Entering our 3rd summer under the current cap systems with 2 seasons prove out the theories teams and GM's have been employing. Couple that with Buffalo’s impending FA period and am I left wondering about the rise of the sign-and-trade. Even in recent Senators history there are many examples to ponder. There were Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, and Martin Havlat. While they weren’t all sign and trades, they are situations that all teams will have to face under the cap. The real question to me is: How do you handle your RFA’s leading into UFA status when their salaries become prohibitive.
Hossa is the actual sign and trade in this set of examples. Knowing that Heatly wanted out, and that Ottawa could no longer afford to keep him, Johnny Mucks puts together a package that solves his issues as well as a couple of Atlanta’s. Greg DeVries at a moderate salary helped stabilize their defensive core, so from Atlanta’s perspective he was a pretty nice little throw in. As for Ottawa they were bursting at the seams with defensive prospects, so getting rid of the salary made some financial sense. As for Hossa, Atlanta’s problem was not that they were cap-bound, their star simply needed a change of personal scenery. While I realize that Heatly was a better defined prospect than will normally be available in a sign-and-trade, he was still a trade from established superstar of UFA status to an up and coming RFA who would cost less against their cap.
Chara’s situation must certainly be the exact opposite. I believe that Ottawa couldn’t decide as to which defenceman was more important to the core, ergo which one to keep. During the year they chipped away at negotiations but never got the terms they wanted. So what do you do at the deadline with a team that is ripping opponents limb from limb (when they showed up at all) and your two top defensemen are going to demand top dollar on the open market? I believe this is where Mucks decided to just roll the dice and hope that the play of one down the stretch would determine his guy for him. Rather than turnover the incorrect asset for some prospects, possibly decimating the teams chemistry, I think he was planning a sign-and-trade. Unfortunately for Muckler, I don’t think there was much defined for him in the remainder of the season. A case could be made that Chara was exposed a little by Buffalo in the 2nd round, but even still, the decision must have been mind-numbing. He tried to get them to both offer the home-town discount, but only Redden was interested in that. I believe that this was the tipping point in the decision as to who to keep.
Now, how to handle Chara? I think Muckler really wanted to establish a number early from Chara to give him time to find a buyer. Surely a team would be willing to negotiate with the Senators to ensure that they would land him. This is where Chara’s agent really earned his money. By not providing a solid number, Chara really remained in control as to his eventual destination. Either he was getting top dollar, long term, no-trade contract from Ottawa or he wasn’t signing anything. But I wonder how long these no-trades will continue to be offered as GM’s, and worse ownership, continue to have to pay for these albatrosses. The only players who need a no-trade clause are players who are being overpaid. Stars who are worth their money don’t need one.
Burn me once, …, burn me twice, …
So now Mucks has to decide what to do about Havlat. Do you get him for what you can knowing he is only going to sign a 1yr deal, then try and sign-and-trade in the off-season? Do you package him up immediately knowing his value may rise or fall after the trade? Can you possibly get an equivalent talent in return? While Preissing is certainly not as flashy as Havlat, I think he has been a solid defenceman for this committee. It should be said that Preissing is a UFA this summer, so Havlat may turn out to be little more than Hennessy and a presumably miffed Barinka. I hope Preissing they find a way of making it fit, perhaps even at the expense of a guy like Comrie.
In the end, I think teams have to face monumental choices in each offseason. The big difference now is that ALL teams have to face those decisions. Watch for the better GM’s to really separate themselves in upcoming seasons. I also believe that those GM’s who avoid the no-trade clauses will consistently outperform those that don’t. Not only can it lead to complacency in the player, it diminishes the player’s value as an asset.