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.