided to match the deal. Mercy, that would have set Edmonton back a long, long, way.

The Peerless said...

There is an old saying...."a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Do I think Buffalo (not to mention Edmonton) overpaid for Vanek? Absolutely. We said as much here. But, Buffalo having watched three forwards walk, couldn't let a fourth go. That is not entirely a "hockey" decision. There is a commercial aspect to it as well. If the Sabres had let Vanek walk, what message would have been received by Sabre fans, "we're no longer serious about competing?"

Kevin Lowe is in his own throes of desperation -- stories of his perhaps not being done with tendering bids to RFAs is a signal of that. What this episode hints at is that player salaries will be bid up, especially at the top end of the scale, just as they were prior to 2004-2005. What this will do to players at the other end of the scale will be a matter of simple arithmetic.

I'd be paying less attention to Vanek and his whether he's a $7 million a year player than I would on the whole dynamic of this and how it might ripple through salaries down the road.

Steven said... Briere and Drury leave, and Buffalo could have prevented that from happening earlier in the season, but didn't. Zubrus, while theirs, really wasn't theirs.

I think Buffalo really could have set themselves up for the future quite nicely with the four first rounders Edmonton would have been surrendering. But they let success this year (they'll probably make the playoffs, but even so, they've lost far too much already to do anything once they get there.) stand in the way of sound judgement for the future. They'd better hope Vanek is the player he showed himself to be under ideal circumstances last season. If he's not, or even if he's just a pretty good player, the Sabers are married to him for 7 years, and to the tune of $50+ million dollars.

Were that offer from a team in Edmonton's straits made to Semin, he'd be gone on the next train, and I'd smile knowing that I've just gotten an entry into the John Tavares sweepstakes along with three other first round draft picks.

Buffalo had already lost too much...their two leaders on the team. Losing Vanek to a ridiculous offer from Edmonton wouldn't have made the loss that much greater in my eyes, and Lowe would have regretted it for years.

We'll see how it all plays out.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, those nasty big market bullies Edmonton stealing Buffalo's players!

The point of the lockout, which you don't seem to grasp, was to limit overall costs. That's capped.

In a capped system, the top end salaries are still outrageously there, but there aren't as much middle level ones. Think teams near the cap rounding out their 4th line and 5/6 dmen (Anaheim, Jersey, Tampa, etc) with barely NHL talented minimum wage players that have basically no role.

Management is it's own worst enemy. As mentioned Buff could have had Briere at $25 million 5 years last summer and Drury this season for less too. They bungled that and obviously open market values were driven up.