Thursday, 31 July 2008

Hard To Understand

I've always respected the Minnesota Wild and the job that GM Doug Risebrough had done in being cost-conscious in the new NHL. They found hard-working, blue-collar guys in the systems of other teams, and drafted extremely well. In finding these hard-working guys, they brought in players like Andrew Burnette, Wes Walz, Cliff Ronning, Sergei Zholtok, Brian Rolston, and Pavol Demitra to lead the way in terms of teaching the younger players how to work hard while leading the franchise to success. The young guys that have grown in the system are guys like Marian Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Brent Burns, Stephane Veilleux, and Nick Schultz. These guys are the foundation that Doug Risebrough has added pieces around, and have allowed the Minnesota Wild to be successful thus far. As the Wild look to become increasingly successful, I have a major question for Mr. Risebrough to answer, and this is the premise for this entire article.

Yesterday, Mr. Risebrough went on record and stated that the Minnesota Wild had bought out the remaining three years of the contract that they had signed with Minnesota native and fan favourite in Mark Parrish. What struck me as odd in Mr. Risebrough's statement is this: "The unfortunate thing is when you have a big signing like that, people are looking at big production".

Look, I get that Mark Parrish signed a contract that may not reflect the desired offensive output that Doug Risebrough may have wanted. In 2006-07, Mr. Parrish played in 76 games, and racked up 19 goals and 20 assists. His 39 points was good for seventh on the team in scoring. In 2007-08, Mr. Parrish played in 66 games for the Wild. He missed a number of games due to a variety of injuries, but still put up 16 goals and 14 assists.

The problem that I have is one of dollars and sense. Not cents, but sense. Make that hockey sense. Mark Parrish is 31 years old. He still has a lot of good hockey in front of him. He's a fan favourite, and does an immense amount of work in the community with his charitable organization, 21 For Kids. Yes, I get that hockey is a business where winning and losing makes the difference for every player and member of a franchise, especially in the NHL.

The $64,000 question is this: why would you buyout Mark Parrish, a man who has an average salary of $2.65 million per season, and sign 36 year-old Owen Nolan for $2.75 million per season?

Let me change the scenario a little here. The Minnesota Wild play in a suffocating defensive system employed by head coach Jacques Lemaire. When talented players such as Marian Gaborik are complaining to the press about how their creativity is being stifled in system such as Lemaire's, how is a power forward like Parrish supposed to flourish?

Worse yet, Risebrough went out and signed the 36 year-old Owen Nolan to a two-year deal worth $2.75 million per season. Owen Nolan played in 77 games for the Calgary Flames last season, and scored 16 goals and 16 assists.

Parrish in 2007-08: 66 GP, 16 goals + 14 assists.
Nolan in 2007-08: 77 GP, 16 goals + 16 assists.

Does that make any sense to anyone? Risebrough signed an older, slower Nolan for more money than he was paying Parrish, yet Nolan had a whopping two assists more than Parrish in 11 more games.

"I had to just look at certain scenarios, including his salary versus his performance," Risebrough told The Canadian Press. "I just felt like this is an opportunity to buy somebody out and let the player move on and the team move on."

Excuse me? How does this make sense? You buyout a younger, cheaper player to make room for a guy who should have retired two years ago? I can understand loosening the purse strings to sign a guy like Andrew Brunette who, in the last few years, has become an extremely talented player. However, Risebrough is paying Nolan more than what he is paying Brunette.

Nolan is the fourth highest-paid forward on the Minnesota Wild roster. He played on the third and fourth lines in Calgary, and Minnesota made him the fourth highest-paid player on their team. A 36 year-old has-been who scored 32 points is the fourth highest-paid forward on the Minnesota Wild. Does anyone see a problem here?

If you think that Nolan will succeed as an offensive player in Jacques Lemaire's system, I have swampland in Florida to sell you. Nolan's best season came in 1999-2000 when he was an all-star with the San Jose Sharks. He racked up 44 goals and 40 assists that season, and played extremely well. Since the 1992-93 season, however, Nolan has not scored more than 66 points in a season aside from his all-star campaign. He hasn't broken the 50-point barrier since 2001-02.

Remember, Nolan is earning more money than Mark Parrish on his contract. Parrish's point-per-game average last season was 0.454. Nolan's point-per-game average was 0.416. Does this make any sense?

Statistically, there is no explanation for the buyout, and Mr. Riseborugh's statement about Parrish's buyout is nothing more than a rationalization. He made mistakes with his current contractual obligations, and he made mistakes in the past with contractual obligations. Risebrough even says as much when he stated that it "just felt like this is an opportunity to buy somebody out".

As a fan of the game, this smells like a manure pile. Mark Parrish is a talented power forward, and deserves better than to have Mr. Risebrough use him as scapegoat for his own shortcomings. As Mr. Risebrough said, "the team was successful, and Mark was a part of that", so why would you get rid of him? If change was necessary, why not trade him?

I'm sorry for your loss, Wild fans. Mark Parrish was a stand-up individual, and he deserved better than what he got. If I was part of the Team of 18,000, I'd be peeved right now. Mr. Risebrough scuttled one of your own, and that cuts deep.

Good luck getting 50 points out of Owen Nolan next season, Mr. Risebrough. My guess is that he'll fall out of favour with Jacques Lemaire early, and find himself on the bench a lot more often than you'd like to see.

And Wild fans, just remember who you're booing when Owen Nolan doesn't score 40 goals next season. It's not the guys on the ice who deserve the booing. It's the guy sitting in the luxury suite up above.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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