It makes you cringe, as a Rangers fan, just a tiny bit.
It is not even June and the next door Islanders have already made a splash on the restricted free agent market, re-signing core young guns Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo to five year deals. It is even worse when you see that the Islanders - yes those Islanders with the worn down stadium and the uncertain future in the county that doesn't even want them if they would generate a million jobs - got a great bargain on the deals. $3 and $2.8 million respectively for one player who hit the 30 goal mark in his first full season and another who, although injury prone, should get there in the near future.
The biggest travesty, however, is not what they will be paying the duo next year, but what the cap hit will be in five years from now, when they are potentially potting 40 goals apiece. Whether they will be lighting the lamp in the new arena in Nassau County or in Kansas City is irrelevant. What matters to a Rangers fan is that for some reason, while negotiations with players like Dubinsky and Callahan seem destined to drag into August, the Islanders best players are running back and even taking less money over a long period of time to do so.
You are not going to sell anyone a distinction between the players. Nobody is going to buy that the Rangers happened to have drafted greedier players than their Atlantic Divison rival. No, this is an organizational flaw, something wrong with the management or the team that makes players want to milk the cash cow for as long and as hard as possible. And while it is impossible to know what that flaw is, we are going to go out of character and speculate a bit. No statistics, no factual evidence. Just a sense and some distinct logical possibilities for why Rangers fans need to hold their collective breath for a month, waiting to see a fan favorite get pilfered away by a Group II offer sheet.
The first theory is pretty much market related. Let’s assume that almost every RFA genuinely wants to re-sign with his team, not just because they love to tell reporters how much they want to return, but because they almost always do. Let’s also assume most players want to be on a competitive team. This creates a compromise where players want re-sign for a good contract but also would be willing to sacrifice some cash to help the organization compete – especially if they are locked up for 5 years of their career.
Now, if you are a member of the New York Islanders with an uncertain future and $40 million payroll, you have to realize that while you may be able to get a more lucrative contract, you will end up with less talent around you as a result. So you take less, get it done quickly and get ready to play the next season on a young, exciting team. On the other hand, the Rangers spend to the cap year after year, so guys like Dubinsky have no qualms about bargaining for a few months and putting pressure on management to give them the extra million. After all, Sather, if he really did wise-up, should have plenty of money to throw at quality players anyways. The Rangers’ reputation of signing players to lucrative contracts does not help either, as this image cultivates players’ attitudes that the organization can and should be taken advantage of.
However, there might be another factor here: Glen Sather. Now, enough has been said about his past errors and the hope is that he has realized that he needs to manage the team differently. But a different thing that Sather is known for is “lowballing” his RFAs. Now, this may seem to be a good strategy because RFAs have very little leverage. But by coming to the negotiating table as an adversary, the best management can hope for is a contract near market value. Why? Because the player’s side went in looking to get as much money as possible. Comparable contracts are brought up, egos are bruised, and eventually a compromise is reached. So maybe Sather does an effective job for a player vs. team negotiation, but only within that style of bargaining.
A much more successful negotiation style for RFAs, players who want to be a part of the team and want the team to be successful, would be friendlier. Remember, these players are often coming off entry level or second pro contracts. They are still one contract away from the “big one” of their careers. It is possible that money is not their number one priority, if management doesn’t make it theirs.
So the theory is that instead of starting negotiations with a lowball offer and bickering over money, start with some mutual understanding that both sides are really on the same side. We both want the player on this team. We both want the team to have extra money to spend. Let’s get it done.
And then, who knows? Maybe Dubinsky and Callahan can put on the blue before the leaves turn green.