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RFA's v. UFA's

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07-15-2009, 07:52 PM
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RFA's v. UFA's

I've been sort of mulling this over for a little while, so I figured I'd throw this out there and see what you guys think.

Conventional wisdom around HF (and much of the hockey world) is that young players are more important than ever for contending teams. The theory goes that a contending team has to have a group of young players slotted into the second or third lines to provide secondary scoring at low cap hit. Since second contracts have exploded in value, its fair to say that this means players on entry level contracts. We've seen many examples of teams losing young players once their second contract comes up, or alternatively contemplating scrapping former core players to fit the younger talent in. Boston's situation with Kessel is a good example of this.

This was frequently cited as a reason why there was little spending on deadline day, and why very few draft picks exchanged hands. Good teams, as the argument goes, understand that draft picks are the key to competing in the future, and those draft picks will be essential in staying cap compliant.

I don't think this is true. While I completely agree that cheap secondary talent is 100% essential to building a Stanley Cup contender, I don't think that its particularly necessary to rely on developing prospects to fill those roster spots. With second contracts becoming roughly equal (not quite, but close) to free agency in terms of cost and cap hit, the true cost of locking up young talent is starting to become fairly clear around the NHL. If a contending team like Chicago has a choice between signing a young player like Dave Bolland long term at 3.375 M or signing a proven veteran like Saku Koivu for 3.25 M, are they really better served in taking a risk on a young player long term? Or would they be better off going with a more proven commodity?

Don't take this example too literally, but I hope you see my point. Bolland can be swapped for any number of young players who've signed relatively long term RFA deals recently. The idea is that there are a lot of ways to add quality players who can contribute at relatively low cost, and mid-tier UFA's are, in my opinion, the best way to do this. It allows teams to keep a static core of top talent that they have signed to longer term deals, with a shifting support core of veteran players filling the rest of the roster spots. By all means, young talent should be used to fill roster spots if ready, but otherwise I think it makes sense to keep options open, and avoid long term contracts outside of the core at all costs.

Bottom line, a young player is just a potential contributor to the team, just like a UFA or veteran roster player. If you can't get value out of them in a cap system, or if the risk in attempting to get value is too high, it makes a lot of sense for teams to look at other options. I really don't see the wisdom in locking up young players long-term, because the risks are too high compared to the alternatives.

I think prospects and picks will prove to be just as expendable in the future, as teams continue to seek advantage on deadline day. More so, I wouldn't be shocked at all to see more RFA's let go as they get priced out of teams plans. Alternatively, we might see the price for RFA's drop dramatically, especially since the offer sheet system is fairly impractical for most teams. Its hard to say what will happen, but I don't think its nearly as essential to lock up young players long term as people think. Thoughts?

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