by PuckStopsHere on 09/15/09 at 02:14 PM ET
Every year, one or two promising restricted free agents have not signed new contracts when training camp opens up. This is a very poor method to run a hockey team. These young players are the future of the franchise and potential future stars who are being alienated because they have very little leverage in contract negotiations. Last year, the Los Angeles Kings did this with Patrick O’Sullivan. It is a logical consequence of the move that O’Sullivan has since been traded to the Edmonton Oilers (where he is a very promising young player) and all they have to show for it is Justin Williams, who struggled through injuries last year scoring only 14 points (O’Sullivan is younger and scored 44 points). The ill-will created by the tough contract negotiation usually ends badly and forces a trade down the line or else the player leaves as a restricted free agent as soon as he can.
This year, two talented young players find themselves as restricted free agents without contracts as training camp opens. They are Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins and Brandon Dubinsky of the New York Rangers. This tough contract negotiation is forced in part by the stagnating salary cap and in part by bad salary cap management, which didn’t leave room for these players.
It seems that Boston is going to trade Kessel. Kessel at age 21 scored 60 points and looks like he will be an NHL star. It will be nearly impossible to trade him and get a similar talent back. Trading Kessel is almost certainly a deal that weakens the Boston Bruins. It is poor asset management to take a top pick in the 2006 draft (5th overall) and pick a player who is working out - only to drive him out of town.
The New York Rangers are doing the same with Dubinsky, except they seem to hope that he will sign for well below his value. Dubinsky has scored 40 or more points each of the last two seasons. Last season his 41 points made him the second highest scorer of the returning New York Ranger players (behind Chris Drury). The low scoring Ranger team needs to find offence somewhere and a young player like Dubinsky might be able to take a big step forward and provide it. The problem is they lack salary cap space to sign him at a reasonable price and are forcing him to take a much smaller contract. Likely this means Brandon Dubinsky’s days as a New York Ranger are numbered.
The most important asset a team has is young talented players who are becoming stars. The NHL CBA allows teams to be very tough on them in negotiations and force them into contracts that have them well under value. This may lead to a short term savings, but it inevitably leads to the team losing the player. The Los Angeles Kings tried last year with Patrick O’Sullivan and he is gone from LA now. Likely, Boston will soon get rid of Kessel and the Rangers will part with Dubinsky. Boston and New York will be worse off for this exercize. Although the CBA allows you to strong-arm your top young stars in contract negotiations, you cannot afford to do it when it costs you the services of the player.
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