Sports

DGB Grab Bag: McDavid's Contract, Canada Day, and the Interview Period

The NHL begins its new league year on Saturday, which also happens to be Canada's 150th birthday.
June 30, 2017, 1:15pm
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter. Check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave Lozo as they discuss the events of the week.

Three stars of comedy

The first star: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews – The draft was in Chicago, so the Blackhawks had their two franchise players show up to make the pick and engage in some light banter. Was it hilarious? Not really, no, but they didn't drone on for 20 minutes about congratulating the Cup winners and saying hello to viewing parties back home, so we'll call it a net positive.

The second star: Brent Burns and Joe Thornton – Sure, why not. Good luck unseeing this, by the way.

The first star: Scott Darling and Derek Ryan – The new Hurricanes teammates had some fun on Twitter, and the end result was a blockbuster that the team felt the need to make official.

Debating the issues

This week's debate: Connor McDavid is eligible for an extension beginning tomorrow, and will reportedly sign an eight-year deal with a cap hit north of $13 million, which would be by far the highest in the league. The max-length deal almost certainly represents good value for Edmonton. But with Leon Draisaitl still to sign, should McDavid have taken less money to ensure his team would have enough cap room to build a championship team around him?

In favor: Yes. Nobody's disputing that McDavid is one of the two best players in the world and deserves to be paid like it. But you can't build a Stanley Cup contender with one player eating that much cap room. Save something for your teammates if you want to win.

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Opposed: Wait, if we agree that he's worth the money, then that's what he should earn. He's under no obligation to leave millions on the table just to be nice.

In favor: It's not about being nice, it's about winning a Stanley Cup. And to do that, he'll need good players around him. Depth wins championships.

Opposed: Depth is also easy to find and relatively cheap, at least if a team is smart. Generational players, on the other hand, are incredibly rare, and the Oilers are lucky to have one. Pay the man his money, thank the lottery gods every single day for him, and be done with it.

In favor: Winning lotteries is nice. Winning Cups is better. McDavid will make it harder for the Oilers to do that if he's eating up so much cap space. He couldn't take a bit of a hometown discount?

Opposed: He did! He should be making the maximum $15-million. Hell, he should probably be signing one-year deals so that he makes the maximum every year. His contract will be a huge bargain well before it runs out.

In favor: Right, but he's already going to make more money than he could ever spend. How much is enough? Would it really have hurt him to take, say, $10 million instead? That extra $3 million could be the difference between adding another key piece to the roster.

Opposed: But it's not McDavid's job to build the roster. That's up to Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the front office. McDavid's job is to sign for what he's worth and live up to that contract. Assuming he plays as well as everyone expects him to, he'll have delivered on his end of the bargain.

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In favor: Sure. But if the Oilers don't build a Cup-caliber roster around him, he should expect fans to point some of the blame at him and his massive contract.

Opposed: Yes, because hockey fans can be stupid.

In favor: No, because hockey fans know history. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both signed for less than a $10-million cap hit, and now the Penguins have three titles and counting to show for it.

Opposed: But that was under the old CBA, and it was back when the cap was a lot smaller. We can't compare deals signed five years ago to ones done today.

In favor: OK, let's use something more recent from the current CBA: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews getting matching $10.5 million deals from Chicago two years ago. The Blackhawks haven't won a round since. That's what happens when guys make wringing every penny out of a deal a higher priority than winning.

Opposed: Wait, Jonathan Toews isn't a winner now? I thought we all agreed he was the second coming of Mark Messier.

In favor: He was, before he got greedy.

Opposed: This is madness. It's not "greedy" to get paid what you're worth. If the Oilers can't afford to build a winner around McDavid, then blame Milan Lucic's terrible contract. Blame Kris Russell at $4 million, or whatever he gets. Blame Benoit Pouliot's buyout. Or blame Chiarelli for all of those mistakes. Don't blame the best player on the planet.

In favor: Look, nobody disputes McDavid's talent. But he had a chance to do the right thing for his team here, and he didn't. And the Oilers may not be able to win a Cup because of it.

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Opposed: OK, here's a suggestion. If you really think that you can't win a Cup with a $13-million player, I have some good news: You don't have to have one. You can trade Connor McDavid. Put the word out to the league that he's available to the highest bidder, then trade him and his can't-win contract to some other team.

In favor: You're talking crazy. All 30 teams would be running through walls to get to Chiarelli first.

Opposed: Exactly! Every team in the league would love to have this problem. And that's because it's not an actual problem in the first place. Repeat after me: Having an amazing player who makes slightly less than fair value instead of a lot less than fair value is not something to complain about.

In favor: But… I'm a hockey fan. We like to complain.

Opposed: I hate you.

The final verdict: Listening to fans blame McDavid's contract for every three-game losing streak the Oilers have over the next eight years is going to be the worst.

Obscure former player of the week

In addition to being the start of a new league year, tomorrow is Canada Day. And it's an especially big one this year, as Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday.

Speaking of birthdays, July 1 has been a good one for hockey players. The list of players born on Canada Day includes two Hall of Famers — Steve Shut and Rod Gilbert — as well as a sure-thing in Jarome Iginla. But there's only one player in NHL history who was born on Canada's centennial, July 1, 1967, and he's today's Obscure Player: two-way center Mike Eastwood.

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Eastwood was a fifth-round pick by the Maple Leafs as a 20-year-old in 1987, then spent four years at Western Michigan. He made his NHL debut in 1991 at the age of 24, playing nine games in Toronto. He pulled part-time duty on the 1992-93 and 1993-94 Leafs teams that made deep playoff runs, playing 28 postseason games including one in which he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Chicago.

Eastwood was traded at the 1995 deadline in a deal that would become one of the most popular in recent Leafs history, as it brought Tie Domi back to Toronto. He had a chance to play his first full NHL season in Winnipeg, scoring 14 goals in 1995-96 before the franchise headed to Phoenix. From there, he'd have stints with the Rangers, Blues, Blackhawks and Penguins. The longest of those came in St. Louis, where he scored a career-high 19 goals in 1999-00 while somehow leading the entire league in shooting percentage.

In all, he stuck around the league for 13 seasons, playing 783 games and recording 236 points. He went on to a media career in Ottawa, and is currently an assistant coach with the Ottawa 67s. This weekend, hundreds of thousands are expected to gather downtown to help him celebrate his 50th birthday.

Outrage of the week

The issue: This was the week in which teams were allowed to talk to pending free agents. However, the interview period is for talking only — teams are not allowed to negotiate specific contracts or make binding offers until the market officially opens tomorrow. The outrage: As soon as the clock ticks over the new league year tomorrow, a bunch of players are going to quickly sign contracts that will sure seem to have been negotiated and agreed to in advance. Is it justified: No, because this is one of those things where everyone understands how the system works. Just like everyone cheats on faceoffs and jumps on for line changes a little early, teams are going to get a little more specific than they should during the negotiating window. It happens, it's relatively fair for everyone, it's fine.

But still, this whole thing is weird, right? The NHL went out of its way to create a special window for teams to contact free agents, then told them to avoid discussing what's pretty much the only thing a free agent could possibly want to talk about. It's bizarre. What sort of conversation are you supposed to have with a free agent that doesn't involve specific contract terms? Are you just supposed to ask about their favorite ice cream flavor?

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It was even worse when the rule was first implemented in 2013. Back then, Gary Bettman notified all the teams that they weren't supposed to talk about contract parameters at all. A year later, the league clarified that general discussions were allowed, but no agreements could be reached until July 1.

Needless to say, everyone ignores that rule and just hammers out contracts during the window anyway. We don't know exactly how it happens — maybe they just dive straight in, or maybe the agents try to work in some small layer of deniability. "Hey, here's a fun fact about my client: His two favorite numbers are seven, and six-point-two-five. What about yours?" But one way or another, an awful lot of progress seems to be made toward finished contracts that nobody is supposed to be talking about.

It all leads to some fun moments. Remember last year, when the Oilers traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson and everyone freaked out about how it was a bad deal, until suddenly the Edmonton media was like "No, it's fine, they're signing Milan Lucic in two days", but then everyone remembered that's not allowed so they all had to awkwardly add "Um…. allegedly"? Those were good times. (Lucic, of course, signed on July 1.)

So yes, it's a good bet that at least a few teams and players are actively violating the rules right now as you read this, striking last-minute deals that they'll announce tomorrow after waiting an hour or two to provide some cover. And that's basically fine, because the rule doesn't make much sense and nobody seems to have any desire to enforce it. There are no victims here, and if anything, this system should make it less likely that teams get swept up in a sudden bidding war and make a cap-killing mistake. It's weird, but it's harmless. In today's NHL, let's call that a win.

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

With free agency starting tomorrow, fans around the league are very excited. Your team can add a new player without even giving up any assets beyond cap space. It's almost foolproof. What could possible go wrong?

In related news, ten years ago, this happened.

  • So it's July 1, 2007, and the first day of free agency is drawing to a close. This was just the third offseason of the cap era, and the first two had featured big UFA success stories; in 2005, the Ducks signed Scott Niedermayer, and in 2006 the Bruins got Zdeno Chara. Which team would guarantee themselves a future Stanley Cup this time around? The hockey world tuned in to find out.
  • We start off with some banter about Niedermayer's rumored retirement, which ultimately didn't end up happening. Instead, he took half the season off, then returned to Anaheim and played until 2010. At the time there was some concern that veteran stars around the league would follow his lead, but that never happened. To this day, the only big NHL name who repeatedly insists on playing half-seasons is Gary Bettman.
  • Our host is Dan Elliott, and he dives in with some of the bigger names on the market, such as Chris Drury, Danny Briere and Scott Gomez. Huh. Can't wait to see how all those signings turned out.
  • We're also told that Canucks' GM Dave Nonis doesn't have enough money to be a major free agency player this year. Uh, trust me on this one, guys…. that's not a bad thing.
  • First up, we get Briere signing with the Flyers for $52 million. He's coming off a 95-point season and is flourishing, we're told, thanks to the emphasis on calling the rulebook, so he should be a great addition as long as the NHL doesn't decide to stop doing that.
  • (Briere was eventually bought out.)
  • Weirdly, the next deal mentioned is… Matthieu Schneider? Are we doing this alphabetically by middle name or something?
  • We also slide in a mention of Brian Rafalksi's deal with Detroit, which in hindsight ended up being the best of the day. Nothing says "This clip is from a very long time ago" quite like the Red Wings making a good free agent signing.
  • Next comes another big signing: Gomez to the Rangers for $51.5 million. He'd spend two years in New York before being dealt to the Canadiens for Ryan McDonagh because they needed help with goal-scoring, which is kind of like acquiring a koala bear because you need help with algebra.
  • (Gomez was eventually bought out.)
  • The Rangers weren't done, also nabbing Drury on a $35-million deal. Not only was he coming off a career-best 37-goal season, but he'd forged a reputation as a heart-and-soul leader with the Sabres. As always, if there are two things you definitely want to pay top dollar for on July 1, it's career years and intangibles.
  • (Drury was eventually bought out.)
  • Here's the sad part: Drury and Gomez were actually two of the most successful Ranger free agency moves of all-time.
  • We see some other questionable deals, including the Leafs signing Jason Blake and Scott Hannan going to the Avalanche. By the time we get to Cory Sarich getting $18 million, the guy who does the graphics for this newscast has given up on capitalizing team names because who even cares anymore.
  • After updates on Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla signing extensions, we close out our clip by getting a little weird. The Oiler and Flyers make a trade, and our pal Dan is going to get downright salty about it. He randomly drops in a line about Joffrey Lupul not being able to "handle the pressure" and Geoff Sanderson's best years being behind him. I don't think Dan likes this trade, you guys.
  • And that ends our clip. Here's hoping you enjoyed this appetizer for what should be a fun day tomorrow. Let's settle in for an entertaining weekend of free agent maneuverings, and may your favorite team sign all of the big-name stars you're wishing for.
  • (Your team's big-name free agent stars will eventually be bought out.)

Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at nhlgrabbag@gmail.com .