July 30, 2006
Long-term performance predictionsOdds are teams will lose mark-to-market gamble
By ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun
Mark-to-market. Have you heard of it? It's an economic practice that allows payment based on prediction.
You sign a multi-year deal with the belief that output will continue to flourish -- the monetary amount will obviously reflect this assumption.
It sounds like the makings of a Martin Havlat signing. Or an Ales Hemsky. Or a Rick Nash ... do I need to go on?
This is the NHL's new reality. And it's not radical. It's just wrong.
The idea of weighing a player's future more heavily than his past has become one of the more unfortunate trademarks of the new-school NHL. Agree to a multi-year deal, and pay a lot up front with the belief it will balance out in the later years of the contract.
Come on now. Vegas offers better odds than this.
What are the GMs rolling the dice on? Where would you like to start?
As a GM, you're assuming said player will remain loyal. No family issues requiring a move after the fact, and no lengthy disagreements with the coaching staff. In essence, you hope the contract won't require a trade at any point. You're predicting the player's output will remain stable or likely improve, and you're expecting the same of the salary cap.
Then there's the biggest variable of all: Injury.
Some teams are willing to take a chance. Chicago shelled out for Havlat, a player who was unable to realize his full potential in Ottawa (although some claim that Jacques Martin's coaching style was to blame, but that's another story).
Consistency was a regular issue for Mach 9 -- Havlat's totals have been plagued by streak-ridden play. Regardless, the speedy Czech will now be paid $18 million (all terms US) over three years.
Hemsky just re-signed with the Oilers after an eye-opening season -- 77 points in 81 games last year translated into a six-year deal, worth $24.6 million.
After a player signs this type of contract, where does the incentive to improve come from? Obviously there's a desire to maintain strong numbers as part of a team looking to land a Stanley Cup. However, the NHL doesn't benefit from a Sword of Damocles-type clause -- like the NFL -- that allows the signing of large, multi-year deals, but guarantees nothing (except a signing bonus, if applicable) when a player is cut.
After considering these risks, you'd think short and sweet would be the way to go. Not necessarily.
Senators GM John Muckler has been the prototype for shorter contracts lately, including signing No. 1 defenceman Wade Redden to a two-year agreement. These limited deals provide a sense of light at the end of the tunnel, should a player disappoint. On the other hand, if they excel during this period, it would provide ample ammunition for a salary bump after the contract's expiration.
In addition, if multiple players have contracts that expire simultaneously, the off-season can become a major headache, eventually leading to a mass turnover of the roster.
It's enough to make a fan want to keep the back of his jersey blank through eternity -- or at least until the CBA's next renewal.
It will be a few years before we see the ramifications of the deals recently signed. Some will make GMs look like geniuses. Others will cause you to question their competence at the time.
My initial prediction has the latter group being the larger one. The odds are vast, with too many variables to overcome.
That's the long and the short of it.
THINK PINK: The NHL is taking a page from the NFL and will be offering fan jerseys in pink and baby blue. Just a word of advice: Don't wear these anywhere in the vicinity of Sean Avery. He'll want to fight you. He won't go through with it, but he'll want to.
FEELING BAGGED: A chance to caddy for John Daly at the upcoming Telus Skins Game sold on eBay for over $51,000. On the front nine, you carry Daly's bag. On the back nine, you get to carry his bag, cigarettes, gambling slips and Daly himself, who will be too worn out to walk at that point.
BIG ORANGE HERO: Looking for an original yet ridiculous gift? The University of Tennessee sells a personalized play-by-play CD with announcers calling out your name as you lead the Volunteers to victory. Someone should have created a Senators version for Bill Muckalt while he was here.