There really was some sanity there if you looked hard enough to find it. Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis staring down the Sedin twins and their 12-year contract demand and Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland having the courage to tell Marian Hossa to take or leave a 10-year deal worth $40 million were among the more level-headed moves of the first day of free agency.
But, as usual, we’re sitting here in the days following the July 1 Free Agent Frenzy (it’s so big now it gets capital letters) wondering what to make of all of this wild spending. Colton Orr will make $1 million next season and Nik Antropov will make $4 million, double what he made in 2008-09, after scoring two goals in seven playoff games.
And it was a good day to be a Marian. Hossa is now under contract until he’s 42 and Marian Gaborik will make $38.5 million over the next five years, despite missing almost half his team’s games since the lockout. The New York Rangers dumped a $7.4 million contract in Scott Gomez and took a $7.5 million one on in Gaborik. The Minnesota Wild avoided paying big money to a wildly-talented, but oft-injured player (Gaborik) and instead gave it to another wildly-talented, but oft-injured player (Martin Havlat).
Personally, I gave up a long time ago trying to figure out what players are worth in the NHL. We could jump up and down all we want and scream about how wildly overpaid Antropov is, but I could make one call to Antropov’s agent and get a half-dozen examples of players who produce the same or less than he does and make that kind of money.
That doesn’t make it right to give Antropov that kind of money. It just means a bunch of guys are being wildly overpaid.
There is one thing that this year’s Free Agent Frenzy has pointed out in crystal clear simplicity. It simply does not matter what kind of salary cap or spending limits are in place, how the economics of the league and the real world look or what kind of historical evidence has been supplied by previous disastrous signings.
And it’s simply because that when demand exceeds supply, as it does every summer in free agency, teams will always, always, always overpay for players. It’s in their DNA. They can’t help themselves and there is no hope of ever changing their habits in a systemic way.
Think about it. If GMs couldn’t show restraint this summer, then when will they ever show it? Here they are, faced with a declining salary cap next year and a free agent market that was decidedly sub-par and they still shopped till they dropped hundreds of millions of dollars.
The insanity was probably best summed up by Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey, one of the most thoughtful and purposeful men in the game, after he spent over $100 million to get Scott Gomez, Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill.
“Today is a day when you grab talent where you can grab it,” Gainey said, “and we were in a dogfight for it.”
Former NHL Players’ Association executive director Bob Goodenow had all this figured out a long time ago. In days gone by, he would sit and listen to GMs preach restraint leading up to July 1 and he would quietly laugh to himself because he knew all it would take would be one team out of 30 to throw the entire concept down the sinkhole.
Once one team does it, another team does the same and before you know it, you have “comparables” – the kinds of contracts agents hold up to justify the millions they’re demanding on behalf of their players. Teams willingly pay and then justify the contracts to their fans and others by using the same comparables.
And so it goes. When the next round of collective bargaining agreements comes around, we’re sure to hear about how all these long-term contracts that essentially circumvent the agreement by front-loading the deals are killing the economics of the game and have to be limited.
We’ll be told that these no-movement clauses they’re only too happy to give out to players they want are too restrictive. We’ll be told the salary cap floor that the rich owners insisted upon to force those sucking off the teat of revenue sharing to spend is too high.
We’ll hear it all again and just maybe, we’ll get to miss another season of hockey before it all gets resolved. But none need worry, teams will still find a way to get around it and overpay players when they become unrestricted free agents.
They always have. They always will.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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