Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What Is Fair?

I'm now fairly convinced that Dainius Zubrus (who apparently does not represent himself, contrary to previous belief) will not be a Washington Capital at the outset of the 2007-08 season. You will recall that I made the argument in this space that the team should trade and re-sign their Lithuanian pivot, but even that seems like perhaps a long-shot now, with Zubie's agent uttering the following:
"As long as the Caps are fair to Dainius, he would like to remain in Washington for the rest of his career. He has a lot more value than just what he does on the ice."
This quote tells me two things. First, that Zubrus wants to get paid. When agents say "fair," they mean "overly generous." After all, like Latrell Sprewell, Zubie no doubt has a family to feed. You want fair? See how Zubrus produces centering the third line, then come with your contract demands.

The second thing the quote tells me is that Zubrus recognizes that his numbers alone aren't enough to justify receiving what he's going to demand (hence the "a lot more value than just what he does on the ice.") While it should be noted that I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, it will be the major point of contention in any contract talks with Zubrus. Further, there's only one team in the NHL that has a real clue about this "off-ice value" that Dainius adds, and that's the Caps (do you expect, say, Columbus to pay a premium for the mentoring skills Zubie has shown the team's young Russian stars?). So the Zubrus camp is, in essence, selling a product with a component that really has only one buyer, and they're going to try to hold that buyer hostage as a result. Is that fair?

The bottom line is that you have a player who wants big bucks but knows he's not worth them, so he inflates his overall value via intangibles that few buyers even care about. The problem is that these unquantifiables are where negotiations fall apart and where feelings get hurt.

With just days before the trade deadline, the team needs to take stock of its assets and make some tough calls, and there is none tougher than Zubrus. Hopefully Zubrus's agent is just posturing and the team and it's top center can agree to a truly "fair" deal that helps the team build for the future and the player secure his financial well-being as well. But I am sure that the team will not overpay (much) for a guy they regard as a second- or third-line center, and from the looks of it, Zubie will be seeking first-line money, bolstered by this amorphous "lot more value." I'm obviously not privy to contract negotiations, but it would seem to me that the team would perhaps be wise to ship him out and see what they can get for his decent numbers and all that "off-ice value" he's pushing so hard. If Zubrus is worth what he and his agent seem to think, it should be quite a windfall for the Caps.

UPDATE: According to Tarik:
Zubrus is looking for a long term deal, four to five years. Money-wise, somwhere between 3.5-4. So it's going to come down to his will to compromise.
Obviously those numbers are too high, and if Zubrus doesn't bend significantly, it's unlikely he'll be a Cap come February 28 and probably even less likely he'll be one in 2007-08.


Abhinav said...

It's really a shame to see Zuby go, but c'est la vie. He never seemed to put together his promise...

Then again, maybe we're just under-estimating his value due to Ovy's slump. Is that possible?

In other words, if Ovy was at 40-45 by now, would we still be saying that Zuby isn't worth 3.5ish? Just a thought.

JP said...

Isn't the flip-side of that coin that a $3.5m center should be able to pull the best scorer in hockey out of a slump?

I think the Caps are in a good position now, either Zubie gives in and they sign him to a fair deal or they get something for him in trade and spend the money on a real first-line center. Win-win, no?

faux rumors said...

1) Zubrus's output, considering he plays a regular shift with one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game, and gets regular PP time, etc is not worth that kind of cash.
2) He should be puttig up 80-90 points/year and leading the team in assists, yet last year(his carear year) he managed less than 60 points. He will probably eclipse that this season, but no where near 1st line center numbers
3) If a deal isn't in place by Sunday GMGM should put Zubie on the block and see what the Caps can get back instead of losing him for nothing.

Abhinav said...

I'm not sure it's a "win-win". If they were able to re-sign him and then traded him, it'd be a win-win. However, if they trade him, it seems to me to be an implicit signal that they were unable to re-sign him. I.e. it'll be hard for whoever acquires him to sign him, i.e. he's strictly a rental.

That would obviously draw his price down. What did the Forsberg trade net? It would obviously be a small fraction of that, right?

JP said...

Forsberg was a huge take - a stud prospect (Parent), a former #6 overall pick (Upshall), a first and a third.

Honestly, I don't know what they could get for Zubie, but I do know that if they can't sign him in the next week, anything is better than letting an asset like that walk without getting anything in return.

Anonymous said...

Let Zubrus go... he is not a #1 guy and the fact that Nicklas Backstrom is the best player outside of the NHL means that HE, not Zuby who sucks, is going to be Oveckin's waiter....

Anonymous said...

If they can get Zubi for $3-ish, or perhaps $3.5 but only a 3-year deal, then I say keep him. Despite Backstrom's impressive skill set, we cannot go into next season with Backstrom and nobody else. We have nobody in our system besides Backstrom who can legitimately centre above the third line.

Of course if the Caps are confident that they can snag a different centre in the offseason, like Chris Drury (UFA on a cap-strapped team), then perhaps we can let Zubi go. But any legitimate 1st- or 2nd-line centre will cost big bucks this summer... perhaps keeping Zubi for $3-ish is the best choice the Caps have.

JP said...

Well, no Zubie and no replacement is clearly not an option. But if the choice is between Zubrus at $4m and a Drury-like player at $5.5m, I'd much rather the latter.

I wouldn't be upset if the team spent up to, say, $3.3m on Zubrus provided that it didn't preclude them from adding a #1 defenseman or a legitimate #1 center. But I think it's time to open up the checkbook and stop trying to force guys into roles they're not able to fill.

Abhinav said...

In many people's eyes, it's been time to open the checkbook for two seasons now... and it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Leonsis wants to bring in under the radar-ish guys like Pothier and then let the rest of the parts come from within the system.

I wish we could bring in Drury-esque players, but the economics don't seem to allow it. So say hello to the center version of Richard Zednik!

JP said...

I disagree. The time to open the checkbooks wasn't before, as it would've done little good prior to the development of the pieces to fill-in around the big-ticket guys.

Ted has been openly disappointed with some of the place fillers and has never been shy about spending to fill in gaps in the past when the team was (theoretically) close.

Add it all together and there will be money spent, whether it's this year or next, and it will do a lot more good than the money thrown around in, say, Boston.

As for Potsy, I think that by next year and the year after as he settles into a 3rd/4th defenseman role, he'll be a bargain at $2.5m and will be very productive in a role for which he's infinitely better-suited.

Abhinav said...

Ted may not have been shy about spending pre-lockout, but he's definitely shy about doing it post.

I'm not 1/100th the hockey historian you are, but every time I recall a Leonsis quote, it includes the words "if it makes sense." That's a euphemism for "whatever I decide has an excuse."

Ted is absolutely justified for not spending more: he can't afford to without deficit spending. But there is little to make be believe that he's not gunshy after his self-inflicted wounds.

That was poetic.

JP said...

I respectfully disagree. First of all, this team has NEVER made any money - it's always been deficit spending.

Secondly, the reason the team hasn't spent since the lockout is that it hasn't made any sense (and that's not a euphemism for anything). If they'd spent like crazy, they'd be a mediocre team instead of a bad one and they'd be up crap creek without a paddle when guys like AO, Semin, etc. came up for restricted free agency. Instead, they wait and then use the money to fill in existing holes, not to create new ones.

Ultimately, though, we'll all wait and see. You might be right. I might be right. But one thing that is for certain is that Ted isn't in this to make money, he's in it to win. Hopefully he's on the right track to doing so.

Abhinav said...

You're probably right, JP, but to me saying "when it makes sense" is basically akin to saying "never". See Don Sterling, Bill Bidwell, etc. for more.

I'm not saying Ted's like them, but he's a business man. He's not going to keep spending when the team's losing money. He spent like that before the lockout because he thought that winning/big payroll would be correlated with attendance... and was wrong. I think he's admitted that in the past.

Again, I'm probably just a cynic. But I can't bring myself to get my hopes up when there's nothing that I've seen that indicates a $5-7 MM increase above the new cap floor.

Btw, I agree with you that it didn't make a lot of hockey sense the past couple years. But it especially didn't make fiscal sense. The team was losing $5-10MM last year and this year, and the addition of $5MM in salary would have just made that loss 10-20 MM.