Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dainius Zubrus's Spring Break

Back in November I touted Dainius Zubrus as the Caps' Most Valuable Player to date, in part because of his exceptional play up to that point and in part because of his talent level relative to the other centers on the Caps' roster. Now here we are in February and both of those factors have changed somewhat. As the trade deadline approaches, the question has been posed as to whether the Caps should trade Zubrus, a free agent at year's end, or re-sign him to a long-term deal. My answer? A qualified "yes" - they should trade Zubrus and sign him to a long-term deal. Here's why:
  1. Let's face it - the Caps probably aren't going to make the playoffs this year. A lot of teams are (sixteen or so). The top "need" on most of those teams' lists is either another center or another defenseman. Thus the market for Zubrus is as high as it will get on the demand side, and with few options out there that aren't either risky (Peter Forsberg, Jozef Stumpel), prohibitively expensive (Mats Sundin) or old (all of the above, Bryan Smolinski), the supply is limited as well. Add in the fact that Zubrus has far better numbers than most of the rest of the centers on the market, and you've got the perfect storm for a seller - high demand, low supply and a relatively high-quality product.
  2. Zubrus is not a true number one center, despite the lip-service the team pays to asserting that he is (and don't for a second think that the team believes it when they say it). Ideally, Zubrus would center the third line next year (with a free agent signing as the number one center and Nicklas Backstrom as the number two), or be shifted back to right-wing on the top or second line. Zubrus will, of course, ask for first-line center money and years as a free agent, but certainly isn't worth it. If he demands, say, $4.5 million per year over five years, he's delusional, and the team would be better off spending that money on a true number one center (like Scott Gomez or Chris Drury). My advice? When Dainius comes in with his next offer, have him center the third line for a game or two and then see if he still thinks he's worth top-line money and not largely a product of a certain superstar winger (similarly, a trade to a playoff-bound team would have the humbling added bonus of showing Zubie exactly where he fits in on a contending team). Bottom line: it would be a shame to have such a potentially-valuable commodity and lose it for nothing in the offseason when you rightly refuse to pay him what he thinks he's worth.
  3. Zubrus is much more valuable to the Caps than his on-ice numbers indicate and more valuable to the Caps than he would be to another team. He has helped the young Russians come along and he's a good leader. He's been through the lean years and deserves to be here on the upswing. The team (which, incidentally, employs his brother as a "Senior Regional Sales Manager") should re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent this summer, even at slightly above-market price. But, again, not on first-line center terms.
  4. As the Penguins and Blues continued to rebuild last spring, they traded two impending unrestricted free agents (Mark Recchi and Doug Weight, respectively) to the Carolina Hurricanes. In the offseason, both Recchi and Weight re-signed with the teams that had traded them just months prior and brought back shiny rings and the experience of having won hockey's ultimate prize. Without question, those stories and experiences have been beneficial to their current teams (to say nothing of the down-the-road potential of the return their teams got by trading them). The Pens and Blues lost their players for a little more than a month, and gained prospects, picks and invaluable experience in return. Sounds like a good deal to me.

So let's review: if the Caps trade Zubrus now, they likely get an above-value return and perhaps a re-invigorated Dainius Zubrus, fresh off a potentially-deep playoff run for next year. If they don't trade Zubrus now, they likely get contentious contract negotiations and the very real possibility of losing a key player and getting nothing in return. Can it really be that cut-and-dried?


Unknown said...

I'm sorry, I'm confused. He's Zubie an RFA or a UFA? If he's an RFA there's no trading-and-re-signing him. Because he'd be restricted. So he must be a UFA? I suppose I should know this, but I can't keep my labor deals straight.

JP said...

I'm pretty sure he's unrestricted.

Anonymous said...

I agree, trade him if you can, then re-sign. Every year, Zubie seems to make a handful of plays that make you say, "Wow, did you see THAT?!?". But of course, he also makes some plays that make you say, "What the hell was THAT?!?"

Your assessment that he's worth more to the Caps than any other team is spot on.

3 Grumpy Caps fans said...

First, let me say I wholeheartedly agree with the premise you present. There's only one problem... there is absolutely no guarantee that Zubrus would re-sign here. Say we ship him to a contender and he fits well. Why come back to the Caps rebuilding process when he could play for a team that was ready to compete right away? I'm not saying that's a definite, but it's certainly a possibility.

That said, if he does ask for first line money, I think both he and hit brother Audrus will be working elsewhere next year.

JP said...

That's not a problem. If he signs elsewhere, it won't be because the Caps didn't make him a reasonable offer, it will be because someone overpaid for him.

As stated, he's worth more to the Caps than to anyone else, and I think the team recognizes that and will slightly over pay for him. If someone breaks the bank for Dainius Zubrus, more power to him - but I'll be happy it wasn't the Caps.

faux rumors said...

1) Firstly, excellent post! Zubrus IS an UNrestricted free agent after this year. If he signs with another team the Caps get zip in return
2) The team is probably now trying to gauge what he/his agent will be looking for this summer. If as JP says its 1st line center (Savard) money, then he's gone. If he's willing to take perhaps a 3 year/9 mil deal then he stays.
3) As for trading him as a rental, that would be a great idea. Zubrus would likely not get a lot more $$ from another team as a UFA anyway.
4) Any team's scouts can see he's getting more points now due to playing with the games most dynamic player. In fact it could be argued that his numbers should be considerably higher than they are!

JP said...

If I'm not mistaken, Zubrus represents himself.

Anonymous said...

its all nice in theory but i dont think it can be that cut and try. were assuming way too much in that we can automatically resign him after a deep playoff run with another team. youre suggesting that the only way he wouldnt resign is if another team broke the bank. perhaps the caps are offering the same thing but he chooses the other team because he has just seen up close and personal what they are capable of. unless some kind of "deal" can be reached before trading him i dont see how that is any less risky, especially if they just get prospects or draft picks in return that take time and may not even work out.

JP said...

Sure, it's a risk. But consider that if he goes somewhere else, he won't be centering AO and will have to take more of a supporting role - both of which would be humbling experiences; his brother is here; his value is greater here than it is elsewhere, etc.

I wouldn't just give him away. But if the team can get something attractive in return for him - as well as an understanding that he is, in fact, part of the team's future plans - I'd rather insure against being unable to sign him in the offseason than have him walk for nothing (think Alfonso Soriano, and no, Zubie is not Soriano).

Anonymous said...

Agreed, watching zubie walk(especially to a conference or even division rival)without getting anything valuable in return would be the worst possible scenario. On the other hand, selfishly i want the team to win asap, and i think trying hard to resign him now to make sure he is around next year seems like a proactive step to ensure the teams progress continues as scheduled, where as letting him become a ufa or trading him now would create a cloud of doubt about next years team and leave management and fans with even more questions than answers.
thanks for the blog.

faux rumors said...

1) Zubie is 'valuable' only at the right price. If he wants more than 3 mil/year he will take up more cap room than his production is worth
2) Lets not look at Zubrus as if he's the key to the team being a contender As has been stated here previously, he's truly a 2nd line wing, not a 1st line center
3) Hopefully GMGM is discussing things with he or his representative (if he has one) NOW so this can be handled correctly