Tuesday, July 25, 2006

 

I knew it! It turns out the NHLPA didn't surrender enough...

I'm exaggerating a bit, but I don't know whether to laugh or cry at Steve Simmons' column this morning: Welcome to the expensive world of arbitration.

The good thing, I suppose, is that he has assessed the effect of salary arbitration quite correctly. Notwithstanding the club's right to walk away from any award, arbitration perverts what you might roughly call "the market" because neither the willingness nor the ability of the Club to pay are taken into account.

[Put more broadly (let's see if I can get macndub on my ass again), salary arbitration neutralizes one of the features (for the consumer) of a free market, which is that an abundance of any particular commodity will tend to depress the price of that commodity. That is: if Daniel Briere was an unrestricted free agent, his salary would depend greatly on whether there were one, five, or thirty teams interested in his services. Furthermore, his salary would also depend greatly on whether there were twenty, ten, or zero other players available offering comparable services.

Salary arbitration is blind to these factors: all the arbitrator can do is look at comparable players who have signed contracts and assign Briere a salary that is "fair".]

Anyway, the problems with Simmons' column are that I'm not exactly sure (A) what his gripe is; (B) what his proposed solution might be; and (C) if he's actually serious, or merely playing devil's advocate (or professional complainer). This is his conclusion:
What this CBA does is protect the league and its franchises, but not the makeup of rosters, if you understand the distinction. The league will tell you this is working properly.

In Buffalo and Phoenix and New Jersey and even with the lunatic fringe on Long Island, many will disagree.

Of course it's working properly. Simmons uses the weasel-phrase "many will disagree", so as I noted, I'm not sure if he's standing behind his own complaint here. But let's assume he is. He makes a couple of statements that are pretty tough to reconcile:
[1] When there was no salary cap, teams like the Maple Leafs and Red Wings and Stars could buy anything and everything they wanted, and that's how Bill Guerin wound up as one of the highest paid players in hockey.

[2]You see, left to his own devices, Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier probably could have made a reasonable deal with Briere. But that's where the sting comes in.

You're not left to your own devices.

Back in 2003 or whenever, Stars GM Doug Armstrong was left to his own devices, and entered into a big money contract with Bill Guerin. I can only assume this arrangement was made freely by both parties, to what they believed to be their mutual benefit. Guerin's salary as a UFA did not bind any other GMs to pay other players the same amount, a la Martin Havlat ("So, the minute the geniuses who run the Chicago Blackhawks overpay for Martin Havlat -- a player comparable to Briere -- the cost is no longer in Regier's control, or budget.") And yet clearly Simmons thinks that Guerin's contract was a problem.

So what the hell does Simmons mean by Darcy Regier's own devices? Since it's clearly not the ability to freely negotiate a salary that pleases both Regier and Briere, he must mean the leverage of being able to say, "Mr. Briere, you will play for what I offer you or not at all." Mustn't he?

But back to his conclusion: he appears to be lamenting the fact that a team that drafts (or otherwise acquires) a lot of young players who make The Leap at the same time cannot afford to keep them all, and keep their roster intact. Fans of many teams will sympathize with this general statement (Edmonton c. 87-91, Calgary c. 91-96, Ottawa c. 2006, etc.). These same fans were allowed (or encouraged) to think, during the lockout, that a salary cap would mean this would never be a problem.

But the only way to accomplish this business of protecting roster makeup is to divorce player compensation from performance, past and anticipated. The system that allows a team to keep a host of players who perform well is the system that does not reward those good performances.

Maybe that's the Simmons solution. Extend the rookie salary scale to age 27 (or 31, or 35, whatever) so that all players are paid for their age and years of service. The Clubs ("both the competent and the incompetent") are happy, right? The fans are happy, right? The players will still make a great living relative to Joe Sixpack, so they're happy, right? I can't see any terrible unintended consequences arising from this system. And if there are, then the League, media, and fans can just bully the players into accepting some new and other restrictions to "fix it".

Comments:

So, in your world 38 year old Brian Leetch gets paid more than 32 year old Chris Pronger because he's been around longer and can still hold down a roster spot. That doesnt make a lot of sense to me.
 


Gee, you're right, it sounds like that might force older players out of the league when they can still be productive, and better than some of their younger counterparts.

But, it's a price you have to be willing to pay in order to hold on to your roster makeup. Or is it? I suppose you could just have a system where every player literally makes exactly what each team feels like paying that player. Then there'd be no complaints right?
 


I thnk that the only real answer is to decide player salaries by getting them to spin a big wheel. They might hit it rich, or they might come up empty; nobody knows until the wheel stops. Plus the NHL could televise the whole thing to beef up their non-hockey related revenues. It's win-win.
 


I second the wheel
 


whoa... Hemmer just signed a 6-year deal
 


I know...I just surfed over to TSN to see what the verdict was on Gomez and my eyes just popped out of my head. What's the money going to be?
 


Team1260 is reporting $24-26MM. If they're right, this is a very good deal for the Oilers. Possibly hard to stomach this year (not that hard if he puts up 6+PPP/hr and actually does improve at ES) but better in the long term.

FTR, I've got Rick Nash and Alex Frolov as the best Hemsky comps out there. Lowe may have been correct to stay away from arbitration this time because Nash's contract is scary.
 

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