Monday, January 14, 2008


With problems like these...

The biggest planning issue facing Darryl Sutter is what to do about impending Restricted Free Agent Dion Phaneuf. It hasn't exactly been portrayed that way previously; the conventional wisdom (mine included) has been more along the lines of, "You get a deal done one way or another with Phaneuf, and then attack the real problems, i.e. Huselius/Langkow or their replacements."

Given the emerging reality -- that there is no way to "amicably" sign Phaneuf unless it's for a lengthy term and a hell of a lot of money -- it's no longer defensible to just shrug off gettin' it done as imperative and unavoidable. Here, as I see them, are the alternatives to signing Phaneuf ~tomorrow to a Chara/Spezza deal.

ONE. Wait (& gamble), with the full intention of signing him. Is it possible that Phaneuf will continue to gain leverage over the next 5 months? Yes, but it's far from certain. An All-Star from his rookie class just signed the richest contract in NHL history; that's hardly a wave Sutter wants to be riding. The risk of waiting until July is two-fold: first, Phaneuf's play & numbers may improve (adding merit to his contract demands), and second, he might get an offer sheet that is for significantly more than the Flames were hoping to pay (and that Phaneuf would have signed for).

But there is an other hand. Phaneuf is not arbitration-eligible; his leverage in July, aside from a competing offer (offer sheet), is a holdout. Here is the key question: what is the difference -- in dollars & term -- between the contract they can sign him to now, and the offer sheet they might have to match? In Thomas Vanek's case, it was a huge difference; the Sabres could have locked him up earlier for a lot less dough. Surely it's less so in Phaneuf's case. If you were to argue that Sutter needs to sign him tomorrow for $7M x 7 years to avoid the risk of having to match an offer sheet, how much bigger do you expect the offer sheet to be? $8M x 8? $9M x 9? More? Which brings us to...

TWO. Wait, with the intention of declining to match a significant offer sheet. The purpose of this post is to look at alternatives, so let's assume (pretend?) that this isn't an unthinkable course of action. I am possibly the hockeysphere's smallest fan and follower of prospects, so besides finding this option somewhat unpalatable, I have very little feel for just what a 1st-round pick is worth. So, what I have done here, in a Google Spreadsheet, is collect all the first-round draft picks from 2001-2004 (i.e. Phaneuf's draft year, the two previous years, and the subsequent years), in an effort to semi-objectively assess what the value is of the draft pick compensation for RFA signings. Notes:
  1. Is there one player there who would be a good trade for Phaneuf? The idea being roughly, if the Flames drafted in Washington's slot for those 4 years, they'd have Ovechkin, he would make the deal worth it by himself.
  2. Would the 4 drafted players as a group be a good trade for Phaneuf? So here, there are more Yesses; while I don't think Phaneuf for Vanek would be a good trade, Phaneuf for Vanek, Stafford, Jiri Novotny, and Keith Ballard would be.
  3. Would the deal definitely be something the Flames would regret? The bar goes down some more: while I don't think the Flames would trade Phaneuf for Patrick Eaves, Meszaros, Jeff Woywitka and Jakub Klepis, neither would they be looking back at that deal as a disastrous moment for the franchise.
Rate them on your own if you like, but here's how it broke down for me. The question is, using the first round from 2001-2004 as a guide, how good could the Flames expect their compensatory draft picks (from 2009-2012) to turn out if they let Phaneuf sign with someone else?
And not to be forgotten: four 1st-Rd picks is not all that the Flames would "get" if they let Phaneuf be signed away. They also get the cap space he would have taken up. Two scenarios:

I'm not sure I'm prepared to recommend one roster over the other here, although again, in the one on the right, not only do they have Daymond Langkow instead of a min. salary replacement, and a more skilled replacement for Huselius, but they also have someone else's 1st-round pick for the next 4 years, as well as their own -- which can obviously be used in some measure to trade back in for present value.

THREE. Trade him. Presumably all the teams that might be inclined to give Phaneuf an offer sheet on July 1, plus a few more, would be willing to trade for him and pay him his money. Theoretically, the fact that the acquiring team has to pay him a mint to get him under contract should reduce his trade value, but things don't quite seem to work that way yet.

I don't really know what Dion would fetch in a trade, but I would guess something like a quality forward and a quality D-man -- at least one of whom is signed for a while at a good price -- plus a decent prospect or 1st-round pick. Horton, Van Ryn, and a 2009 1st-rounder? Something like that.

Allow me to pause and point out the obvious here, too: while Phaneuf is extremely popular in Calgary, and trading him would cheese off a LOT of Flames fans, they don't need him in order to sell tickets and fill up the building, and that's doubly true if the team is good.


The more I think about it, the more I believe that wait-and-see is the right course of action. Look, if Sutter's premise is that Phaneuf is his generation's Chris Pronger (with Scott Stevens' intensity/bloodlust thrown in for good measure), and that he's going to be a Flame for years come hell or high water, then sure: signing him up next week makes sense. It's possible that waiting and hard-balling a bit could result in a better deal for the Flames (what if Dion doesn't get an offer sheet?), but why chance it.

But if Sutter's premise is broader -- that is, he has XX million dollars with which to construct a successful 20-23 player team, and that everyone's importance in the grand scheme of things is greatly dependent on what % of XX he has to be paid, then there are a lot of options going forward. And you know what? They're all pretty good. The worst-case scenario includes:
Not exactly Nicholls, Rice & DeBrusk. Relax, Flames fans.


Matt: A nicely engineered template for for any person to analyize the rfa effect to a team using the Draft choice value dicussed on The blog sites and your continued team payroll analysis.

The nice thing is the teams scouting department has done some pre-work for the upcoming draft year and you have a good idea of what your group considers as value.

The only bite is with parity you do not know where those choices will be.

Good stuff Matt. A nice demonstration of what getting Vanek really would have cost the Oilers last summer.

Rickibear: One nice thing about parity is that even if a team that is fairly good signs your guy, there's a reasonable chance you'll still get at least one decent pick out of it. Unless the team signing your guy is Detroit.

A little off-topic, but now that the Flames have signed Cujo, and Keenan loves vets, do you think Cujo will actually play backup, or is this just one more way for Keenan to destroy Kipper?

Great post. Your suggestion is a sane one.

The only fly in the ointment is that Flame scouts would presumably be in charge of the draft selections. Other than, of course, Phaneuf, Flame first rounders kind of look a lot like the 5 out of 30 group.

What about the upcoming Cujo extension? Bah ha!

Cujo extension?

You're right, if the Flames aren't careful, Cujo might end up with Roloson type money and term!

Not exactly Nicholls, Rice & DeBrusk.

Nice jab. In response, all I've got is this:

Leeman for Gilmour.

Do you really think Keenan is going to let Pardy play more than 45 sec?

Nice post Matt. I've long wondered the same thing and it's nice to see it analyzed so logically. The hype machine which has built up around Phaneuf would certainly have quite the meltdown if the Flames didn't keep him, but I don't think it would be the end of the world at all, as long as the Flames got appropriate compensation.

While I'd quibble with your verdict under the principle of "the team that gets the best player usually wins the trade" principle, as well as various other factors (swapping Phaneuf coming into his prime within two or three years for guys who won't be ready to contribute for half a decade on a team that should, arguably, be Going For It), this is still quite a nice analysis.

Sounds like a fellow trying to talk himself into it;)

Not that I wouldn't try and do the same myself, but that's how I see it.

The thing about all the draft picks is which team you're getting them from. If say The Avs, and I'm just throwing them out because I believe they'll have some money kicking around, pick up Phaneuf to add to their exisiting pool of talent, just what kind of value will those picks hold?

That's just for the sake or argument, mind you. I'm not really sure where I place Phaneuf going forward but I'm just thinking there's a team that can use a D and could afford to pay one.

What the heck? I'm wonderin what you flames fans see in Phaneuf that the rest of the NHL doesnt. He has a great shot, a physical presence and seems to be a team-first type of guy. He however is a shitty defenceman who has showed marginal improvement over the last 2 years. Comparing Pronger and Phaneuf is like comparing Orr vs Souray. Phaneuf is over-rated and might become a Norris winner one day, right now hes light years away from being considered in that class though. If you are talkin what he is worth right now, I would rather take any one of these, Redden, Kaberle, Chara, Salo, Reghyr, Timonen in my lineup if I wanted to win today than Dion. I think the best bet is wait and see, and either sign him in the summer, or wait to see if there is a tempting trade-offer...
I know you all hate "anon" posters, and I apologize.
ps. I'm not trying to piss off anyone, I've watched a lot of Flames games this year, and more often than not. Dion is largely a non-factor in them. It takes more than a fancy hit to make a cornerstone Dman, and Dion has not shown enough in his years so far...

Washington would be a team I could see making a bid. Ovechkin & Phaneuf serving as the cornerstones of their respective units (Gartner/Langway redux) would be a good sell there.

That team has 3 big problems (in order):

1. Goalie
2. Semin
3. Nylander

They deal with the latter 2 and the space to sign Phaneuf is there. For those who think finding a home for Semin would be tough I have only one word - Lupul. If Lowe can find a home for him after the season he had...

Be interesting to see what would happen there.

There could be a timeline problem with your two scenarios.

If you select option 2, it may be that every quality UFA has already signed by the time Phaneuf is signed to the offer sheet. Thus, if you decline to match Phaneuf's contract, you may have a bunch of money and cap room to spend, but no one of value to spend it upon in the summer of 2008.

just what kind of value will those picks hold?

Dennis brings up a pretty good point here: all of the "yes" teams in the first column, and a decent number in the second, have at least one player in the top ten, if not the top five; the few that don't in the second column have at least a couple in the top half of the draft.

If signing Phaneuf turns a team into one that can win their division for the next four years, the odds are pretty good you end up in one of the five bad classes (assuming, of course, you do nothing else with those picks).

You still have me convinced the wait-and-see approach is probably the better one, and this is a great post overall, but it's worth noting that a $7 million a year offer from, say, the Canes is a pretty different prospect than one from Dallas, just as an example.


As I am a Canucks fan, I can only hope you mean to say you prefer Salo in an ideal world where a player's productive output and play coincide with his potential/skill-set.

You know, one where a player (e.g., Salo) ISN'T injured for over 20-30 games every season.

I think Phaneuf is as overrated as they come, but let's keep hold of some perspective here.

Iggy on Phaneuf: "Listen to him in the shower right now ... it's infectious for our team."

nice link matt.

Great stuff Matt. Regarding your google spreadsheet analysis, it would be interesting to look at the 2nd tier offer sheet (just a bit less than $6.9M/yr where compensation is multiple draft picks in a single year, similar to the Penner situation) to see how that looks. My guess is that it is significantly easier to match that offer sheet for Phaneuf, even with a similar cap number.

Hmm. DP and DP have the same initials.

I wonder whether any team will make an offer for the Dion ... the only team that did that last year was the Oilers and I think it could be fairly said it has not worked out as well as they hoped. It is far from certain the Flames will have to contend with having to match a large offer sheet.

Ignoring how good Phaneuf may become, it's pretty hard to justify paying a Lidstrom-sized cap hit for today's Phaneuf, even though he is a solid defender. If a team is going to fling a 7m for 7 deal at him, you're going to want to take their draft picks because they're probably poorly run.

With that said, any deal needs to be made through the prism of how long will Iggy be a 120+ point player. Four first round draft picks is great, but if you don't get a real player until Iginla starts to decline, it's not worth it. Of course, even there it may still not be worth paying Phaneuf such an absurd amount of money.

PM, we need only look to picks being included in the Pronger trade to see how they can be devalued when you add another useful component to an already potent team. Some guys like to talk about the five assets but first and second rounders from the Ducks aren't exactly primo and that would be the case before you handed them one of the league's best dmen without taking anything significant away from their existing base.

Letting Penner go to Edm, though as MC and the boys say, Burke could've hung on to him if he did his due diligence but it also worked to let him go considering he had other young fellows to sign. Outside of Clarke with Kesler, which turned out to be the right attempt by Bobby, no one else had taken advantage of the Group 2 loophole but once Lowe did, then Burke had to respect it and he made his decision. And even if 18-34 were healthy, it was a good bet for the Oilers to miss the playoffs and Burke had a chance to restock the system a little.

Just a couple of things to finish, here:

- It's probably naive to think no one else will offer a sheet, but does anyone else think a lot of GM's are jumping the gun with all the signings? Yes, I know it's about comparables and once one guy sets the market, it's hard to try and withstand the possible wave but not everyone's gonna get offered a sheet.

- if a contending team like the Avs signed Phaneuf and you got four first rounders, they're not gonna be worth a whole lot at face value because of where they're likely to finish, so you're probably looking at your GM using them to move up in a draft or packaging them with another player to improvean existing trade. It's hard to pin down a GM's performance like that.

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