Sunday, February 10, 2008

To rent or not to rent?

Brian Burke is a genius. Not for managing the current Stanley Cup champions. Or for letting Dustin Penner go and pocketing Edmonton's draft picks. Or for assembling the best defence in the NHL. No, he's a genius because he's found a way to avoid renting players at the trade deadline. Perfectly legal and free, in terms of giving up valuable picks and prospects for some team's pending UFA to use just for a playoff run.

He's keeping a stable of ringers, and it's working for him. Scott Neidermayer showed up after a nice long rest and the team's mediocre fortunes immediately turned around. They added Teemu Selanne and suddenly they're looking like Cup favourites again. A lot of people are saying Burke's cheating the Cap system. It's true he does save salary by giving those guys pro-rated contracts. He's then able to afford better quality players than he could if he had to pay them for the full season. But I don't think it's cheating...I think it's a good example for everyone else to follow.

Bob Gainey for example. Saku Koivu probably has a couple of full seasons left in him. But we're seeing his annual mid-season slump start earlier and end later recently, mainly because his style of play grinds his body down and saps his energy. That gets worse with age. So, let him play his last two full seasons, become a free agent and sign a pro-rated deal after Christmas for the following two or three seasons. He'd be fresh for the stretch drive, and we know he plays his best game in the playoffs. In short...he's the perfect rental. Exhibit B: Alex Kovalev. He's 35 this month and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. He wants to keep playing for a long time and really likes Montreal. When he's 38, he'd probably enjoy having half the year off and then really bring it for the playoffs where he traditionally shines. This would allow Gainey to let the kids carry the team and get it into good position, then bring in the veteran reinforcements to put it over the top. And all for the price of a pro-rated contract while keeping his futures and other assets off the market.

The benefits are many. Not only does the team gain experience and fresh veterans for the stretch drive and the playoffs, but the players themselves can continue to contribute long after they would have retired from playing full seasons. It allows the salary cap to be spread around among more players too.

Oh yes...Brian Burke is onto something. And if Gainey and other GMs are smart, they'll get on board and develop their own rentals from within. It's another way of building a competitive team without relying on deadline deals, and one that's already proving to have merit in Anaheim.


NailaJ said...

My only beef with this is that the young players that carry the team will feel like they're doing all the hard work and not being appreciated for it. I mean, if you put together a huge project and someone else presents it and gets the deal, who will get all the glory? The guy who pitched it.

At the same time, it's also an issue of trust. "The organization doesn't trust us to be able to go all the way".

Finally, the organization will have to make room for those new/old recruits, which means that 2 of the guys who have been carrying the team are stuck on the press gallery (and 2 guys from the press gallery are sent down to the minors). While arguably, those 2 guys are the weakest links anyway, I don't think it's a good way of keeping morale up. Plus, those two guys might be key to setting the tone in aggressive games or big motivators in the locker room, and we won't know or notice until they're gone.

J.T. said...

Interesting view. But what's the difference between bringing in a guy like Selanne four months into the season, or trading for a rental player at the deadline as most contenders do? As far as I can see, there isn't a difference, except keeping your own old guys on retainer means you know exactly what they bring and what to expect from them, on the ice and in the room. And they only cost money...not assets.

NailaJ said...

True. I think it's just a different feel with Selanne because he was "retiring". If you've got a player who consciously decides not to come back right away and play half years to extend the amount of time he can stay in the league, I think it'll have a much different feel.