Continuing with some additional thoughts on today’s big news…
The price is what it is
Ward’s deal came in at a $3.3 million average for 2 years with $3.5 million in 2016-17 and $3.1 million in 2017-18. I had a deal pegged very firmly at $3 million per year if it happened. That amount would respectfully pay Ward more than Eddie Lack but by a minimal amount. At a basic level, $3.3 million for a veteran 1A/1B type goalie is reasonable, but I think a tad on the high end of the range. The market this summer for James Reimer and to a lesser degree Chad Johnson will provide some gauge of relative value. That said, Francis was not in a position to low-ball him as if he was a random free agent goalie off the street.
A one year term would have been significantly better
If I had to do a deal with Ward and could change one thing, it would be term. I actually think a ‘biding time’ option like Ward makes much more sense for 1 year instead of 2. The reason is the expansion draft. It is impossible to project exactly how things will unfold, but an impending expansion draft next summer in which each team can project only 1 goalie indirectly puts 30 more goalies on the market. Not all of them are valuable/interesting but a good number are. From this upheaval, the possibility exists to pick up a goalie for cheap just before the expansion draft or possibly even do a deal with Las Vegas to have them select a goalie and then trade them to the Canes. Assuming no trades and with Ward and Lack both locked in for 2 years now, the ability to capitalize on this unique situation is eliminated or at least significantly complicated by the need to get rid of a goalie as part of playing this game. Surely Cam Ward’s camp pushed for 2 years, but Francis held the cards in this game. If I was Ron Francis and doing this deal, I think that is the one thing that I would have been a bit forceful on even if it meant boosting the salary by a small amount.
I don’t buy the salary cap story
I saw some comments on Twitter to the effect that the Canes needed to do this deal to make the salary cap. Like the expansion draft angle that I wrote about in part 1, the math does not support this. Before Ward’s contract the Canes were at $45.3 million (using General Fanager but swapping out Derek Ryan and swapping in Sebastian Aho). Estimating Victor Rask at $3.5 million and Ryan Murphy at $1 million gets the team to $49.8 million. From there the Canes still need 2 forwards and a goalie. Even if the Canes signed a cheaper option in net (Chad Johnson at $2 million?), the team was not going to have a problem reaching the salary cap floor. And if the team really needed help making the floor, it actually supports the case of considering more expensive options via trade or free agents.
The 15-team no-trade clause is virtually the same as a full no-trade clause
I traded emails with Tom Poraszka from General Fanager which has become my primary source for NHL salary and contract information. When queried about Cam Ward’s no-trade clause he stated, “The no-trade gives the player the opportunity to submit a list of 15 teams that the player cannot be traded to. The team can ask for the list twice a year, the player must provide the list within 48 hours and then the team has 30 days to trade him.” I believe this is a general, so the expectation but not assurance is that Ward’s clause works similarly to the norm.
While this might work without being overly restrictive for a skater, it is horribly restrictive for a goalie especially at the trade deadline. For a somewhat generic “depth forward” many teams could have a need, and it is not immediately obvious who would be shopping for a player. But that is not the case for goalies. Especially for a reasonably expensive $3.3 million goalie, the number of teams that might be in the market would always be pretty small. At the trade deadline especially, there might be 4-5 teams shopping for such a goalie and it would be pretty obvious who they were based on injuries, goalies not playing well, etc. In addition, at the trade deadline most teams out of the playoff chase would not be shopping.
So with the ability to exclude 15 teams from possible trades, it seems like it would be incredibly easy for Ward to more or less veto any/all trades simply by having his agent do a small amount of research and then pretty easily excluding all of the teams that might be in the market.
Is there a scenario that acknowledges that Cam Ward is not the best available but that this is still the best decision?
To some degree, I think there is. Most of the better options would be trade additions. Those options obviously require Francis to give up something in trade. Francis’ mantra from day 1 has been building from within the system, so there is rightfully a limit on how much of the team’s future he should be willing to spend for a goalie for 2016-17. Even as someone who voted to spend to get a better goaie, there is a pain point at which I would say “that just costs too much” and would begrudgingly stick with Ward over the limited free agent options.
But here is where I disagree with the move. The time to decide what the true cost of the trade options is not more than a week before the draft. At the earliest it is in the few days after the draft but before free agency after GMs have bandied offers back and forth and most of them are left holding the same players with which they started. I get that the Ducks will ask for a bunch for proven 26-year old Frederik Andersen, but after they shop that to all possible takers with no success and are staring at a 1-year countdown to losing him for nothing, what then is his price? At least in some cases, the price will be significantly different at that point.
So I think there could be a scenario in which Ward becomes the best option balancing quality and price, but I just do not see how Francis could have reached this conclusion this early in the process.
What about Eddie Lack?
Thus far, I have been hard on Eddie Lack in talking about Ward. Like Ward, he was a good team mate and is a great person. But his 2015-16 campaign just was not even close to what anyone hoped for when he was obtained via trade at the draft last summer.
He was brought in last summer not to just be a little-used backup but to be at least a 1A/1B if not better. In simple terms, it did not work. After being a key contributor to a late-season run by the Vancouver Canucks in 2014-15 and helping push them in the playoffs with a 2.45 GAA and .921 Save %, he did nothing close to that with the Hurricanes last season. He finished with a 2.81 GAA and a .901 Save % and that was only after finding his footing after a horrendous start.
To say that the transition was rocky would be a huge understatement. Yesterday on Twitter, I posted a simple poll asking “Is anyone else surprised that David Marcoux is still employed by the Canes?” The answers split almost evenly between 3 choices – Yes=32%; No=31%; Who is David Marcoux?-37%. David Marcoux has been the Hurricanes goalie coach since just before the 2014-15 season. I am not privy to all of the details of Marcoux’s work and relationship with Eddie Lack, but the Hurricanes broadcasts provided bits of information. At a basic level, early in the season Eddie Lack was making adjustments to use his big frame to challenge and get out a bit more. Then at some point after the horrid start, he seemed to revert more to sitting back in net. I am not sure it was every said directly, but I somewhere along the way I got the impression that Lack was sort of returning to his roots and what made him successful the previous year.
After gaining his footing, Lack did have a stretch of playing better in net, but he never really seized the reins despite opportunities to do so, and he never really found a rhythm that lasted more than a few games.
With a summer to reset and recharge, is it possible that Eddie Lack can find a higher gear that looks more like the second half of 20145-15 in Vancouver? I think it is possible but just like projecting Ward’s future play based only on the good part of 2015-16 feels more like wishing and hoping for luck than making fact-based decisions. That said, I would be thrilled to see Lack find a higher gear early in the 2015-16 season.
Does re-signing Cam Ward put the worst possible scenario for 2016-17 into play?
If the Carolina Hurricanes start slow again, it will rise the angst of a fan base that is struggling to be patient in the face of ongoing adversity. Important to note is that that part of the fan base is the part that is still engaged and not a former occupant of the too many empty seats last season. If the Hurricanes start slow again in 2016-17 with the team looking better but the same goalie tandem of Ward and Lack struggling and the team is mostly out of playoff contention by December again, I think it is the worst possible scenario for the fan base. Sure there would be disappointment, some angst and ongoing attendance struggles if the team flops out of the gate with any goalie, but I think the mood about it will be tremendously higher if it is more of the same.
At a basic level, if what you are doing is not working, try something different. I am not a fan of having the fan base make player decisions, but I do think in a market that could use a boost, it is not something to completely ignore either.
Could this be part of a broader plan?
As I discussed in part 1, though I think it is unlikely, there is a scenario whereby Francis packages Lack in a deal for another goalie. The deal for Ward is a double-edged sword as part of such a plan. On the positive side, with 2 goalies in tow, Ron Francis now has a very plausible story that he does not need to do a deal and will only do 1 for the right terms and price. On the negative side, the deal and process becomes much more complicated with the need to include Lack in the deal or simultaneously do another. The trading partner might or might not want Lack in return at all given his salary. Francis did manage to pull this off last summer simultaneously adding Eddie Lack and unloading Anton Khudobin, so it is definitely possible.
What do you think?
I would love to hear others’ thoughts on the deal.
For those not posting-inclined here is a quick poll…