Ben Bishop, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat had a great debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning. They played so well, it earned them nominations in the Vezina and Calder awards respectively. Although this is great publicity for the team, fans enjoy it but it’s a head for general manager Steve Yzerman.
Yzerman knows what is probably the worst kept secret in sports—awards raise the price on players, big time. It’s not the players’ fault for doing so well and really they deserve the recognition of the award but it presents a problem during contract negotiations because of the inflation winning an award such as the Vezina and Calder (nobody cares about the Lady Byng award to have that one inflated).
When teams go to resign players, they do so with the mindset of resigning players with future projections in mind. Which is all fine and dandy, but agents of potential signed players, use trophies such as the Vezina as a point of getting their client the “big bucks.” This is how monstrous deals are done and stat heads around the world howl in anger because after getting said contract, the player underperforms severely.
Ultimately, that is what Yzerman faces. If Palat, Johnson and Bishop get these awards, they are going to want to be paid and paid handsomely. The question is can they sustain the level of play every year? On the other hand, was it a fluke?
A good example of this is Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick. If one were to look at Quick’s achievements, Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy, they would understand the ten-year deal costing $5.8 million a year towards the cap. However, looking at Quick’s numbers, he has a save percentage of .915 which is similar to as San Jose Sharks’ Antti Niemi who has a .916 but is $2 million dollars cheaper. Not to mention, Quick will have to be with the team at least until he is 36, probably not going to be in his prime at that point.
Another example is Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens. Crawford won the Blackhawks a Stanley Cup and helped backstop them to that incredible point streak during the shorten season and he was rewarded with a massive deal for his efforts. Subban is expected to make upwards of $8 million according to reports.
That’s a headache Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin is going to have to work through as Subban’s current deal is up and he is a Norris Trophy winner meaning he will get paid, either by the Habs or someone else.
Tampa has already been fooled once when it came to big massive contracts with the Vincent Lecavalier contract. Proclaimed as the “Michael Jordan of hockey” at one point, it was hard to justify paying a player $10 million a year for injuries and maybe getting 25 goals a year. Yzerman had to convince Jeff Vinik to buyout that albatross of a contract. That bullet is no longer in the chamber for future transactions.
It will be very interesting to see how Yzerman negotiates with his talent after they have had a career year. Bishop more so as goalies can fluctuate and he doesn’t seem to have the consistent body of work to justify paying upwards of $5 million a year, which is the going rate for Vezina winning and nominated goalies.
The cap will being going up to $70 million but if Yzerman wants to continue to make this a perennial playoff contender as he has stated before, he is going to need to do a few things. Rightly, scout the talent, pay appropriately for the talent and make sure the talent doesn’t leave and if they do, have a backup plan.
Awards are two-edged, on one hand you want to see the player get the recognition they deserve but on the other hand you don’t want them to as it will mean they will leave your team when your team can no longer afford them.