Masterful Inaction


I’m not exactly Mr. Merry Sunshine when it comes to Darryl Sutter’s performance as GM since the Phaneuf trade, but he got one matter so absolutely correct it seems only fair to examine it. In the run-up to free agency, Sutter noted that a team could find 10 goal scorers for 600K in August, which was a comment on Eric Nystrom’s status. Nystrom signed for a bit more than that in Minnesota, of course, securing a 1.4M x 3 year deal from Chuck Fletcher on the very first day of the free agent period. That’s more than Curtis Glencross or David Moss, and although Moss has his detractors, he’s played decently against middling comp the last few years. Nystrom has never played anything but the stiffs, and has never accomplished anything of note along the way. I though it was a bad deal from the get-go.

It hasn’t exactly improved with age either, but rather than simply re-hash this matter from a Flames’ POV, I wanted to look at what the general market for UFA forwards of his ilk was, and still is. What follows is a review of the UFA forward contracts since the Nystrom deal that had a salary range of 1.4M to 900k, or a 500k downward range from Ny’s deal. I’ll also look at two specific players that are still on the loose.

There weren’t that many deals signed in that price range, to be honest. A few guys like Higgins got a bit more money, and are much better players, but in the range I was looking for, there have only been 5 UFA forward contracts finalized since Nystrom’s. In reverse order of signing, they are:

Doug Weight: NYI, 1 year, 1,150,000 including bonuses

Doug Weight got a "leadership" contract from the Islanders Tuesday, inking a one year deal to act as a mentor for the younger players on a rebuilding squad. He spent his 36 games last season playing the bottom end of other teams’ rosters, and managed to get out-shot in the process, although he did have a 42.0 ZS% working against him. He’s pretty much done as a worthwhile player, IMO, and Eric Nystrom might end up being be better at actually playing hockey, but that’s not why they signed him.

Clarke MacArthur: TOR, 1 year, 1,100,000

MacArthur, along with Antti Niemi, were the summer’s poster children representing the changing attitude towards arbitration awards. Atlanta made the proper choice when they walked from his award, and the Leafs paid a fair price for a player of his ilk. What he has been, at least through about 200 games at the NHL level, is a player that scores a goal about once every 5 games. He and Nystrom make for an interesting comparison, frankly. They’ve both played just over 200 NHL games, and both have really become full timers in the last two years. MacArthur has faced better competition, shot at a consistently high percentage, and managed analogous possession numbers along the way. The only place where Nystrom has looked better is the EV SV % in back of him, and I’m not sure he has anything to do with that. MacArthur is also 2 1/2 years younger than Nystrom, so the chances of him improving his defensive play are still there, and he’s pretty clearly better as an offensive threat. 

Raffi Torres: VAN, 1 year, 1,000,000

Torres is an interesting player, mostly because he has some worthwhile history as a productive winger at EV, but he hasn’t been anything special that last two years. He’s played competition not much better than Nystrom, and hasn’t really been an out-shooter. He had a 53.5 ZS % last year as well, so it wasn’t like he was starting up against the wall every shift. Torres has never really been the same reckless player since the Williams hit and the ACL injury, IMO, so I’m not surprised the market for him was a bit barren. The goaltending behind him has been pretty shaky the last two seasons, though, and since he’s now a Canuck, I’m sure he’ll finish the season with a 105 PDO number as we curse his luck 😉 He’s not great, not openly awful, and a million bucks isn’t a bad gamble by the Canucks for one year on the off-chance he has a flash back to 2006. 

John Madden: MIN, 1 year, 1,250,000 including bonuses

John Madden had a very good year in 09/10, even if it wasn’t entirely obvious. He was an out-shooter with the Hawks, and while I know that there’s some team effect at play, since the Hawks were better at that than any other club, Madden’s 37.1 ZS% would normally put anyone in the hole, irrespective of surroundings. Joel Quenneville used the veteran pivot as a second center in the defensive zone on a regular basis, so Madden actually faced a pretty high competition level last year as well. He’s still a very useful player, and on a one year basis has every chance of being better at doing what wins games than Nystrom.

Dominic Moore: TBL, 2 years, 1,100,000 per season 

Moore has the only multi-year contract among the group, as Steve Yzerman’s nose for value this summer lead him to ink the center through next season. Moore played middling comp in Florida and Montreal, and his relative out-shooting numbers are decent enough considering a) how lousy Florida and Montreal were at out-shooting in the collective, and b) his 42.1 ZS%. He’s been asked to do more than Nystrom has since entering the league, and he’s been pretty productive for a guy whose been a 7.1% shooter over his career. He’s actually a useful player that can play 3rd line minutes, and is cheap enough that if he was your 4th line center, you wouldn’t blanch. 

There are two other players that I’ll mention in passing. I don’t really want to rehash the Nigel Dawes thing too much, but as I mentioned in the Tweet I posted at the top of this article, he’s been a better player than Nystrom and he’s younger. Some team will get a very nice player for the league minimum or thereabouts when he’s signed. The other player that isn’t signed as of yet, and who might well fall in to this sort of salary range is Ruslan Fedotenko. He had one of those years where his +/- had not much to do with him, and everything to do with the sucktacular goaltending behind him, frankly, and I suspect that he still has a bit left in the tank. He also shot around 7% after a career of being a 13% shooter, which might make one think he could be due for a correction this season. He’s not as great as people might have made him out to be after the ’04 playoffs, but he isn’t bad at all, and certainly better than Eric Nystrom will ever be. If a team has a million or so left for a winger, he might work out.

The strange thing about looking at this stuff really wasn’t even so much about Eric Nystrom’s deal, but about how the UFA market has changed in the last two years for players that aren’t slam-dunk top-sixers. Even if you look outside the proscribed range I established, there haven’t been many wild overpays as the summer has progressed. That’s also in keeping with how last summer rolled out, which is maybe why Ny’s deal caught my attention, since it was clear to anyone not snoozing that cheap help for your team’s bottom six would be available to the patient teams. Kudos to Nystrom’s agent and all that, but I think Chuck Fletcher jumped the gun with this deal, and I’m very glad Darryl Sutter didn’t match it. It’s not the worst deal made this summer, obviously, since nothing will match the Boogaard contract, possibly ever. What Nystrom’s deal does appear to be is a poor read of the market, and a contract that his history suggests he has very little chance of outplaying.

    • Robert Cleave

      Sure. I was finishing up this piece when his deal went down. Bill Guerin still looks like he might be useful, and he’s headed for a tryout deal in Philly if one believes the rumours. I don’t hate Nyzerman, and if he’d signed for 750k in Calgary, I could have lived with it, but the market is vastly different now than even a couple of summers ago.

  • On the broader topic, you’re right in that this is a decision Sutter made early and made correctly. What’s more, it’s the type of signing he was often getting wrong earlier in this tenure as the Flames GM. Wayne Primeau was obviously an object lesson.

    Now we just have to hope he gets the hint when it comes to goons and needlessly expensive, bottom 6 defenders.

    Edited to add – obviously the urgency of the Flames cap situation added an element of necessity to this lesson, meaning it’s possible Sutter will fall back into old habits should he ever manage to stop scraping the cap ceiling. I guess we’ll see (assuming he survives this season).

  • Greg

    I was sorry to see Nystrom go, but at that price, I agree Sutter made the right call. They should have kept Sutter locked up a little longer though… with the way the market has played out, I think Jokinen and maybe even Tanguay could have been had for less, and clearly Sutter could have gotten better value than Ivanans and Jackman. It’s aggravating to see guys like Comrie signing for $500K and wonder what could have been…

    – could have traded Phaneuf for a top 10 pick and change
    – could have NOT acquired Staotalik for a 3rd rounder, Brandon Prust, and $5.7M worth of cap space

    Let’s say you still sign the Tanguay and Jokinen contracts. You sign Lydman instead of White. Stempniak instead of Hagman. You could still add either Lombardi or Stajan at $3.5M, and have enough money to spare to add Comrie, Madden, and Conroy to stack the bottom 6, and still have Prust in that mix.

    You’re left with an equivalent top end, improved forward depth, the luxury of retaining Sarich on your bottom pairing, an extra top end prospect in the system, and enough cap space left to make a big splash during the year (or even a trade for a Gagne or Savard this summer instead).

    Granted the Phanuef trade was livable and we wouldn’t have landed all those players, but clearly Sutter should have done a lot more of less than far in 2010.

  • @Greg

    Well, yeah, there’s no question that Sutter’s work post-Phaneuf (and some would include that trade as well) was execrable. The problems of bloating a cap budget extend beyond the obvious risks (having to demote expensive vets to become compliant, injury call-up risks, no cushion for adding pieces at the deadline) to the opportunity cost of missing out on the bargains.

    That said, I’m still glad Darryl didn’t compound all these issues by signing Nystrom this summer.

  • Greg

    when a guy like comrie signs for 500K, it makes the 600K/year ivanans contract look like a joke.

    i also thought that sutter did right by walking from nystrom, even though he’d had a good year and was a former first rounder (sutter cowbell).

    i don’t think i’ll ever get over the dawes buyout & subsequent ivanans deal, though. EVER. it’s like the gio snub and subsequent eriksson signing. at least we know now, with the new (and noticeably un-announced) “executive VP” tag, that this is darryl’s last year at the helm.

    • Greg

      I agree for the most part, except that I would bet money that a guy like Comrie isn’t signing for nearly that good a deal when it’s a team like Calgary. The Pens are going to be in contention for a cup run on a regular basis, given their stars, and that kind of draw will get you good deals on roster players who want to win a cup.

  • Greg

    Good day fellas, this is my first post as I have been scanning Flames Nation for the past couple months and would like to place my 2 cents on the table since I have been watching the Flames from Section 315 for the past 11 years and I am a huge Flames fan who loves Flames talk!

    I have to say I have watched Nystrom’s rise from from being a high draft pic for his low-mid level pedigree in my mind (I guess he was a Sutter type), then the bad shoulders injuries. I actually thought he would end up being a bust (can u say trend?) but somehow he made the team in 2007 and actually became one of those unsung hero types (kind of like a re-incarnation of Stephane Yelle-lite) that a city like Calgary likes to cheer for, especially when he had a strong playoff in 08/09 when he scored 2g and 2a. But I agree he did get a great deal from Mini, I think it was more the 3 year term that was the kicker. I think he will become a good NHLer and may actually earn his pay by the 3rd year. I liked him and thought that he had value with the Flames on the bottom six, Sutter should have kept him for the difference of $300k/year just to show that we can keep at least one of our first round pics who did have a slight upside and a player who the fans would cheer for on those uneventful nights.

    But I have to say the fascination with Comrie is interesting, the last few years he has always been on the cusp of not even playing in the NHL due to his lack of consistency and heart, its almost ironic that Comrie came into the league getting paid more than the rookie maximum by signing a ridiculous deal of $10 Mil for 3 years in 2001 due to a CBA loop whole where he posted 111 points in 151 games, and 1 goal in 6 playoff games, not bad but not great either. He actually only has 10 pts in 32 playoff games. So he actually screwed the Oilers (which is great!), then screwed $10 Mil from the Coyotes, Islanders and Senators the next four years, so thats 21 Mil for 8 years (six teams) for a player who is just 0.5 pts/game and -45 total for regular season and 0.3 pts/game in the playoffs when money really talks. And now he is getting $500k/year, so in actuality he is just getting paid for what he is really worth now after stealing money from his employers the past 8 years. So in summary, the current cap system is actually starting to weed out the losers like Comrie who have been getting fat the past 10 years, which is great.

    So in summary, I believe a guy like Nystrom might not rip up the league defensively or offensively the next 3 years numbers wise, but from what I have seen of him he may actually play hard enough night after night and make the crowd appreciate his effort which may result in him actually earning most of his keep. Where a guy like Comrie might dazzle one night and the next 5 nights become the guy that fans say “thank god we are only paying him $500k!”. I will take Nystrom even at 3 times the money, as his effort may actually help a team win, everyone forgets about the inflated salaries when a team wins, especially in Cowtown, and Comrie is not a winner, not even for $500k! So I guess when it comes to forwards being signed for contracts ranging from $500k to $1.5 Mil (which usually means a bottom 6 position) stats are one thing in comparison to value, but being a winner or at least playing like he wants to win (intangibles) is also a major comparison, and that is why Nystrom got signed for more money, in my mind.

    • Greg

      Nystrom is not that good. Obviously a bottom six, but i don’t think he was ever going to develop into a top six player. His contract from Minnesota is too large, I would’ve payed him $800K to 1 Mil. thats it though. I think you guys are making him into someone he’s not. He’s a 10 goal scorer who might make it to 15 sometime in his life. I love his style of play though, just he was asking for too much.

      Your right, I would’ve loved it if we actually kept one of our first round prospects that cracked the fourth line……

  • Greg

    I agree. Nystrom was a good contract passover, it just sucks that only 1 of our 1st rounders (Backlund) seems like he’s gonna play to his draft potential, and maybe Erixon, fingers crossed.

    Also with the new youth movement in the NHL there will be a mass exodus of over the hill veterans and part-time NHLers. These players will be hard pressed to find NHL contracts in the next few years and the KHL cannot be happier.

  • Greg

    I guess my intensions were not to over inflate Nystrom’s value, but to shed some light to why he may have been been offered that money. On a team like Mini that is very thin on the forward ranks, he may actually get some better minutes and maybe produce better numbers, but I’m not that naive that he will be battling for the Rocket Richard award either.

    One question is, who will be the new guy to replace him that will lay down on the ice and block pucks, go hard on the forecheck and pot the odd goal? Little Sutter? Armstrong? Jackman? Someone has to!