There has been a lot of hand wringing and speculation about the "structure" that Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy talked about in their press conference last week. I wanted to take a minute to write down some thoughts about such a structure from a business perspective.
One thing you learn in a business environment is that you need to be dispassionate about major decisions. You must work with the facts at hand and not let emotions get involved. Hockey is a business, and like every business there are multiple ways to be successful. In hockey, victory on the ice is the most obvious indicator of a successful franchise. Turning a reasonable profit is probably just as important, even if it's not what puts the butts in the seats. I say this because success on the ice puts butts in the seats, but disciplined management of resources creates sustained success on the ice without going broke (and moving to Kansas City).
A salary structure is a device that helps management remove their emotions from salary negotiations. They make a decision in advance, based on experience and external data, to spend a certain fraction of their budget on different classes of their employees - a budget within a budget if you will. I don't know how the Avs break these down, but I'll suggest one structural grouping as follows:
- Top 6 Forwards
- Top 4 Defenders
- 3rd Line Forwards
- 4th Line Forwards, 3rd Paring Defense, Healthy Scratches
To each of these groups they assign a dollar value that they will stay below while filling open positions with the best players possible.
We don't know what the dollar values look like for the Avalanche, but we can make some guesses based on the salaries of current players, anticipated signings, and the glaring holes in the line-up (signed players in parenthesis).
- Top 6 Forwards - $31M
(Duchene - $6M, Landeskog - $5.71M, Tanguay - $3.5M, Parenteau - $4M, MacKinnon - $0.925M)
- Top 4 Defense - $13M
(Johnson - $3.75M, Hejda - $3.25M, Holden - $0.6M)
- 3rd Line - $8M
(McGinn - $2.95M, Talbot - $1.75M, Mitchell - $1.80M)
- Goaltenders - $7.35M (only one we really know for sure)
(Varlamov - $5.9M, Berra - $1.45M)
- 4th Line, 3rd Pairing, Scratches - $7M
(McLeod - $1.15M, Bordeleau - $1.0M, Cliche - $0.7M, Guenin - $0.8M)
I set the Top 6 Forwards number to allow signing Stastny at $7.25M, O'Reilly at $5.75M, and assumed that the Avs would trade one of Parenteau or Tanguay in order to clear space under this internal budget. Parenteau, without the NMC, is the likely target.
The Top 4 Defense number assumes Barrie gets a bump to $3M and leaves space to sign a marginal Top 4 player at $3M. Holden is assumed to drop down into the bottom pairing with Guenin.
The 3rd Line Forward number accounts for McGinn's recent signing and makes space for a tweener 3rd line RW or C at $2.5M. This drops either Mitchell or Talbot to the 4th line.
There are no big surprises in the remaining catch-all category, except that management needs to figure out what to do with Wilson..
With all of this, I have the Avs with a total budget of $66.35M going into next season and a team that will compete for a top 3 spot in the Central Division.
The Avs have almost assuredly done this exercise for the next couple of years making assumptions on the behavior of the salary cap. Next year should be relatively quiet. Big events are the likely departure of Jan Hejda and the signing of his replacement, and another scrap with O'Reilly and his agent. Expect a hold out this next time since I believe the Avs and O'Reilly will make it to arbitration this year, and the Avs can only take a player to arbitration once.
You'll notice that I haven't talked about any individual maximums (e.g., no one makes more than Duchene) because I think they may be an internal axiom more than a hard and fast rule. If the Avs fail to sign Stastny, I don't really expect to see them shift this money to the defense as it may create more problems later than it solves now. They may just under-spend on the top 6 forwards and let the rest be.
Does this match exactly to what Roy and Sakic said in the press conference last week? No, it doesn't, but I also feel that they were making positioning statements to the O'Reilly camp in that contentious negotiation and not writing commandments on stone tablets.