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04-07-2013, 10:27 PM
Mayor Bee
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It's been a few days, so I've had the chance to do Part 8: Contracts and Signings

One of the unfortunate things that happened when Howson took over was that he inherited a farm system that was generally regarded as being in great shape. (Top five prospects in THN: Derick Brassard, Kris Russell, Alexandre Picard, Geoff Platt, Joakim Lindstrom. Top prospects on the roster: Gilbert Brule, Dan Fritsche, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.)

What this meant was having to play the waiting game to see if they would ever amount to anything, rather than dumping them and charging headlong into free agency. When Brule, Fritsche, and Nikolai Zherdev were all traded a year later, there were plenty who felt that Howson had made moves that would doom the team for years...not only was their talent lost, but they'd inevitably excel against Columbus. Not many would admit to it nowadays (despite it being a very popular opinion); I have no problem admitting that I thought it about Zherdev. Of course, Zherdev's spot was immediately filled by Kristian Huselius, which shut me up.

Anyway, Howson has faced a lot of criticisms for signings, losses in free agency, and personnel moves. This is a somewhat closer look at the major moves and is by no means extensive.

Signed Jiri Novotny to a 2-year contract - Pretty straightforward. Novotny was a former top prospect being given his last best chance, and he was better than a lot of forwards on the roster.

Signed Derek MacKenzie to a 1-year contract - NHL/AHL guy; scoring forward in the AHL who converted to a defensive role in the NHL. He's still in Columbus.

Signed Mike Peca to a 1-year contract - Last kick at the can; he could slot in on the third line.

Signed Jan Hejda to a 1-year contract - Immediately became the team's best shutdown defenseman.

Lost Derrick Walser, Bryan Berard, Anders Eriksson, Aaron Johnson, and Brian Boucher - Big deal

Re-signed Jason Chimera to a 4-year, $7.5 million deal - Chimera was then what he is now: a third-liner who could (theoretically) play multiple roles. This isn't exactly an overpriced contract here.

Re-signed Jan Hejda to a 3-year, $6 million extension - After proving himself to be an NHL defenseman, Hejda (a pending UFA) was re-signed at a bargain price.

As you can see, not a ton of movement in this first year. No one of consequence was lost, three important pieces were gained (Peca in the short term, MacKenzie in the long term, and Hejda immediately and into the 2010-11 season).

Bought out Duvie Westcott - One of Doug MacLean's last acts had been to sign Westcott to an extension. Bringing in actual NHL defensemen like Hejda made him obsolete; he was bought out. Westcott finally collected his last paycheck in June 2012, over five years after MacLean was fired.

Signed Mike Commodore to a 5-year, $18.75 million deal - This one ended up hurting. For the 2008-09 season, Commodore provided a physical shutdown presence and actually a decent amount of offense. Then he tailed off the next year...then rumors of other problems that won't be addressed here began. He ended up being bought out of this deal, and will be off the books in June 2015. I'll point out that defensemen in free agency were able to cash in big-time in 2007, 2008, and 2009

Signed Kristian Huselius to a 4-year, $19 million deal - First-line scoring forward, brought in to replace the void left by the traded Nikolai Zherdev. Had 56 and 63 points his first two years, then 23 (in 39 games) in 2010-11. He missed all of 2011-12 with injuries, and has since retired. Since I can't resist, Kristian Huselius had 14 goals and 23 points in 39 games in 2010-11...Jeff Carter had 15 goals and 25 points in 2011-12. Yet one has been tagged as a lazy floater his entire career, and the other has hordes of screaming fans decrying anyone who would ever accuse their golden child of playing like a lazy floater.

Lost Ron Hainsey and David Vyborny - Vyborny had missed nearly the entire 2007-08 season and clearly was on his last legs. Hainsey could put the puck in the net, although whether it was the opposing team's or his own was a 50:50 bet. Don't believe me about any type of defenseman cashing in in these FA years? Hainsey got 5 years and $22.5 million.

Re-signed Mike Peca and Derek MacKenzie to 1-year deals - See above

Lost Jason Williams, Jiri Novotny, Manny Malhotra, Mike Peca, and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen in free agency - Novotny and Tollefsen were replaceable. Peca retired. Malhotra hurt, but contract talks had apparently taken a pretty acidic turn. He didn't sign anywhere until August, when San Jose offered him a 1-year deal for close to the league minimum. Williams was a one-dimensional scoring forward whose presence ended up being missed.

Signed Sammy Pahlsson to a 3-year, $7.95 million deal - Exceptional defensive forward with no offensive game to speak of. Added a little bit of offense, not close to Malhotra though.

Signed Mathieu Garon to a 2-year, $2.4 million deal
- Anyone who says "Howson never addressed goaltending" needs to re-read this line. This was on July 1, 2009, less than two weeks after Steve Mason won the Calder Trophy. Garon had started 142 games from 2005-06 to 2007-08, then got buried in 2008-09. He was one year removed from being an NHL starter when Columbus signed him. So the idea of banking 100%, or even 75%, on Mason is simply erroneous.

Re-signed Rick Nash to an 8-year, $62.4 million deal - The face of the franchise, and the team captain coming off a playoff year. There's not much that could be done about the dollar amount or the cap hit. Plenty have forgotten that the "lifetime contracts" were strictly forbidden by the NHL under threat of serious penalty. At some point (around July 15, 2009), they simply quit caring until Ilya Kovalchuk came along.

The problem was that any team who had to re-sign a player between 2005 and July 15, 2009 got bent over on cap hit. Ovechkin's $9.5 million cap hit? Re-signed 2007. Malkin's $8.7 million? Re-signed in 2008. Crosby's $8.7 million? Re-signed in 2007. Eric Staal's $8.25 million? Re-signed in 2008. Lecavalier's $7.7 million? Re-signed in 2008. Heatley's $7.5 million? Signed in 2007. Gaborik's $7.5 million? Signed in 2008. This plus Nash equals 8 of the top 11 cap hits in the NHL today. I can go further than that...#13 (Brian Campbell), #15 (Jason Spezza), #16 (Jarome Iginla) were signed in 2007, #14 (Thomas Vanek) in 2006) get the idea. Out of the top 16 cap hits in the NHL today, only 4 have been recent (Suter and Praise, Shea Weber's offer sheet, and Stamkos).

Howson didn't just cave and sign Nash to an obscene deal because he could. It's because the future cap-evading lifetime contracts doled out to guys like Carter, Richards, and Hossa weren't permitted when Nash was re-signed. The other option would have been to let Rick Nash walk away a year after making the playoffs and get nothing for him. Which is the worse option?

Re-signed Rostislav Klesla to a 4-year, $11.9 million extension - Second-pairing defenseman who can play in all situations, signed to a below-market value extension. His extensive injury history is basically random, and includes everything from tearing abdominal muscles while jumping for a puck to a leg injury suffered from when he was checked from behind into an open bench door. It's more gallows humor that suggests that he'll get hurt at the drop of a hat (either from dropping the hat or from picking it up), like with Sami Salo. It's not like Pascal Leclaire, where it's only a question of when he would suffer another groin or knee injury.

Re-signed Antoine Vermette to a 5-year, $18.75 million extension - Second-line center who can do a bit of everything. He'd been buried in Ottawa and excelled during the playoff year of 2008-09, and then in 2009-10 had 65 points. Yes, you read that right. Antoine Vermette, given good ice time for the first time in his career, had 65 points. Jordan Staal has never come within 15 points of that, and is now and always has been paid more than Vermette.

Re-signed Derick Brassard to a 4-year, $12.8 million extension - Had 25 points in 31 games in 2008-09, then 36 points in 2009-10 while showing a more complete game. Would have 47 in the first year of this deal, and Rangers fans are starting to see what we saw as well.

Fired Ken Hitchcock as head coach - The team made the playoffs in 2008-09. 2009-10 started off 5-1-0, then 12-6-2. When Hitchcock was fired on February 3, the team was 22-27-9. That's 10-21-7, and an awful lot of people thought this move was a month overdue anyway (following a 3-14-7 slide). Every complaint that was said about Hitchcock in Dallas and Philadelphia, and has been said recently in St. Louis, was said here at this time as well. To retroactively blame Howson for what was clearly a common-sense move is an indication of intellectual dishonesty. (Under Claude Noel's interim term, the team went 10-8-6, just good enough to avoid the embarrassment of having to pick one of Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin.)

Hired Scott Arniel as head coach - This actually came late in the 2009-10 league year (late June), but it more directly affects 2010-11. Arniel had been a pretty good AHL coach, and it looked like this was going to carry over into the NHL. Columbus started off his reign 14-6-0, and went into a Thanksgiving weekend series against Detroit fighting for #1 in the Western Conference. As late as the trade deadline, Columbus controlled its playoff destiny (making moves damn near impossible). This was followed by a 3-12-7 collapse down the last month of the season.

2011-12 started off where 2010-11 had ended, with an 0-7-1 run to begin the season. When Arniel was canned after 41 games, the team's record stood at 11-25-5.

Re-signed Steve Mason to a 2-year, $5.8 million extension - Let's get this straight real quick. Steve Mason was on an ELC in 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11. The entire team (not just Mason) had struggled in various facets of the game. He faced low-quality shots in 2008-09, he faced higher-quality ones more frequently in the next two years. Guys like Jan Hejda, who'd played suffocating defense in front of Mason, were getting burned left and right. To blame all of Mason's struggles on Mason alone when this contract was signed is just dumb. Recent history had also showed that young struggling goalies could turn it around quickly. Would any Montreal fans be happy if Carey Price had just been kicked to the curb when he was going through his growing pains? C'mon.

It was a two-year deal for a 23-year-old goalie. It wasn't an onerous term, it wasn't an onerous salary. And to look back and act like he shouldn't have been re-signed at least be honest.

Waived Mike Commodore and bought out remaining contract - He went from very good to serviceable to awful in a very short period of time. Again, I can't address ever-present rumors of off-ice issues, but he became a frequent healthy scratch (even when defensive stalwart Anton Stralman was sick with the flu).

Hired Todd Richards as assistant head coach - He'd been canned by Minnesota after two years without Marian Gaborik or Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and suffering under some atrocious drafting in the mid-00s. I'm not saying that AJ Thelen would have made a difference, but being a low-scoring team when the top scorers were out...

Fired Scott Arniel and promoted Todd Richards as head coach - This was in January 2011. Richards had to first deal with the Carter and Nash trade sagas, then with a rash of injuries that left the team with as few as two actual NHL defensemen at a time. They went 18-21-2 under Richards under some very trying circumstances, and have been around the playoff bubble this year.

Lost Jan Hejda, Mathieu Garon, and Scottie Upshall in free agency - Hejda was clearly not aging well, Garon had played poorly the previous year, and Upshall (who'd been acquired in a trade) hadn't produced a bit. None of these three were truly missed...Hejda's past was, but not what he'd become.

Signed James Wisniewski to a 6-year, $33 million deal - Wisniewski was a chance to upgrade the defense substantially, and was signed less than an hour before hitting free agency (the team had traded for his UFA rights two days prior). He's injured himself twice by blocking shots, but has produced at his normal level when healthy.

Signed Curtis Sanford and Mark Dekanich to 1-year deals - Dekanich was supposed to be a Ben Bishop type, a Group VI free agent who'd finally be getting a chance after being buried in a deep system. He injured himself in the preseason, then aggravated it in the AHL while rehabbing and missed the year. Sanford (a former starter) filled in as Mason's backup, then stepped in and played well as a starter. He got hurt late with a back injury, putting Mason back in the rest of the way.

Signed Radek Martinek to a 1-year deal - Basically was supposed to fill Hejda's spot. Instead, took a puck to the side of the head early on, causing a concussion that ended his season 7 games in. This summed up the team's entire 2011-12 season.

Signed Vinny Prospal to a 1-year deal - Became a team leader from the day he arrived, and showed he still had some offense left in him. Made waves early on by blasing Scott Arniel for running lazy practices. He was re-signed for another year a couple weeks before the deadline, despite the feeling around the league being that he'd be able to get at least a 2nd-round pick if he were traded.

Re-signed RJ Umberger to a 5-year, $23 million deal - In the midst of his 4th straight 20-goal season, and having broken 50 points for each of the previous two seasons, Umberger got what amounted to a 20% raise. He's become a popular whipping boy in Columbus, and the contract looks worse as time goes on.

Signed Adrian Aucoin to a 1-year, $2.25 million deal - Although his play on the ice is in no way reminiscent of his earlier days, the other CBJ defensemen to a man have all raved about Aucoin's work with them. This is one of these deals where the intangible benefits are substantially more than the production on the scoresheet would dictate. (For the record, I've always thought that logic is one of the most overused concepts in sports)

(Last up. Part 9: Summation and "The Big Picture")

May you be tormented until the end of time with an itch in a private spot that can only be relieved by everyone thinking you're some type of deviant if you quote this entire post for the purpose of replying to it

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