Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe are standing on the brink of a momentous achievement. As things stand, the Oilers are on pace to spent 98.6% of the maximum allowable under the salary cap. The Oilers are also currently on pace for a top five draft pick, with a shot to win the lottery and pick first. Spending a ton of money and ending up with a lottery pick really does represent a certain amount of catastrophic mismanagement so I thought I’d go and see what’s happened to the management groups of teams that managed to spend 90%+ of the salary cap while ending with a pick in the lottery.
This is something that’s happened nine times in the last four years (which really doesn’t speak well of NHL management types). Five times, the GM’s fate has been swift and severe, as if meted out by the Chinese justice system, with the GM who assembled the team not around to botch the pick. Dale Tallon somehow managed to stretch it out for another two years, before getting fired because he didn’t understand the CBA. Larry Pleau immediately hired his ultimate replacement, buying himself another two years. Only Dean Lombardi managed to do this without disappearing within two years. All the more impressively, he managed to do it in back to back seasons.
Looking at these seasons, the thing that sort of jumps out at you is how often bad goaltending decisions play a role in an unexpected lottery pick. Lombardi traded for Dan Cloutier in the summer of 2006, a decision I characterized in the following terms:
This is a sort of “Why bother?” trade. As I do when referring to every goalie move made this summer, I note that Manny Legace was available for fewer dollars and no draft pick. Instead, the Kings traded for a very average Dan Cloutier who has the added benefit of coming off major knee surgery that cost him an entire season, having just turned 30 and is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. The Provincereported a few days back that he actually WASN’T being investigated for a hit and run last year but that’s about the best thing that you can say for him. A weird and pointless addition – I’d have gone with Garon/LaBarbera before I spent money and a draft pick to get Dan Cloutier. Signing him to the long term deal just compounds the error.
Since that writing:
I think my comment has stood up well.
That deal actually screwed up two years for LA – as they had Cloutier signed for 2007-08 and didn’t want LaBarbera to rot in the minors again, they let Garon go to Edmonton. LaBarbera provided .910 goaltending to the Kings in 2007-08; their other six (!) goalies gave them .896 goaltending and the Kings missed the playoffs. Goaltending wasn’t the entire problem but it certainly didn’t help.
The decision to bet on Andrew Raycroft has cost THREE guys their jobs – Mike O’Connell in Boston, JFJ in Toronto and Francois Giguere in Colorado. Mike Gillis should watch out. The 07-08 Blues put half of a goaltending team in place but were burned by the backups – Hannu Toivonen was the main guy and he had an horrific .878 save percentage. The Flyers got comically bad save percentages from their guys in 2006-07. Mike Barnett in Phoenix inexplicably decided to go with a 40 year old Curtis Joseph as his starting goaltender. Here’s what I said about the Joseph signing in September of 2006:
Curtis Joseph started out last season like he was 25 again before hitting a big slide. Through the first 500 shots he saw, he had a .926 save percentage. On his last 1191 shots his save percentage was .891. He hasn’t been anything special in terms of save percentage since 2000-01 and you have to think that it’d be foolish to expect anything more than average goaltending at best from him in 2006-07. He’s suffered a lot of injuries over the years as well. Signing Curtis Joseph for 2005-06 at $900K was a smart gamble for the Coyotes and one that paid off well, taking the season as a whole. Signing him for $2MM in a year when they don’t look to be competitive at all and when there were better goaltending options available for the asking is a poor, poor move.
Joseph was atrocious all year long. I don’t know that there’s anything to this but I might take a look sometime at the performance the following season of players who have a stretch that far exceeds their performance as a whole versus players who achieve the same performance as a whole, but in a more consistent fashion. I don’t think I believe that there’s much to the label of streaky, and maybe I only notice these things because the players tend to be notable flameouts but it seems to me that guys who have an extraordinary hot streak followed by blase play tend to flame out more frequently the following season. Steve Mason would be another example – his numbers were very normal, very quickly, something that was disguised by his hot start.
Interestingly, Nikolai Khabibulin has been involved in one of these situations before – assuming the Oilers get a top five pick and manage to spend more than 98.2% of cap, he’ll have the dubious honour of having played for what are arguably the two most horrifically inefficient teams of the salary cap era. It’s not a playoff spot, but it gives us something interesting to root for the coming weeks and months.
The hopeful thing we can draw from this is that in 6/9 cases, the fans were at least promised some changes after enduring a high rent team that sucked. Unfortunately, there seems to be some correlation with length of tenure as well – Tambo probably still has some goodwill.
It’s common for coaches and general managers of struggling teams to sniff that they’ve got a vision and that they aren’t going to deterred by the fans who just don’t understand. Usually, that’s a difficult position to argue against – how could someone like Steve Tambellini or Kevin Lowe possibly know less about how to run a successful NHL team than Joe Blow? It strikes me though, that if you spend as much money as you can possibly spend (or 98.6% of that amount), you’re probably at the point where you can no longer credibly make that argument. One would ordinarily assume that if you can only get bad players, they’re at least going to come cheap because there’s a virtually inexhaustible supply of them. Somehow, Lowe and Tambellini have managed to completely defy the laws of supply and demand and built an extraordinarily expensive team that looks destined for the draft lottery.