Perhaps lost in the analysis of why Adam Pelech would sign an eight-year deal with an average annual value of $5.875 million with the Islanders while just two years away from unrestricted free agency in an offseason in which inferior, albeit more productive, defensemen, such as Zach Werenski and Darnell Nurse, have scaled the $9 million-per bar, is this simple truth:
That is what players with winning organizations do.
With the burden of constructing and maintaining a Stanley Cup contender falling as much on the players as on management and ownership under the NHL’s perverse hard-cap system, that is exactly what the Islanders’ left side shutdown defenseman did on Friday.
Traditional statistics still rule in arbitration, so it is true Pelech might not have had the strongest case given that he was the only one of 19 defensemen with more than 1,000 minutes played to record 14 or fewer points, with four goals and 10 assists. So he might have made less the next two years. But, barring injury, he surely would have struck for a bonanza on the open market.
Instead, Pelech, who will turn 27 on Aug. 16, opted for security. Just as importantly, he opted to remain on the Island while doing his part to give general manager Lou Lamoriello his best chance of turning this contending team into a championship one before the cap tears it asunder.
This is an example of what happens when a winning culture becomes ingrained within an organization. The state-tax issue aside, players take less to play for the Lightning. They volunteer to do that.
Brad Marchand chose to take less to stay in Boston by signing an eight-year extension worth $6.125 million per in September 2016 rather than opting to hit the open market the following July, when he could have named his price. Multiple players, beginning with Martin Brodeur, chose to take less to play for the championship-era Devils when Lamoriello’s budget acted as a cap. We know about Sidney Crosby, who has been fine with being scandalously underpaid throughout his tenure in Pittsburgh.
At some point, this is going to become necessary for the Rangers, though there is a slightly different dynamic for them because management habitually has made free-agent signees and trade acquisitions its highest-paid players. It is extremely difficult to ask accomplished homegrown guys to take less, when more is given to guys based on what they have achieved for other teams.
By the way, do you realize that the Blueshirts have never given more than a two-year bridge deal to a forward coming off entry-level? Two years for Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Kreider, Artem Anisimov and Filip Chytil; one year for J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello (who played on three successive one-year deals out of entry level).
Adam Fox, the homegrown Norris Trophy winner and a year away from restricted free agency coming off entry level, could surely live as well and provide as well for generations of future No. 23s for $9 million per season as the $10.5 million he might be able to command. But why would Fox have this obligation when the Rangers gave Jacob Trouba $8 million per year in order to get him to sign after acquiring him from Winnipeg two years ago? Trouba didn’t settle for less. So Fox has that burden?
Artemi Panarin came to the Rangers for less than he was offered by the Islanders, that is surely true, but he pressed for $11,643,857 per as a free agent out of Columbus when the Rangers tried to hold the line at $11 million per. Panarin has been worth the price of admission, don’t get me wrong, but why would Mika Zibanejad be expected to accommodate management now and take less?
The fact is, if the Rangers and general manager Chris Drury — three months on the job — are going to be able to navigate the cap and mold a contender out of the raw materials left behind, someone is going to have to break the chain. A player is going to have to willingly take a smaller piece of the pie so that there is enough to go around for his neighbors.
That’s what athletes in winning organizations with winning cultures do.
The Devils are collecting nicer pieces of talent, with Tomas Tatar joining Dougie Hamilton as potential jump-starters and Jonathan Bernier enlisted to take the burden off MacKenzie Blackwood in net the way that Corey Crawford was meant to last year until the veteran retired before the season began.
But, and this is just a question, does anyone outside New Jersey ownership and management honestly believe Lindy Ruff is the coach who will take the Devils to the next level, which in this case is simply making the playoffs?
So if COVID-19 outbreaks persist into the autumn, won’t the NHL have to maintain taxi squads for a second year in order to ensure clubs have enough players to play in case of a rash of game-day positive tests?
First Brady Skjei in a trade, then Jesper Fast as a free agent last year and both Derek Stepan and Brendan Smith this year.
That means the Candy Canes of Carolina somehow have twice as many players who played for the Rangers in the 2017 playoffs than the Blueshirts themselves, who present only Zibanejad and Kreider as holdovers.
And of course with Tony DeAngelo on board as well, this kind of brings to mind Neil Smith’s famous line when the-then GM was asked why he was adding so many ex-Oilers to the Rangers’ early-1990s roster: “What do you want me to do, trade for Sharks?”
This just in: Jack Eichel has hired Aaron Rodgers as his agent.