Thursday, March 01, 2007

They Loaded Boxer into the Van

I'm pretty sure we've used Animal Farm as a theme here before.

We're cynical like that.

This Edmonton Oilers/Ryan Smyth saga is screaming for a allegorical treatment by Orwell, so I'm just going to hurtle down that path.

I was just a boy when I first read that book. Like most EPSB graduates, the book was presented to me as a useful historical commentary that framed the Soviet Union's plight in a justifiably anti-Bolshevik viewpoint, which of course was Orwell's main intent anyway. However, the main theme that struck me at the time was the perverse behaviour of the characters, which was something that seemed to transcend the Reds. It was definitely the perversity of human nature that resonated for me. The incredible deviousness of the antagonists and the crushing disappointment caused by the self-destructive character flaws in the protagonists created that overwhelming feeling. A giant mess of corruption, jingoism and selfishness. I got that same feeling of perversity on Tuesday Night. Mark Messier Night.

"No animal shall drink alcohol to excess."

For me the blood started to boil while listening to 630 CHED's game cast of the Phoenix game on Mark Messier Night. Rod was busy with the ceremony for the first ten minutes of the game, so Squealer was left to handle the PBP duties with Chris Joseph as the less than able colour man. The crowd noise was minimal, in fact I don't recall hearing much at all besides the commentary. It wasn't until Rod donned the headphones and picked up the microphone that the real fun began to happen. The boys were all a-titter tonight and it's likely the spirits were flowing. They'd just spent most of the past two days being warmly embraced by the Boys On The Bus in the usual conjugal manner. Shortly after Rod's arrival was when the game truly went south and the crowd noise started to pick up. A chorus of boos started to fill the sound channels not occupied by Rod and Squealer's voices.

Rod and Squealer had trouble hiding the glee in their voices. They seemed totally oblivious to the fact that they were watching the Oilers lose to the Phoenix Coyotes. Unconcerned that, part way through the second period, the team was losing 3-0 to a bottom feeder in a game that represented their hopes for a last ditch playoff run. They were in some other world. One that Ryan Smyth isn't in and certainly one with which I cannot relate. The trend continues for pretty much the rest of the game - crowd booing in the background while Rod and Squealer sound just a little bit too happy.

At one point early in the 3rd period Rod stops and chuckles in the middle of play "Hey guys, I'm trying to do a job here."

Yeah guys he's trying to do a job here. Stop dragging him back to the '80's all the fucking time.

Rod obviously realizes a little context is in order since there's a hockey game underway and he's randomly blurting out things unrelated to the action. After all, he's got a job to do and although the visual component of the Voice Of The Oilers mostly involves wiping brown stuff off his nose, he does get paid for the audio component. "That was the GM of the New York Rangers and the TV colourman for the San Jose Sharks saying hello. The press box is really busy tonight with all these people here and we're getting lots of greetings." He adds in a slightly condescending tone. The crowd boos again almost on cue.

Shortly after that, Sjostrom takes a penalty and the Oilers proceed to totally duff the PP opportunity. They seemingly spend as much time behind their own net as in the opposition's zone. What's left of the crowd boos a little more.

Shortly after that, the Oilers manage to draw a couple of penalties and get an extended 5on3 advantage. They muster a few chances but fail to get the puck past Joseph. Squealer exclaims "The Oilers generated lots of pressure on that 5on3." The crowd boos again heartily.

I turned it off soon after that with about five minutes remaining. I think Squealer and Chris Joesph talked about the impact of Ryan Smyth's absence while Rod was cavorting with the past, but that was about it. Out of sight, out of mind.

"Napoleon is always right." - Boxer

I guess I should have expected it. Oiler fans on the messageboards rallied around the family. With a pocket full of shells. They start young in E-Town - I recall walking out in my driveway about a week after the Gretzky trade as a ten year old boy with my hockey stick and my road hockey net. I'd recently adopted the persona of Martin Gelinas. Everything I'd heard on the radio was that he had lots of "scoring potential" and that Vladimir Ruzicka was the best Czech player ever and probably one of the best offensive players in the game... Not in the NHL, but nevermind. Gretzky could leave - no problem. We still had Messier and a bunch of swag from the trade. I could be Martin Gelinas. He was going to be a star.

Even Sacamano over at BofA found the time to post about Lowe's latest gambit. He framed it appropriately with:

To be honest, it depresses me when fans take up the "it's a business" torch and bury their emotions in order to evaluate trades based on dollars saved, cap room, strength of draft years, and all kinds of other impersonal considerations.

but ultimately concluded;

"Seems to me like it was the right move. And given Lowe's track record of making consistently good moves over the last 6 years, I'm not about to throw myself off the Highlevel."

Others were not so kind to Smyth. He has been labeled greedy. His style of play and level of skill were ground to dust in a few hours all over the major Oiler fan messageboards and amongst Team 1260 callers. His contribution to Oiler success has been so marginalized over the past few days that I have to think that many fans will be shocked to see how highly coveted Ryan Smyth will be and what he gets paid on July 1st. They're also going to be shocked at how poorly this team plays without the guy.

"He's not a gamebreaker. He's not an elite player. I'm not happy that Ryan Smyth is our best player."

Those were the common refrains I read on the messageboards and from some of the commenters in the Oilogosphere. Well, now what? The nose has been cut off and now's the time to look in the mirror. The Oilers are no longer a team with Ryan Smyth as their best player. They're much worse than that now and the prospects (pardon the pun) for the near future don't look promising.

"I will work harder." - Boxer

Ryan Smyth's press conference yesterday was a sloppy mess. It wasn't just his hair or his dental work. He obviously wrote his speech himself and delivered it with a quivering lip and healthy dose of cliches and well-worn phrases. He painstakingly tried to include every name of every person in the organization that had helped him along the way including Kevin Lowe. Even during the question period, Smyth refused to place any blame on the Oilers. Napoleon really is always right.

Today we discover that there is one true sports journalist in Edmonton after all. Barnes writes that the two sides were split over $500,000 over five years. The paltry sum of $100,000 per year was the insurmountable difference that the Oilers couldn't stomach. According to Barnes, the Oilers had gone up to $5.4 MM/yr over five years and Smyth/Meehan had stuck to their guns at $5.5 MM/yr for five years.

I've got a pretty good idea what Tyler, Dennis, Sacamano, Grabia, Lowetide, the CinO boys and the other regular participants in the Oilogosphere think about this deal. I am highly disappointed in the whole process as well as the outcome. The EIG has pledged to ice a competitive product thanks to the newfound financial landscape afforded them by the salary cap in the "New NHL." They have publicly admitted significant eight figure profits and they've corroborated reports that they gross over $1MM in gate revenues per regular season home game. However, they have failed to invest that money into the hockey team and the money they have spent has been inefficiently allocated by Kevin Lowe and his staff.

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff were signed to deals that made sense to me. They are either young or relatively young players with several seasons of prime hockey left in them. They're key components right now and they are going to be key components of the team in three years. I'm sure Smyth could understand that. Smyth should have been a little angry though when Ethan Moreau was extended at a cap hit of $2MM/yr or when Steve Staios was bumped up at $2.9MM/yr. I'm not sure what Smyth had to do to get into the inner circle, but it seems he didn't quite make it.

The last part of Animal Farm is very interesting as it really brings the story full circle. Now I'm just waiting to see the EIG pull that same Ace of Spades.

Mr. Pilkington pulled that card too.


Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Great post. Great. This trade was wrong on so many levels. I hope that stadium is half-empty tonight.

3/01/2007 3:50 pm  
Blogger dynastydays said...

I like to think I am more than a mindless drone in my evaluation of what is happening, one that can balance his levels of fanaticism and cynicism when it comes to the Oilers. I can usually detect when I'm being fed bullshit and I usually know when I'm spinning my own brand of brownie to the public (not to say that always stops me... besides my point here)

Focusing on if it was $100,000 per season or $300,000 (as per TSN) isn't really the correct light to look at it as far as I am concerned. What I think the correct question to ask is "Is Lowe an idiot for offering $5.4M over 5 years? or is Lowe an idiot for not going to $5.5M?" the difference between the two numbers is pretty inconsequential to forming your opinion on the final result of what happened there.

I am as cynical as one can get when it comes to the EIG. So lets just say that if for one second I could begin to believe that they will be willing to spend near the cap, leaving room for Smyth at $5.5 plus be competitive for a cornerstone such as a Pronger type... then yes Lowe is a fool for not locking Smyth up.

The truth of the matter as far as I can see, is we are a budget team. Considering that, I really do not think we have room for Smyth at $5.5M across the next 5 seasons. He was a loveable guy and an alltime Oiler favourite... but the Oilers are working under a smaller cap than the rest of the Northwest. We need a Luongo, a Pronger, a cornerstone. I believe with every bone that Smyth signing at that amount would significantly handicap us for the next half decade. Not anything against Smyth, but mainly I feel this due to a complete and utter lack of faith in the EIG.

That's how I see it. Some may have a more favourable opinion on the level of hockey Smyth will contribute through the 2012/13 season and that will impact the outlook on what happened. but from this persons POV, kool-aid free... it was the right decision. And we have a couple prospects + a pick to use in the meantime... I would have liekd a nicer package but I can't pretend to know what was on the table so that is moot.

3/01/2007 5:11 pm  
Blogger choppystride said...

I have to admit, that teary eyed farewell was a real downer. Not so much his departure as proof that there's no under-the-table agreement to return (but if there was actually one, Smyth should be crowned the Last King of Northlands).

If that final 100K diff is true, and if there's really no other issues to block the deal - all big if's - then, given the fact that our playoff hopes were officially dashed after losing in Minnesota, then why not have Smyth walk away for a few months? The remainder of his ~700K in salary can be recycled into a new contract - more than enough to cover the apparent difference. The Oilers get some nice assets that can aid in players acquisition, which can potentially make for a better team should Smyth commit his future here. He might get some playoff action. It's a win-win for both parties.

But unfortunately, that's apparently not the case.

I guess the positive takeaway from all this is that we've discovered a reasonably affordable price point (if we believe those numbers) at which at least one big name UFA might be willing to come here. After all, if he was willing to settle for 5.5 now, why not wait a few months before signing on the dotted line? All that rhetoric of "if he's not signed now then he'll take the biggest offer 5 months later" never made sense to me. Don't tell me that all along he & Meehan didn't know if some clubs will throw them crazy money. Clubs will, and everyone knows it.

Oh well, it will be interesting to see how everything unfolds in the summer. The hopeless optimist in me will sit back and hope for the best.

3/01/2007 5:34 pm  
Blogger The Rage said...

Wow, I was going to create a "Welcome to Animal Farm" thread on HF. Your post, Riv, probably is better than mine would have ever been, but I would love to have seen some of the reactions of the minions. Here you're just preaching to the choir.

3/01/2007 5:51 pm  
Blogger Slipper said...

Barnes is full of shit. I hope nobody really believes that the difference was only 100K per season. If I was paranoid like that, I'd almost suggest that's planted misinformation.

Ah well. The Edmonton Road Runners are looking hot tonight!

3/01/2007 8:40 pm  
Blogger Scarlett said...

Ryan practically admited that today when he talked to reporters in NY. It wasn't about 100,00-300,00....if it was, then he stopped himself. So we'll never get the full story as usual.

3/01/2007 9:16 pm  
Blogger dynastydays said...

This is alittle silly really... who cares if its 100,000 or 300,000...

The only question is if anything around 5,500,000 is the right price for Smyth under our EIG cap. The 100K or 300K is pretty irrelevant. Lowe didnt trade Smyth for the sake of either discrepancy.

3/01/2007 10:09 pm  
Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Barnes is full of shit. I hope nobody really believes that the difference was only 100K per season. If I was paranoid like that, I'd almost suggest that's planted misinformation.

I love the depths that we will go to to deny something we find unpalatable. Who the hell would plant that info? It makes both sides look like idiots. Plus, I find it highly unlikely that the editors at the paper wouldn't have triple checked the info. Whether it matters or not is up for debate--and there are excellent points being made in here--but I don't buy this conspiracy theory one bit.

3/02/2007 12:30 am  
Blogger Julian said...

Meehan on the radio the other day said it was more than just the money, there were a few other things (presumably an NTC or NMC) that they just ran out of time on.

That's all assuming you believe Meehan anyway.

Fantastic post Riv. I was ok with this trade at first, but I'm wholeheartedly against it now.

3/02/2007 4:25 am  
Blogger Slipper said...

What am I denying Grabia? A transparent and reliable source? I've yet to see one.

All I'm suggesting is that the Edmonton Media/Sports Machine is cricling the wagons. They're pretty experienced in the art of manipulating events so they come out smelling like a rose.

3/02/2007 8:36 am  
Blogger Black Dog said...

great post rivers

andy - if Barnes' info is true then why did Smyth act as if there was such a small difference that he would have taken the deal?

you and I both know that ryan smyth is a lot of things (all good - I would add) but I'm pretty sure he's not a great actor

he was asked the question yesterday and sounded pretty surprised

anyhow, I'm sure you have read the AP story

3/02/2007 8:56 am  
Blogger Andy Grabia said...

anyhow, I'm sure you have read the AP story

Ya, I saw it, and it confuses the hell out of me. I guess I'm just convinced by the certainty of Barnes. It makes more sense for Smytty and Lowe to deny than for Barnes to make that up.

All I'm suggesting is that the Edmonton Media/Sports Machine is cricling the wagons. They're pretty experienced in the art of manipulating events so they come out smelling like a rose.

Sure, except Barnes has been the only one calling bullshit on Lowe and the EIG all year. I don't always agree with what he says, but I don't feel like I need a shower after reading his stuff, either.

3/02/2007 9:23 am  
Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Hey RiversQ (or anyone else for that matter),

Has there been any work done in attempting to establish a VORP parallel in hockey? I'm was just thinking of a way where people could see Smytty's true value, and that's what popped into my head. Or is that uneccessary? Is there other stuff that works just as well?

3/02/2007 9:31 am  
Blogger Black Dog said...

Andy - It does make more sense for both to deny as you said - to let it fall apart when it was all that close would have been the ultimate in pettiness/stubbornness on both sides

Having said that Smyth seemd to be generally stunned and the way he had to catch himself when he basically said he would have taken it if it was that close means either they were not that close or that under that dopey exterior lies the mind of an evil genius or the acting chops of Larry Olivier

3/02/2007 10:49 am  
Blogger Julian said...

"He's not a gamebreaker. He's not an elite player. I'm not happy that Ryan Smyth is our best player."

You know, I think some of that comes from people remembering Smyth as a great piece of supporting cast to Wieght and Guerin. It's like it's not possible that he grew into a much better player. Throw in the fact that he doesn't have a laser of a shot or Hemsky's dangling skills, and suddenly he's not an elite player.

3/02/2007 3:15 pm  
Blogger Chris said...

I think the point that is generally being made is that if you made a list of the Top 20 players in professional hockey today Ryan Smyth probably doesn't make the list. If you made a list of the top 30 he might make it towards the tail end, but you could probably argue he doesn't make that list either. Which is what begs the question is he elite and if not why should he be paid like he is?

As much as I love Ryan Smyth, if this were the NBA he's be the borderline allstar/2nd star player on a team in their "2 star model". He's not a guy you look to to carry it on its own. Pronger being the star and Smyth being second fiddle was a great situation for the Oilers as you had a bona fide all star playing with a lesser one. I'm frustrated they didn't managed to put together a reasonable deal which would have locked Smyth up this season but one good year from Ryan Smyth doesn't make him a six million dollar man if you want to build a team on a value per dollar manner. Its like trying to build a team around Scotti Pippen, great player but the Bulls weren't going to win championships without Jordan.

3/02/2007 8:23 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

I think Chris captures the perception of Smyth perfectly.

In terms of impact on results Smyth is near the top of the league IMO. Also in the opinion of the people who write the early lines.

Hockey is different than baseball, you can't just add up the numbers. Not unless they change the rules in baseball so that managers have a tonne more flexibility in moving around the batting order during the game, and shifting pitchers in and out constantly.

If that were the case a batter named Smyth would have faced a pitcher named Gaborik in 85% of his at-bats when he played Minny. And a pitcher named Iginla in 75% of his at bats against CGY. And a pitcher named Sakic in 80% of his at bats.

And that because he'd only finished 30th or 40th in slugging% ... and he's at an age where the counting numbers and at bats per year will probably drop a bit, but his ability to get results against quality pitching should still get better ... Billy Beane and others like him might just be able to get him for the price of a guy who is judged just on the counting numbers and the aesthetics of his swing. His value relative to the market perception is high.

On the whole, NHL GMs seem a helluva lot sharper than NHL fans. Perhaps because the connection between winning hockey pools and winning hockey games is nearly insignificant.

In any case Oiler fans will be clucking their tongues at the amount of interest their is in Ryan Smyth this summer at the money he is asking. And when Lupul is eventually traded they will be shocked at how low the return is.

Again. Book it.

BTW: Just a terrific post riversq. And as an aside, just in case you haven't heard of these (I hadn't) ... on the advice of Tarkus at OilFans I bought "Keep The Aspidistra Flying" a couple of years ago. I had forgotten about it until now, but I just this moment pulled it off the bookshelf, that important first step in actually reading it.

Also Orwell published a book of his daily thoughts, dude was both brilliant and as mad as a hatter. A great airplane book, which is where I think I left mine, if I remember the name I'll email it to you.

3/02/2007 9:17 pm  
Blogger Chris said...

As a slight digression Vic I think you and Lowetide tend to analogize to baseball far too often which tends to lose the under thirty audience who have deserted that sport in droves.

But that aside, yes Smyth has put up decent numbers against fairly tough opposition. I don't think anyone disputes that. Ryan Smyth plays on the first line, as a result he's playing power versus power or against a checking line of defensive specialists. However, the point you seem to be deliberately over looking is so does most everyone else that plays on a top line for every other team. There are some notable exceptions like Nash. A good number of those players put up numbers better than Ryan Smyth.

If you want comparable players to Ryan Smyth you're looking at Daniel Alfredson (excluding Alfredson's one 100 point season)- Alfredson makes 4.67. Saku Koivu who makes 4.75. Keith Thachuk 3.8 million and Shane Doan who signed for 4.4 million if I recall correctly. You can throw in Tanguay as a comparable too for that matter at his five million although I think that's more of a counting stat thing that doesn't encompass the so called "intangibles".

However, you clear see other players like Doan, Alfredson, and Koivu who are arguably the "heart and soul" of their respective franchises signing for less money than Smyth was asking for. It seems to indicate that Smyth should have signed for 5 million or slightly less rather than putting forward the notion that he was a six million dollar player and "elite".

3/02/2007 11:50 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

[quote]As a slight digression Vic I think you and Lowetide tend to analogize to baseball far too often which tends to lose the under thirty audience who have deserted that sport in droves.[/quote]

I don't follow baseball either, Chris. But it's such a simple sport for anyone to understand, at least at a basic level, even for people who don't watch it like me. So if you'd interviewed fans leaving Rexall after a playoff game and asked them who played against Thornton or Selanne or Zetterberg ... I'm sure less than 1% of Oiler fans will get it right. Seriously. Ask on HF or OilFans and it's probably worse, because you'll start to get people talking each other into some really wacky stuff.

But in baseball, if there were matchups like this, that would be much easier to see. And fans would be able see it much more easily. Have a bite of your burger, a sip of you Coke, mention to the person you're at the game with "Hey, Delgado coming out to bat against Clemens. Didn't he bat against him twice already this game." You could have a chat about it, check the box score to be sure. And he'd still just be coming to the plate.

As for your contracts, you'd have to give the signing dates. It's all just so meaningless as you've left it there. I know Tkachuk was paid about twice as much last year and the year before, it was an odd distribution, his contract was desired in a strange way. If Tkachuk signs for $3.8 million this summer I'll be stunned. Marco F. Sturm just signed for that much for crying out loud.

Zetterberg is one of the best players in the league right now. He's being paid about $2.6 million I think. If he were a UFA this summer he would probably fetch 7 or 8 million. Pronger gets paid about the same as Kubina, no? Do you think that would be the case if he signed a contract today?

If they had signed Smyth to the deal he was asking for two years ago they'd have him under contract for three more years at about $3 million. But they didn't. And the market value has changed. Kevin "Billy Beane" Lowe misread the market. We all make mistakes, other GMs seem to make fewer.

And Doan is now the most overpaid guy in the NHL imo. To compare him to Smyth is madness IMO, no matter how many times Gretzky puts Doan on Team Canada.

Value is determined by the marketplace. So the nice thing about this argument is that it will be settled in July when the market establishes the value of Smyth, Tkachuk, et al. And anyone who expects a player to take a "loyalty discount" to play for a team that is not spending to the cap ... they're a touch naive methinks.

You've got to give credit to the other guy too. Garth Snow made a hell of a deal on a day that should have been a sellers market like none other, for reasons mentioned in the post below. Ludzik especially was completely over the top in his shock over the trade and how little Snow had to pay. But Snow is not a genius IMO, far from it, he's just an opportunist.

When the market price is higher than the value of the player to results (See Bertuzzi and Jovanowski) then it's wise to let them go. When the player is asking for a lot but is a guy who drives results (See Luongo and Smyth) then the GM that trades that player away will regret it.

3/03/2007 11:17 am  
Blogger Slipper said...

Vic, do you really think that alot of GM's look beyond the straight numbers when dealing in contracts and trades? I can only see a handful that might take in situational results and quality of opposition. Though it's hard to judge because their isn't alot multi-body trades going down in the NHL like there is in, say the NBA.

It doesn't appear like there's too many. Though the Wilsons seem all over that shit, and Sutter has done player to player trades at good value that have bolstered his team.

Though a floater like Carter being barely able to sign last off season and then being shipped for a 5th is promising.

3/03/2007 12:29 pm  
Blogger Black Dog said...

But then why the limited interest in Dvorak?

3/03/2007 1:27 pm  
Blogger Slipper said...

Well alot of it has to come down to optics. I remember a post someone did showing how certain players limited results against certain teams seemd to factor into later transactions. I'd be interested in getting insight into who's making moves based on how many times they saw Dvorak over the course of the season hit the goalie right in the crest on partial breaks, and who makes moves dependant on how he can keep the good players off the scoreboard.

Both of which he's still upto over in St.Loo, by the way.

3/03/2007 2:12 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


You've made some great comments lately on the blogs btw. I think that on the whole NHL GMs make far smarter decisions that fandom does, and it ain't close.

I think that's because they talk to their coaches about players, but maybe that's just my bias. I really don't think so though. The "whoa, we're completely fucked" look on MacTavish's face after the trade was gold. You could see the seven stages of denial working their way through his system :D Didn't make the deal worthwhile for me, but it was good. For Dvorak, he played a whack against Tkachuk because MacT was still living through his Weight obsession when he played STL, and surely the blues noticed. As for Dvorak ... a terrible playoff run surel;y hurt him, and a chance to play big minutes for STL and get his value back up was probably the motivation for the deal. I saw him vs NYI the other night. A really useful player IMO, I'll be curious to see where he ends up this summer, I've got a hunch it will be Nashville.

I'd really like to give Lowe the benefit of the doubt here and assume that his recent moves have been intentional. That he's gunning for the first overall pick in the next couple of years. But Kevin "Billy Beane" Lowe is looking a little more like Wayne "The Pope" Gretzky with every decision he makes. I take no joy in this, not like I did with every transaction Sather made with the Rangers when he went there. And this really is some stupid, stupid shit.

C'est la vie.

3/03/2007 3:03 pm  

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