but i digress...
fasten your seatbelts, kids, it's gonna be a long ride....
i think the only logical place to begin this crime scene investigation is here. in this article, flames' GM darryl sutter exhibits no remorse and offers no apology for a helming the team's titanic-like season, which had all the signs of an epic run yet promptly sank mid-voyage. in all of his hubris and wisdom, herr sutter arrogantly announces that he's "no clairvoyant," and could not have expected either his big 3-D (regehr, phaneuf, sarich) going out with injury in the final weeks, or having $17 million dollars on injury reserve.
all true... technically.
oftentimes, what sutter says to the media is considered the gospel. there are far fewer "in sutter we trust" signs around the saddledome with each passing season, but when it comes to soundbytes from our respected GM, calgarians are still generally buying what he's selling. i would go so far as to say his misleading statements are sometimes appreciated by the masses (i, for one, prefer to have someone making hockey-related decisions who doesn't constantly tip his hand to other managers or vilify his players in the media, and daz gets a pass in this capacity). but when asked to explain or justify a situation where his actions/decisions might be at fault, i find this deceit to be insolent and smug. instead of a humble and honest answer to this line of questionning, in the herald piece, he pulls the bait and switch (twice), and supports it with an unsubstantiated sum. he goes so far as to belittle the public/media's interest in an explanation by calling them "irresponsible or uninformed."
in a few short sentences, sutter explains why his NHL-level team failed to dress a full lineup of players in the season's last ten days and why they dropped from the top of the NW division from a 13-point lead, thereby losing both home-ice advantage and the opportunity to play an inferior team in the playoffs. essentially, the "sutter show" used smoke-and-mirrors, and the flagwavers and pundits alike were appeased....
well, i would like to debunk; to expose the sleight of hand.
here's my best attempt:
1. replacement players
in the aforementioned article, sutter refers to $17 million on injury reserve. i'm not sure where he's calculating that total from but most die-hard fans unfamiliar with the NHL's collective bargaining agreement (written mostly in legalese) would probably just take this at face value and presume that darryl's done the maths... i'm not interested in doing that.
let's start here (nhlnumbers.com) for salary information, and here for injury information (note: the flames had a far more detailed summary of injuries and re-calls but have taken it off their website in the past days ---this is where most of my calculations come from as far as dates and replacement players).
the first thing i want to point out is that a player's cap hit (the total of his contract/#of contract years ---give or take bonuses) is "paid out" per day, from the first day of the season to the last. i calculated this at 185 days, from october 9 to april 12, but nhlhumers has it at 186 (so i just went with that for the sake of simplifying things). when darryl sutter talks about $17 million on IR, i presume he's talking about the injured players' full season cap-hits. in reality, only the number of days injured X the daily cap hit should be in question:
ie: while he talks about $17 million, he SHOULD be discussing $600K in injuries at the end of the season. honestly, this is really neither here nor there; the team was certainly battling injuries and there were definitely some big contract players sitting in the pressbox.
what sutter doesn't discuss is the cost of replacement players... it's a fact that both regehr and aucoin went out in the game against the stars on april 2nd (sarich left in the previous matchup). in order to replace them with blueliners (pelech/negrin) and stay under the cap, the team had to demote boyd and peters for the game vs. minnesota on april 3. here, calgary dressed 18 players (10/6/2), two short of a complete lineup.... with aucoin's return in the following game, the team could afford to re-call peters (but not the more experienced and more expensive boyd). this trend continued through until the end of the season; the team simply could not afford to replace injured veterans and showed up 1-3 players short in each of the last five games.
this is what we were ABLE to afford:
this is what would have put us over the cap:
what i see, here, is not $17 million dollars on IR, but less than $100K of available funds for replacement players in the final weeks of the season. [note: i chose brett sutter and david van der gulik as replacement options because they're cheaper than boyd]. i might be completely wrong here, but my buddy (who has a detailed knowledge of the cap and cba) called my insight "impressive," which makes me think i'm on the right track with this....
well, perhaps i'm not calculating ENOUGH in the way of replacement, players and we did have a string of injuries this year that occurred well before the last weeks, so i went ahead and added those up too:
the part i find the most infuriating here is that if you do the calculations until the trade deadline, it's about $155,000 ---meaning that (by my crude mathematics), darryl sutter traded for olli jokinen with LESS THAN $300,000 AVAILABLE FOR INJURY REPLACEMENT for over a MONTH worth of the season ($210K + $89K)!!!!! clairvoyance aside, this is an absolutely unacceptable amount of reserve cash under the cap, in my opinion, ESPECIALLY with the knowledge that bourque, langkow and bertuzzi would all need to be replaced indefinitely.... as they say in the herald article, there are teams "living within $1 million of the cap ceiling," sure. but dividing that buffer BY THREE when you've all-but committed $200,000 to lundmark and peters through season's end ????? that seems entirely irresponsible to me. when sutter says "it's not the cap that kept some guys out [in the final games]," he's not lying. injuries are keeping them out, but the cap is forcing them to go unreplaced... sutter makes no mention of this in any capacity, whatsoever....
2. olli jokinen
in vicki hall's article, sutter first pats his own back (suggesting that the acquisitions of jokinen and leopold were great) and then quickly turns the focus onto the leopold trade, "I hate to see it now if we hadn't got Leopold with the injuries we've had." everyone knows i dislike the aging blueliner but i freely admit (and did at the time) that we needed a defenseman BADLY. infact, we probably needed a few ---especially knowing now what we do about phaneuf.... so picking up a veteran guy for a sack of pucks and a $323,000 cap hit (march 4 - april 12) was a no-brainer and, yes, a very good trade indeed.
acquiring jokinen, on the other hand, was yet another cavalier sutter trade and a grossly negligent move, in my opinion. adding an additional $1.3 million in player salary to an already bloated payroll (not to mention next year's $5.5 million) seems lacking any kind of foresight. having already checked "defenseman" off of his "needs" list on deadline day, sutter couldn't help but grab the dangling carrot in jokinen:
working backwards (and including the above replacement player mathematics) this signals to me that BEFORE deadline day, darryl sutter had provided himself a cushion of approximately 1.6 million dollars for injury replacement, which seems like a fairly respectable amount. even after bringing in leopold, the flames available funds probably hovered around $1.3 mil.... and after the cool million (as outlined in the table above) was spent on olli, he was a mere $300K left in the pot.... there is really no other way to look at it: sutter rolled the dice and lost on this one. he needs to own up to this, i'd say....
this seems like as good a spot as any to point out that the million dollars that sutter gambled on jokinen might have been better spent bringing up anders eriksson from the AHL, in the season's last days. while i am certainly not a fan of the culpable swedish blueliner, it seems the most obvious "smoking gun" example of cap mis-management; the team's defensive holes were plugged with a junior-level defensemen (negrin), when an available former-NHLer was waiting in the wings... what makes this situation all the more damning is that eriksson was not only a vyable replacement player in game 1 against the hawks (when the cap no longer applied), but played in the team's top four (22 mins, i believe). if it were "just injuries," and not cap troubles, as sutter suggests, then he wouldn't have handicapped his team in the season's last days with lesser players on the blueline (and *ahem* no players at all on the fourth line). while some might argue that eriksson would have to clear re-entry waivers in order to re-join the club during the season, i would point out that he'd been placed on waivers three previous times without so much as a sniff from another team.... it seems perfectly clear that if anders eriksson's salary was as cheap as pelech or negrin's, he would have been the preferred option down the stretch.
i realize this is a hell of a lot of information to digest, and it took me the better part of five hours to write it (i've been researching it for weeks now), but i look forward to hearing your comments. i hope it makes sense....
there is a whole other section about long-term injury reserve that i wrote, but i can't confirm my suspicions (nhlnumbers shows ONLY warrener's contract in that section, where large parts of vandermeer/primeau/giordano and bourque's dollars should have ended up there, as well).
my point is this: i believe it is the GM's job to do what he thinks is ultimately best for his team. i also believe that it is the GM's duty to allow for unforseen circumstances over the course of any one season (monetarily or otherwise). while i absolutely think that sutter has done the former, i'm outraged that he has not provided the latter. furthermore, his arrogance when asked to discuss the subject is beyond reproach....
i hate to say it but i think it's time for the magic show to end.
if not, it's certainly time for the magician to admit his tricks aren't real....
[csi: sutter part 2 : trades/signings will be upcoming at some point.]