Houston, We Have a Problem…or not.
First and foremost, thank you Carp aka Blogfather for giving me the chance to do yet another summer post. I’ve done posts before about my humble fan beginnings, and the first time I played hockey. Today’s topic will be a little different though, because it will deal with the other end of the sport spectrum: business decisions.
Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko, in their Rangers times, were well respected players for their willingness to “bring it” every night, especially when being used against the opposing team’s top lines most nights. I will especially remember Brandon for his “It’s just pain” quote of last year. Most of us fans hoped to re-sign them, and why not? They played their roles well and never outwardly complained. However, free agency has a funny way of taking away a fan’s dreams and hopes and inserting reality into the picture.
Playing reality in this drama would be the Canadiens (Prust) and Flyers (Fedotenko). Brandon was signed on the first day of free agency, and Ruslan a couple days into it.
Ruslan was never offered a contract from us to my knowledge, and probably didn’t expect one. Prust’s representatives and Uncle Glennie (WE MISS YOU! PLEASE COME BACK!!!) never agreed on Prust’s worth to the team. Glen reportedly wanted to sign him for around $1.8M. Prust got $2.5M from Montreal. Obviously, either Glen undervalued him, or Montreal overvalued. I’m of the opinion that MTL GREATLY overvalued him. But that’s pretty much how NHL FA works when people can be signed on the first day that free agency opens. It makes for a lot of potential headlines, but also for a lot of potential headaches.
The NBA’s free agency system lets players start signing contracts only after 10 days have passed from the start of free agency, supposedly giving front offices a chance to value their contracts with a little more foresight. Before this season’s NBA free agency started, I was of the idea that the NBA’s version was superior to the NHL’s. That is, until the ridiculousness of the Jeremy Lin contract has come to light.
For those who have been living in a sports blackout for the past year or so, Jeremy Lin was a waiver wire pickup from the Houston Rockets (take note of this) that, when finally given a chance to start for the Knicks, simply set the court on fire. He started off going 6-0, including a major win against Kobe and the Lakers when he scored 38. He was injured towards the end of the year however, and never played for the Knicks in the playoffs. He only got a one-year contract, seeing that he was a simple midseason signing. Then free agency came.
Somewhat similar to Prust’s situation, Knicks management valued Lin lower than Lin valued himself. Lin was basically told to go look on the free-agent market, and see what his actual value was. In doing so, he went to to talk to the Houston Rockets, the very team that had cut him earlier in the season before the Knicks picked him up. The Rockets had recently lost a guard to FA, and traded another, so they needed a player like Lin BADLY. The way NBA FA works is, if a restricted FA like Lin is offered a contract, his original team can choose to match the contract if they wish within three days. Since Houston knew this, they offered Lin a 3 year 28 million contract, backloaded for almost 15M in the final year. This backloading was specifically done because it would cost the Knicks 40+M to keep Lin that final year, because of penalties for going over the salary cap. I’m reading 43M, but that number can change depending on what the team does in future years.
It’s like the Kovalchuk situation in reverse. Its one thing to try to circumvent the salary cap to save your organization some cap room, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone go to this length to force another team to pay up BIG to keep a player. The Knicks decided at midnight Tuesday to not match and thus let Lin go to Houston.
Lin is a wildly popular player in NY, there is no denying that. But this contract he signed forced the Knicks into a terrible situation in the coming years. The closest approximation I can think of in age and popularity on the Rangers is if THE KREIDER left in FA, immediately following the impact he had on the team last year. Some people think that the Knicks should just automatically match the contract because of Lin’s popularity/marketability, but I thought they should let him go the same way Glen let Prust go to Montreal. Business decision.
It will hurt to see Lin go the same way it hurts to see fan favorites like Prust and Fedotenko go, but front offices have to do what’s best for the organization. The correct decision was made on Prust (and probably Fedotenko as well), and hopefully the same will be made for Lin. Sometimes, as sports fans, we have to set our fanaticism aside and see the people we cheer for as sports organizations do: people. People can be replaced. We fans may not like the replacements, but we will get over it if the replacements are as good or better than the original. The same proves true in life: sometimes tough decisions must be made for long term good that may hurt right now. It’s a fact of life that all must learn to accept eventually.