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Step Away From The Ledge People . . .

The key signings of Sammy Pahlsson and Mathieu Garon were unfortunately overshadowed last night with the dislcosure that Rick Nash was “disappointed” with the package the Blue Jackets put out as their initial offer. The responses have ranged from disdain for Nash’s comments and severely taking him to taks, to roasting Howson over the coals for insulting our captain and not doing what is necessary to close out a deal. Both reactions are off base here, so before we get to the signings, let’s look at the Nash situation more closely.

Up to now, the Nash courtship had been a pure love fest. Nash, his agent and Howson were all making wonderfully upbeat comments and indicating how much they all respected and loved each other, the team, the coaches, the fans and anybody else in the neighborhood. They were one step short of sending out a communique calling for World Peace . . . That is great, and is probably an indication of where everybody is in their hearts, but until yesterday, it was all theoretical. Now, numbers and years have to be matched with team goals, individual aspirations and economic realities. That, folks, is an entirely different reality. Not necessarily a bad one, but a reality nonetheless.

First, we do not know what offer the CBJ put out there, other than the reports that it was 5 years. Nash probably sees himself as an $8 million player, aso anything short of $40 million over the 5 years was probably a disappointment, particularly when he sees the Rangers paying Gaborik an average of $7.5 million. (Rick, it’s the Rangers, OK? You can’t use the Rangers or the Knicks as a standard here) The CBJ were probably closer to $35 million, looking at the Sedins signing for $6.1, Hossa for an average of $5.23 and Iginla making about $7 million right now. Sure, Hossa’s contract is front-loaded, but overall something between $7 mill and $7.5 mill would appear to be in the ballpark.

The essential problem here is that there are too many options, and presenting any one option makes it look like you have excluded others. Nash is 25, so would appear to be ripe for a 10 year deal. However, if you present that, Nash might feel you are trying to pin him down for too long. It’s not only about salary, it is all about cap space. The cap will go down significantly next year, in all likelihood, so the Jackets are trying to stay close now. The might well be thinking about going lower now, and balooning toward the end. Going longer also creates flexibility. Ohlund’s contract with Tampa is 7 years, $24.5 million. However, $22.5 million gets paid in the first 5 years. So, for that period, even though he will receive $4.5 million, the cap hit is only $3.5 million. That extra million can get you a third or fourth line player. So, don’t let any perceived gap in numbers stress you out. I suspect that the sides are far closer than we think — they just need to agree on the length and the cap hit features.

Turning to the intangibles, keep in mind that these types of negotiations are as ritualistic as you can get. The language of contract negotiation is almost as formalistic as diplomacy. When the local ambassador says that “We object to the actions of in the strongest possible terms”, they are basically saying that the missles are on the way. Same thing applies here.

Look closely at what Nash said. Virtually everything was couched in an “if” statement, and he used “we” a lot. Example:

“If this doesn’t happen in the next week, and we can’t hit a number where we’re both satisfied and we both feel it’s fair … if they want me that bad, they’ll get it done”

He said that things did not line up as he expected, and that if a deal isn’t done, he wouldn’t have a problem getting signed next summer. Well, duhhh . . . hardly a threat folks, just a statement of fact.

Nash had to say something in this ritualistic dance, just as a reminder to the Blue Jackets that he might provide a loyalty discount, but still wants market value. Portzline is right — Nash holds the cards here — and he needed to publicly remind the Jackets of that fact. However, this was as gentle a reminder a possible. Look at what he did not say — he did not throw out ultimatums, call the offer insulting or otherwise throw gas on the fire. To the contrary, his language was soft, direct and he even threw some tidbits out there to indicate where they are. “. . .in the next week” is a pretty clear indication that he wants to get something done soon, and get back to playing hockey. He is not taking his toys and going home.

Look at what his agent said last night, if you need any further confirmation:

“This is part of the process. . . We’ve begun, and we’ll continue to work through and reach an agreement.”

Doesn’t sound threatening to me . . . Remember, it is difficult to throw the first offer out in any negotiation, particularly when options abound. Resnick will be providing a counter-offer today, and then we will have the boundaries of the playing field. Barring a demand for an $11 million dollar contract, things are likely to move fairly quickly at that point. All a part of the game, folks.

By the way, Howson gets an A- for the Pahlsson and Garon signings yesterday. They obviously had Pahlsson targeted, and got their man. Garon is a better goalie in the clutch than his numbers would indicate, and I have had him as my backup goalie for the Jackets on NHL ’09 for awhile now. ;-) Seriously, though — these are good solid moves, and the minus comes for possibly overpaying for Pahlsson a bit. A very good start to the off-season however, with the draft and Day 1 of free agency. More to come tonight.

6 Comments

  1. roadman

    July 2, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Your legal training shows big time in your analysis, not a bad thing, just an observation on how you have the ability to cut to the chase and understand what it is that people are saying. That's why I always enjoy reading you. A great post as always.

    There is to be sure a huge uproar around the blogshere concerning the perceived "breakdown" in negotiations. One side is blistering Nash and the other equally berating Howsen. It is great entertainment reading about the imminent demise of the CBJ.

    It is my opinion (not even a very learned opinion) that an agreement will be reached and an acceptable contract will be signed. Until it becomes apparent that such an agreement won't be reached I won't even hazard a plan B.

    Would have to agree with you that the twin signings are great. Very "Howsenenesque" if you will. An identified need filled with a individual that answers that need at a reasonable price the organization can afford. Overpaid? Maybe, but isn't that what was said about Commadore and look how that turned out.

    So the next need is an offensive/PP defenseman. Where do you think the search starts? An additional FA or a trade?

  2. BZArcher

    July 2, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I agree about Garon – he basically pulled the Oilers back into the playoff picture back in '08 singlehandedly. Very interested to see how he works with Rook and Mase.

    As to Nash…I have to admit I had a very "Oh, ****" reaction at first blush, but after re-reading his remarks I realized they really aren't near as negative as they seemed.

    I'm guessing 10 years, and around 76 million, but we'll see…

  3. Paul

    July 2, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    If you want to see over-reaction to Nash's response, just go over to Light The Lamp. The guy's already crying in his beer.
    Considering I'm old enough (And grew up an Oakland A's fan), I remember the "negotiations between Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, et al and Charlie Finley. Compared to some of the remarks printed from these players back then, Nash's statement is about as harsh as a kitten rubbing up against your ankle. Let's see where things are in a week before we start predicting the end of the CBJ.

  4. JAL

    July 3, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Great comments, all! Paul, I laughed out loud at your post. Boy do I remember those battles that Charlie O had with anyone who wanted serious change. Who remembers the days of the holdouts???

    People tend to forget that there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in this game, and poeple tend to take that stuff seriously, y'know???? When it is all over, it will be interesting to look at who offered what, when.

    Still thinking that this is going to be 10 years plus term — I'll say 11 years $89 million. That makes all kinds of sense, gives room to create cap flexibility and sends all of the right signals.

    Who knows? Such a deal might even get the Maple Leafs fans to shut up about getting Nash!!

  5. LTL

    July 3, 2009 at 4:43 am

    "Crying in his beer"..?

    That only happens when I spill a $9 one.

    -LTL

  6. anml034

    July 3, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Ha! Great comments guys. I agree with JAL and I have commented on LTL (Great Reads on both sites) about the negotiations. I am in commericial sales and to me this negotiation is flying along. I am guessing that we will have Nash signed tuesday or wednesday next week.

    With Nash's comments you also have to look at the timing.

    - Howson sends a contract
    - Nash's agent comes on 97.1 the fan saying that Nash made it difficult on him by expressing that Nash wants to stay in Columbus.
    - Nash and Agent review the contract
    - Nash makes public comments to the Paper.

    This is all about getting leverage back. Mission accomplished and now Howson has a better feel for what Rick wants and the fact that he will not take a discount(I wouldnt either, it is a business).

    The other thing that gives me the warm and fuzzies is that reports are the first offer was 5 years and now we are talking about 7-10+ years. Folks, if you dont want to be somewhere or you are all about the money the term would be going down, not up so that you keep the leverage every few years to get raise.

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