• Belanger’s Third Year II

    by  • February 7, 2012 • Hockey • 17 Comments

    One of the particularly insulting points made by the Edmonton media in defence of the preposterous idea that Steve Tambellini deserves more time to finish his rebuild of the Oilers is that those fans who think it’s time for him to go are somehow being driven by where the Oilers are in the standings.

    Personally, in considering this question, I don’t put too much weight on where they are in the standings right now, except insofar as it suggests that the people running the show have no idea about timelines or what they ought to reasonably expect from the people that they put on the ice. My approach to evaluating the GM is a bit more abstract – I try to draw inferences about the quality of his processes from the information’s that available to us. A guy with good processes can get bad results but if your processes are bad, you’re basically just completely hoping for lightning to strike. It’s part of the reason I have so much trouble taking seriously someone who claims that Tambellini was busy clearing out deadwood in 2009-10, when Tambellini first commited the managerial equivalent of cutting down a tree in such a way that it landed on his house in signing Nikolai Khabibulin and hiring Pat Quinn. You don’t get credit for cleaning up your own deadwood, particularly when you don’t actually clean up half of it, but just leave it there, as a fire hazard.

    I mentioned at the time of the Khabibulin deal that I wasn’t impressed with Tambellini’s work because the market for goalies was so soft. Even if he stupidly was convinced that Khabibulin was the guy, there was unlikely to be a need to give him so much term and money – there were goalies who were literally begging for jobs. Dwayne Roloson has said he would have come back for two years and $2.5MM per. There were lots of coinflip options that required less commitment.

    I happened to be in Chapters last week and was flipping through Georges Laraque’s book. Georges mentioned that the Oilers were offering him the same money as the Habs when he signed his three year deal with them but were offering a fourth year. The New York Times series on Boogaard’s death mentioned something that had been previously reported in the New York Post – the Oilers had offered Derek Boogaard four years and $1.5MM per.

    There’s a pattern here: a taste for contracts that run on too long for guys who aren’t key pieces. Which brings us to Eric Belanger. I mentioned in my post on him a little while back that Belanger getting three years struck me as sort of unusual for a 34 year old, given their spectacular attrition rate from NHL hockey. Tambo, of course, floated into the Oilers’ war room in a daze, obviously thrilled at the endorsement given to his work by a guy who wanted a guarantee of another year of work at the age of 36 for an amount that’s more than most Canadians earn in their lifetime.

    I finally got around to going through the list of the 35 forwards in the NHL this year who are 34 or older and on contracts that were at least three years long and guaranteed them a season at 36. The list is as follows: Belanger (3 years, $1.75MM), Briere (3 years, $6.5MM), Matt Cullen (3 years, $3.5MM), Patrik Elias (2 years left, $6MM), Jody Shelley (three years, $1.1MM), Martin St. Louis (four years, $5.625MM) and Daniel Alfredsson (4 years, $4.875MM). There are other guys who’ve had contracts that would meet the criteria, but not currently – Jason Arnott, Brian Rolston, Tomas Holmstrom, Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr and Jay Pandolfo all fall into that category.

    Eric Belanger has none of the cachet of any of those guys, save Shelley, as a hockey player. He was never a star free agent or a face of the franchise. He’s not a guy who makes your team dramatically better. The Oilers aren’t giving him extra years to get the cap hit down. Generally speaking, general managers don’t give three year deals to non-star/franchise face type guys who are 34. Belanger (who probably deserved an agent who could get him a good break) got a third year that players of his calibre don’t seem to get.

    This matters because it goes to the leverage that Tambellini had when dealing with Pat Brisson. If I was running the Oilers UFA operation, the team would know, well in advance of July 1, who was available, what holes other teams were looking to fill, how those teams tended to allocate their money and whether they’d shown an inclination to go long on term for certain types of players. It’s not rocket science – there are thirty teams, they tend to have GMs for a fair bit of time and you can get a sense of the tendencies of those managers. It’s not like the Oilers front office is particularly busy after the trade deadline anyway – they’ve got time to work through this stuff to give themselves an edge in negotiating deals.

    The knowledge matters because it lets you say to an agent “I don’t see a lot of better options out there for your guy. X jobs are available with Y guys and none of those teams give third years to guys who are 34. If I’m wrong, tell me.” Knowledge and understanding the strengths/weaknesses of the other guy’s position is power in a negotiation. For example, the fact that Eric Belangers don’t get third years when they’re 34 is INFORMATION THAT YOU CAN USE TO GET BETTER DEALS. This thinking just seems foreign in Edmonton.

    Truthfully, the Belanger contract doesn’t matter that much. The success or failure of the rebuild won’t turn on it. What’s troubling is what it says about the underlying abilities of the Oilers’ front office, their processes. It’s another piece of evidence that they stink when it comes to negotiating and that they routinely get slapped around by agents who just seem to be better at this than they are. At some point, the rebuilding moves from “suck and get good players in the draft” to signing free agents and re-signing people who you’ve developed. If you’re a lousy negotiator with bad processes, the sort of guy who believes an elderly man when he tells you that he wants a third year because he’s excited about being part of what you’ve built, it’s that much harder and less likely that you’ll be able to accomplish it.

    I’m reasonably confident that Tambellini is coming back – I think Terry Jones had a Kevin Lowe level source – and I think it’s a really bad thing for the long term success of Rebuild II. It has damned little to do with the standings though and everything to do with what we can infer about Tambellini’s skill set. Whether you like his hockey work or not (30th, 30th, 28th), I’m not sure how you can defend him as a negotiator of contract. The losing will, hopefully pass, but he’s not a guy I want to have any power to make decisions in the future.

    Oh well. I’m sure we’ll get someone new for Rebuild III.


    17 Responses to Belanger’s Third Year II

    1. Garnet
      February 7, 2012 at

      This is why the org is steering people to think not about our evaluation of NHL players but about young, developing players, whose future is uncertain by anyone’s standards. As there is a significant role for chance in the draft, and it takes a few years for the truth to be known (except for obvious wasted picks like Cameron Abney), it confuses the issue nicely. Whereas if people actually ask the question “should we have signed a 36-year-old goalie to a four-year deal?” the answer is clear.

    2. JonB
      February 7, 2012 at

      Good post

      The same sort of accusation could be made for letting Hemsky play out his final year of his contract.

      What possible process could they be using that would suggest this was a good idea?

      Hemsky gets hurt, can’t trade him = fail
      Hemsky has bad season, lowers value = fail
      Hemsky has good season but trade market is soft = fail
      Hemsky has good season trade market strong = win

      What possible winning scenario do the Oilers envision from letting a valuable asset play in his final year? Did the Smyth debacle happen to a different organization?

      You offer an extention in the off season at terms you can live with, if the player declines you move him at the draft.

      • M
        February 7, 2012 at

        I completely agree.

        Part of the process on Hemsky last summer should have been: “Does he fit into our long term plans?”

        If the answer is yes, then get to work on an offer.

        If the answer is no, then get to work on trading him.

        But Tambellini seems to just love to … dither….

      • Doogie2K
        February 7, 2012 at

        Did the Smyth debacle happen to a different organization?

        Of course it did. It happened to Kevin Lowe’s Edmonton Oilers, who are completely different from Kevin Lowe’s Steve Tambellini’s Edmonton Oilers.

    3. Firley
      February 7, 2012 at

      You know, I’ve been reading this site for a long time (not commenting) and it’s always been a little uncomfortable, but I could never say why. I think Tyler’s 100% right here, and it’s now struck me that as a fan, I don’t want him to be right.

      I WANT to believe that there is some secret awesome plan going on, and this rebuild is going to be all-of-a-sudden very fruitful, even though all evidence is to the contrary.

      If Tyler’s right (again – sure seems like he is…) then this will all culminate in having to re-start this rebuild, and sit through more years of fan pain. I think I’d rather keep taking the soma and believing it’s all good. The hope seems better than the reality.

      It reminds me of something a wise friend of mine told me in University, when we went to Showgirls one night (does that place even still exist?). Anyway, after sitting through a couple of ‘performances’, he just sat back and said, “You know, the best part of being here is wondering what the next one is going to look like.”

      • February 7, 2012 at

        Where’s the recommendation button on this sucker?

      • Tyler Dellow
        February 7, 2012 at

        Hah. For those not in the know, I believe Showgirls is the, uh, dance club where I once saw a dancer who was a dead ringer for my buddy’s step mom. My buddy was with us at the time and was not happy.

        • February 8, 2012 at

          I was there once with a buddy, and saw a girl we went to elementary school with. She recognized us first (mid-show) and came over, sat in front of us and tried to “catch-up” with us in just her g-string and heels(it was a slow night). Seems like it would have been awesome/hilarious, but… man, it was awkward.

      • Doogie2K
        February 7, 2012 at

        Cognitive dissonance is a bitch. :(

    4. February 7, 2012 at

      Don’t forget that Tambellini was in Vancouver for years and was overlooked twice as GM

    5. Hack
      February 7, 2012 at

      I can’t remember if it was with regards to Eager or Hordichuk, but in one of the Oil Change Episodes Tambellini is practically bragging about how the agent and the player targeted the Oilers as a good fit. I’m sure word has gotten out through the agencies that if you represent a fringe NHL player with either draft pedigree or grit/jam, then 3.0 is who you get your sweetheart deal from.

      • Doogie2K
        February 7, 2012 at

        “They knew we were suckers for sub-replacement level fourth liners! How awesome is that?!”

    6. Triumph
      February 7, 2012 at

      What this calculus ignores – and what we can’t ever know – is just how much money factors into someone’s desire to go somewhere, versus the city, having a chance to win, and all of the other factors that go into free agency. The players of Belanger’s pay scale – Fiddler, Goc, I guess Boyd Gordon, and probably a few others that I’m forgetting – were the Oilers involved with them? What were their fallback options if they didn’t get Belanger?

      There are certain inefficiencies in the FA market where I think it’s often right to wait until late July/August to get involved in negotiations (wingers, sometimes goalies), but centers typically get snapped up on the first 3 days of FA.

    7. godot10
      February 7, 2012 at

      Sure. It would have been much better if the Belanger contract had been two years. But considering Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner are like the top two centres in the medium term, neither of who can penalty kill, or who are aces in the face-off circle, the Oilers need a veteran 4th line centre who can PK and win draws, so I don’t mind the 3rd year. The 4th line guy has to be a proven “defender” for the foreseeable future.

      My problem with Belanger is actually a problem with Renney in how he is being used to high in the roster. He should be the 4th line centre, not the 3rd. He should not be receiving PP time.

      • mattwatt
        February 7, 2012 at

        I think you are missing the point of Belanger’s 3rd year. Yes, possibly the kids will be from truly performing and the Oilers will still need a depth centerman. However, possible and likely (due to age) that Belanger’s skills have detoriated to where he would be ineffective in that role. Yet the Oilers are still on the leash then for his contract, where more effective, cheaper options could be had in the UFA market; there are usually several player’s of Belanger ilk available in free agency. So when the rebuild (or gongshow, which ever one you prefer, i the latter) needs that depth centreman, the Oilers will not have Madden, a la Chicago, but more Yashin a la Islanders.

        As for Showgirls, if my memory serves me correctly, that place most certainly put the “ass” in class.

    8. RiversQ
      February 7, 2012 at

      Some excellent points here. I think the idea that the decisions matter even though the outcomes don’t because of the Oilers’ chosen strategy is a really good one. I think the fact that they’ve spent so much money during this phase is a really bad sign too. Same goes with the total disregard for years of service and entry level deals. It’s a strong tell that this mgmt team doesn’t really understand this CBA. Furthermore, they specifically don’t even understand the constraints imposed by the CBA on the tank job rebuild strategy they’ve chosen to employ.

    9. FastOil
      February 8, 2012 at

      I think you are all really negative and are misunderestimating Tambellini~.

      The most frightening thing I read here is mgmt doesn’t understand the current CBA. How bad is next year going to be? Hopefully it will have pictures and diagrams this time. I also don’t see how Katz is comfortable seeing millions outright wasted.

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