Saturday, 8 November 2008

"Salary Cap" Is An Excuse

My face looked almost like Vincent Lacavalier's face does last night when it was announced that the Tampa Bay Lightning traded defenceman Matt Carle and a draft pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenceman Steve Eminger, winger and NHL bad boy Steve Downie, and a draft pick. Why did my face look like that? It's become apparent that no matter how badly Tampa Bay wants to rebuild their franchise, they simply cannot escape themselves when it comes to winning now. And the worst part of this whole trade is that GM Brian Lawton is now using the "salary cap" excuse to rationalize the moves he has made.

In trading Matt Carle and his average salary hit of $3.438 million, the Lightning get some cap relief in the form of about $1.6 million, and give the Lightning about $4 million in cap room. That's a good chunk of room to make future moves. Statistically, Eminger and Carle are about even in every category, so it's not like one side was looking for anything in particular.

Here's the issue I have with Lawton using the "clearing cap space" justification. Brian Lawton gave boatloads of money to players who didn't deserve the kind of money they were given.

Ryan Malone is getting $4.5 million on average after being on a very good line with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora. Malone has a solid three goals in 12 games, meaning he's on pace for 20 goals and zero assists this season. $4.5 million for that kind of production? Are you kidding me?

Radim Vrbata is eating up $3 million per year. Vrbata has no goals and one assist in six games this season, meaning he's on pace for a 13-assist campaign. I can't remember who signed him to that contract, though. Clearly, he's earning his pay.

Gary Roberts, who played a major leadership role in Pittsburgh last season, was brought in to do the same in TeeBay. He's earning a modest $2.07 million this season for his contributions. The problem? No points in 12 games, and he's a brutal -4 on the season despite playing on the third line which sees the third-most ice time.

Mark Recchi, who is playing for $1.5 million this season, seems to be the only prudent management move that Brian Lawton made. Recchi has two goals and five assists this season in 12 games. At $1.5 million, Recchi has more points than three guys who are making just over $9.5 million this season, and he's older than two of them!

Look, I'm not an NHL GM. I have never worked in that environment, nor would I be qualified to work there. I do, however, know how to do my research, and not even the Penguins were willing to give Malone, Roberts, and Recchi that kind of money for that little production.

According to Lawton, "Cap space is a commodity, and [the trade] definitely gives us quite a bit of breathing room". Really? You just realized that 12 games into the season? You mean you had no idea that sinking one-fifth of your salary cap in the summer into aging talent and one-year wonders who were free agents wouldn't eat up your cap room?

At the time that the Lightning acquired the young Matt Carle, Lawton said, "We are thrilled to add a player with Matt's abilities to our roster as we continue our plan of retooling and refinishing the Lightning team. He quarterbacked the number one power play unit in the NHL two seasons ago as a rookie and he clearly will add speed and skill to our lineup. He fits with our plan of trying to getting younger and better."

Does it sting a little bit, Mr. Lawton, when you scan the San Jose Sharks' stats and see that the guy you traded away to get Carle, Dan Boyle, has two goals and seven assists in 12 games while playing for the best team in the NHL? Does it sting a little when you know that he could have been leading your blueline had you simply managed your team's salaries a little better?

The guy I feel for the most is Steve Eminger. He's a serviceable defenceman who has a big body and could prove useful in front of Mike Smith in Tampa Bay. He can play on the powerplay with his right-handed shot, and could be a presence on the penalty killing units as well. Eminger was stuck on the third defensive unit in Philly, so this trade might turn out roses for the Lightning if they use Eminger correctly.

But the problem I have is that Lawton's mismanagement essentially gave away a very promising offensive defenceman who still has four years left on his current deal. Carle hadn't adapted to head coach Barry Melrose's system very well, but we're only 12 games into the season. Is it really time for the Lightning to start pulling triggers on deals that give away some of their promising young talent?

Maybe Steve Eminger was right when he said, "It's a business". It seems that with all the business sense and businessmen in Tampa Bay's front office, they would be able to figure out this business a little better. Maybe it's time to ask the real question in Tampa Bay:

Who is in charge of running the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Number31 said...

The Lightning are being run like a fantasy team using simulations from NHL09. Both teams in the deal needed defense. However I don't think either team is getting any improvements... One thing at least the Flyers are down one headcase in Downie, and he will probably never play on the Lightning ever.

Anonymous said...

great blog....