Monday, 2 May 2016

Decisions To Be Made

With impending free agency for restricted free agents approaching, there are a number of general managers in the NHL who will have to make some difficult decisions on their younger players on whether they go all-in on the player or try to bridge the player into seeing if the player has more to give. It's a tough decision to make when one has to consider the long-term ramifications, and I am proud to say that one reader has something to say regarding two of the better youngsters in the NHL in Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

Without further adieu, here is Eric T. with his take on what the Calgary Flames are facing with July 1 on the horizon, and he'll break down the situation with the two stars!
Following the end of a somewhat disappointing regular season, the Calgary Flames are gearing up for an off-season that has the potential to shape the future of the franchise. Expectations for a team firmly entrenched in a rebuild were sky-high at season's beginning due in large part to the playoff appearance the previous season. Additionally, the off-season signings of Dougie Hamilton, Michael Frolik, and, most importantly, the captain Mark Giordano to deals were all seen as moves that served to further improve a team on the rise.

However, a terrible start to the season thanks to untimely injuries, lackluster goaltending, and an inability to replicate the consistent work ethic from the previous year left the Flames on the outside looking in at season's end. In spite of the underachievement that was the 2015-16 season, two bright spots for the Flames remain: Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

Monahan, the 21 year-old centerman with 20+ goal seasons in each of his first three years, is living up to the billing that saw the Flames draft him with the sixth-overall pick in 2013. Hailed as a solid 200-ft. player with offensive upside, he has become the Flames' unquestioned number-one center, not mention a leader as an assistant captain.

Gaudreau, a steal of a fourth-round pick back in 2011, is the engine by which the Flames offense is run. A Calder trophy finalist, back-to-back All-Star appearances, and a top-ten finish in league scoring are just some of the highlights of the 22 year-old's first two seasons in the league. Both players are set to represent the U23 North American team in the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. The other thing they have in common? They are now both restricted free agents.

The Flames are faced with a dilemma: how do they go about signing their young stars? Is a low-term, relatively low-money bridge deal the answer? Or is it smarter to lock them both up to long-term, big-money deals in order to avoid a large pay increase in the near future?

Good arguments for both sides exist throughout the league. In 2012, the Montreal Canadiens opted to sign their bright, young first-time RFA defenseman PK Subban to a two-year bridge deal worth $5.75 million instead of the long-term deal worth $6-7 million per season that was asked for by the player. Flash forward two years, with back-to-back playoff appearances and a Norris Trophy to his name, Subban is now a $9 million-per-year player. Had the Canadiens signed Subban to his initial asking price, they would have over $2 million in oh-so-valuable cap space.

The counter to the previous argument lies in Calgary's neighbor to the north: the Edmonton Oilers. In 2013, the Oilers opted to pay their trio of first time RFAs in Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to contracts worth $6 million per year over 7, 6, and 7 years, respectively. Since then, the players have had average to above-average individual statistical performances, but the team play has been dismal with the Oilers finishing near or at the bottom of the league in every season. The argument can be made that these contracts were too much, too quickly for the young players and that it led to a sense of complacency. Would the Oilers have been better served to give them shorter, cheaper deals and make them earn the payday? It's tough to say.

This is the dilemma that the Flames face with the signings of Gaudreau and Monahan. Do they pay both big money on long term deals or do they offer up shorter, bridge contracts and make them earn the money? The former has the potential to make them the highest-paid and highest-profile players on the team which some might argue is too soon for players of their youth. However, the latter means the Flames run the risk of having to overpay for both should they continue to exceed expectations. While there is no easy answer to this issue, whichever route the Flames choose to will affect the structure and identity of the team for years to come.
It's an interesting dilemma for GM Brad Treliving for sure, but it's one that should be put to rest sooner than later. If I were Mr. Treliving, these two would already have contract offers in front of them since, as Eric wrote, they are vital cogs in the Flames' offensive scheme. While it may not be in the club's best interest to sign these two to six- or seven-year deals, I think it is prudent for he Flames to lock these two men down as cornerstones for the franchise.

There are other GMs who will go through this same process in the off-season, but I'm not sure any of those GMs have such a large part of their offence coming up for renewal. I expect the Flames to get both under contract, but, like Eric speculated, will it be short-term or long-term deals?

Thanks for the great piece, Eric, and if you'd like to submit something for consideration on the HBIC soapbox, please email me here with your article!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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