Saturday, October 25th, 2014

A Cartoon Controversy

12

Bob McCown has been having fun blasting Brian Burke for his ridiculous comments on cap circumventing contracts. Here’s what Burke said:

“To make it clear, we made a very substantial offer to Brad Richards. What we offered I don’t think is material. We lost out on the Brad Richards sweepstakes for two reasons. One, we didn’t offer as much money as other teams. And more importantly, we didn’t structure it like other teams did. These deals that are front-loaded and have a small amount in the back end are, in my opinion, designed to circumvent the salary cap. I won’t do them. I never have. I’m not going to.”

Those contracts are accepted by the league on the basis that the players are going to serve the full term. That’s the only basis that they’re accepted by the league. If there is any understanding that the player is not going to serve the full term, they wouldn’t be accepted by the league. I personally do not believe the players are going to serve the term of their contracts. I’m not going to name names, but I do not believe players are going to play in 10 years who have signed them, or nine years, especially when the compensation for the final two years is one or two million dollars. I’ll be very anxious to see the explanations that occur when these players don’t serve out these contracts. That’s why I don’t do them. I don’t believe the players are going to serve the term. If that fact were known, I don’t think the NHL would accept them either.”

McCown’s position is that the league has ruled on this issue and therefore it is not cap circumvention. It is, McCown asserts, Burke’s obligation to use whatever loophole is available if it helps his team win. Burke’s unwillingness to take advantage of the rules because he disagrees ethically with them is very nearly a dereliction of duty.

This story – and the scandal of being in Kandahar on July 1st – is the cartoon Brian Burke at his best (or worst depending upon your point of view). It is all irrelevant nonsense. The cartoon Brian Burke is placed firmly on the high road while the real Brian Burke knows the subways like the back of his hand. The cartoon Brian Burke is criticised for being too noble and the real Brian Burke should be lashed for insulting our intelligence this way.

Brian Burke made it clear a long time ago that he did not think long term deals for older players worked out very often. They almost never did under the old CBA when all the free agents were Richard’s age. Never mind the tail on Brad’s contract – he’s very unlikely to be worth what they are paying him in the first six years. Tacking a fantasy three years onto a bad contract does not turn it into a good one. (I think Richards is still a good player, but I’m not sure he is worth a $6.5 MM cap hit even today. I’m really sure he won’t be worth it about two years from now.)

It is very easy for Burke to declare that he is ethically opposed to cap circumvention when the only way to circumvent the cap is to offer contracts he isn’t prepared to offer anyway. He isn’t willing to “cheat” because he doesn’t think “cheating” is going to help his hockey team beyond the very short term. As always with Brian Burke his actions (or inaction) make sense and his pronouncements about same are total bullshit.

It would be very easy to express this opinion tactfully and honestly – “We dropped out of the auction when the money and term stopped making sense to us” – but that’s not Burke’s style.

Not when he can send cartoon Brian Burke out there to stir up a cartoon controversy on Talk Radio.

Postscript: I hope that Mike Gillis has learned this lesson with the Luongo contract. A couple of years later and its feeling a lot less like a good deal, isn’t it?

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Comments

12 Responses to “A Cartoon Controversy”
  1. Roberto says:

    I hope that Mike Gillis has learned this lesson with the Luongo contract. A couple of years later and its feeling a lot less like a good deal, doesn’t it?
    It does. Especially now that it looks like Schneider can really play. I wish Gillis had followed the Detroit model more closely, in that they spend less on a “good enough” goaltender and make up the difference on a better skater. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Canucks had the space to go after Weber, or even Stamkos? You could draft for 20 years and not find one of those guys.
    That said, I don’t think the Canucks are going to trade Schneider. I think they will find a way to keep him. Another playoff like this last one, and Luongo will probably want to leave the pressure cooker. His contract doesn’t look great right now, but project it out a couple of years where his cap hit is actually less than his salary, and suddenly it becomes very attractive to a team trying to reach the cap floor.

  2. Tom says:

    I wish Gillis had followed the Detroit model more closely, in that they spend less on a “good enough” goaltender and make up the difference on a better skater.

    I don’t know that this is any better of a strategy. I don’t know how important having a very good goalie is, and I don’t think anyone else does either.

    I wish they had ignored Detroit in the Franzen-Zetterberg models. Too much can happen to ruin even a five year contract. The talent might be misjudged, the player can get hurt or the direction of the team can change. What looked like a good five year deal can end up looking like an albotross. I’ve come to the conclusion that the longer the contract, the more likely it will go bad. It isn’t worth knocking a million or two off the cap hit.

    If the Rangers are lucky, Richards will be worth $6.5 MM for two or three years. Very few 35 year olds are worth that. Maybe they will be able to deal him to a team struggling to reach the floor, but maybe the CBA will change or maybe anything.

    • Roberto says:

      I don’t know that this is any better of a strategy. I don’t know how important having a very good goalie is, and I don’t think anyone else does either.

      Exactly. But I’m pretty sure we know the value of a top defenseman or winger. I wouldn’t question his value if Luongo was more consistent, but he’s simply not. And very few goalies are – how many “top” goalies of 3 years ago are still considered so? Miller? Kiprusoff? Nope. Thomas bounced back amazingly from an injury, but we’ll see how he is next year. Aside from the Brodeues and Roys of the world, goalies as a group are too inconsistent to bet the farm on, unless you’re lucky enough to have a hall of famed. Just MHO, of course.

      I agree with your take on long contracts for aging players. They are far too skewed to the risk side of the reward curve. That said, locking up a Crosby or a Stamkos for 10 years given their ages now is a no-brainer.

      I don’t see the CBA changing so much that there won’t be a cap floor and that there won’t be teams whose strategy is simply to meet it.

      • Tom says:

        Exactly. But I’m pretty sure we know the value of a top defenseman or winger.

        I’m not. I don’t know whether Pekke Rinne is a better hockey player than Shea Weber. And I don’t know whether Weber produces more wins for his team than, say, Alexander Ovechkin produces for his. The last time I looked, forwards were paid the most, then d-men, then goalies, but it isn’t clear the market is efficient.

        I wouldn’t question his value if Luongo was more consistent, but he’s simply not.

        I’m not sure this is fair. If Luongo was more consistent (or if he gave up fewer “soft” goals) his save percentage would be so good, it would be ridiculous.

        A big part of the criticism of Luongo reflects our expectations. Whenever he isn’t great, the game goes on the wrong side of the consistency ledger. Most of his goals are defined as soft, because he looks so hard to beat.

        • Roberto says:

          I’m pretty sure I’d take a Weber or a Keith or a Pronger in his prime over any goaltender. Great defense can make pretty good goaltending look great.

          I’m not sure this is fair. If Luongo was more consistent (or if he gave up fewer “soft” goals) his save percentage would be so good, it would be ridiculous.

          Like, oh, say, 0.940? ;-)

  3. Given that there are prohibitions on selling contracts and cap space, I couldn’t agree more that Burke’s comments here are nothing but bluster for bluster’s sake. The man doesn’t have trouble bending the rules when bending them suits his purposes. So at least McCown can rest easy!

    • Roberto says:

      You should have heard Pratt going off on Burke on the team. Saying Burke had admitted he was not willing to do “everything in his power” (whatever that is supposed to mean) to make his team better, even if it meant bending the rules. The guy is so utterly myopic to counter argument, it has to be a schtick. At least I hope it is.

      • Tach says:

        While I can see that Burke is just displaying unnecessary bravado – why? Is he just distracting from a real discussion of whether he should have paid more or whether Connolly was a good signing? If he doesn’t hold an honest belief that these contracts are circumvention, why go on about it?

        I think he just got caught out once being all righteously indignant about it and now he is too proud to just back down. Really, if he had Crosby or Ovechkin he wouldn’t give them a 10 year deal?

        • Tom says:

          While I can see that Burke is just displaying unnecessary bravado – why? Is he just distracting from a real discussion of whether he should have paid more or whether Connolly was a good signing? If he doesn’t hold an honest belief that these contracts are circumvention, why go on about it?

          This is a really good question. Why does he serve up this junk? First, it is a cartoon, an act, a schtick. I met someone who worked as his secretary for a significant period of time and she emphasized to me that the Brian Burke she knew was nothing like the now public Burke. “The best boss I ever had,” was the way she described him. “A very nice man.” And the Brian Burke who first came to Vancouver with Pat Quinn in the late 80′s was a different public personna. He went on the radio every night to explain why the Canucks had sucked again. He was witty and articulate and halfway honest. Somewhere along the line, he changed.

          He actually scared me when he first arrived back in Vancouver because the things he said and the priorities he described seemed so far out to lunch. A couple of years later, I told my readers to ignore what he says and evaluate what he does. I’ve come to despise the schtick but I’ve liked most of his decisions when he made them – they didn’t all work out of course – and even when I disagreed I could always understand his thinking despite the bullshit.

          I think he does it because it has helped the Brian Burke brand as a sports entertainment character and hockey guy. He is trying to be entertaining and controversial. He’s always making hockey news on his terms. It does give him some control over the news agenda. In this case I don’t think he is distracting the media, but often that’s exactly what he is doing. He’s always managing the story. In this case, he is implying that he could have landed Richards, but chose not to. He does not want the story to be “Burke went all out for Richards and failed to get him.” The Cartoon Burke always succeeds unless he really wasn’t that interested or he refused to cheat or something.

          These contracts are circumvention (although allowed) and everyone knows it.

          Burke isn’t interested in using the technique but Bettman surely wants to get rid of it in the next CBA simply because all these lifetime contracts are screwing up the labour market. The real Brian Burke thinks these deals are bad for the teams that do them, but more free agents on the market would help him more than most teams. It really doesn’t matter much to the real Brian Burke, but the Cartoon Brian Burke ranting about them advances Bettman’s agenda by stirring up dissatisfaction with the CBA generally and specifically with the ultralong contracts.

          I think he just got caught out once being all righteously indignant about it and now he is too proud to just back down. Really, if he had Crosby or Ovechkin he wouldn’t give them a 10 year deal?

          The cartoon Brian Burke is an ego driven hothead who frequently says stupid things he won’t take back. The real Brian Burke went to Harvard and has a razor sharp mind who thinks before he does or says anything. He learned how to run a hockey team from Lou Lamourello and Pat Quinn and he learned how the league works from Gary Bettman.

  4. James Mirtle says:

    And yet Burke offered Richards a six-year deal. With a higher cap hit.

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