28 July 2009

Building a Winner – Theory in Practice

There are surely as many theories out there as to how to build a winner in the NHL as there are teams in the NHL, and probably a great deal more. Everybody and anybody with a passion for the game (knowledge be damned) believes they have what it takes, in savvy and strategy, to put together a championship roster—such is the foundation of fantasy sports leagues and inspired debate in hockey forums and pubs alike.

cyclelikesedins Along this vein, an interesting hockey-social experiment is being conducted over at Cycle like the Sedins, as orchestrated by James T. O’Brien, in which I will be one of 30 armchair GM’s (representing le bleu-blanc-rouge, no less) participating in a full fantasy Re-Draft of the NHL. Inspired by EA Sports’ NHL franchise and its upcoming 2010 edition’s renewal of the fantasy draft option, the dispersal draft will be broadcast live over the course of the 23 rounds of selections as 30 GMs carrying unique perspectives and opportunities attempt to concoct their own recipe for success—from scratch.

The results of our ambitious project will then be applied to the soon to be releasednhl10_cover_300x3701 NHL10, with the newly constructed 30 teams facing off through a simulated 2009-10 season to determine a winner. Along the way, all involved and observing will gain some insight into differing schools of thought and team-building strategies as many of the participating GMs are chronicling their selections and the process that went into them on their own blogs.

I, too, will be offering up a few tidbits on this space while we go through this process, revealing some of the motivations behind my picks, sources of inspiration, surprises, successes, disappointments, critiques of other teams’ selections and, of course, lots and lots of trash-talking. After all, what fun would a fantasy league be without irreverent wit and zealous heckling?

As it stands, we are through 26 picks in the 1st round, with yours truly and his Canadiens owning the 29th overall pick. Any suggestions? Theories? Trash-talk?

22 July 2009

Numbers Game – Statistical Analysis & Management

Working with a company that has been family-owned and operated for several decades has provided me with a sort of second-hand history lesson in business-practice and management. Through the lunch-room and water cooler stories of the family's octogenarian patriarch and his son (the company’s current President), all with a heavy coating of my father’s 35 years of overlapping experience on both sides of the retail game and his tendency to comment on and contextualize everything I am exposed to, I’ve been privy to a mini crash-course in the experiences, culture and evolution of a rapidly changing and increasingly challenging business landscape.

A micro sample even within our respective market, the lessons I have learned are nonetheless universally applicable to competitive business models, which must perennially react, evolve and strive to be ahead of the curve in their given sector. Among the leading trends of the past couple decades, in direct correlation with the advancement and proliferation of computer capabilities of course, is the increased emphasis on and sophistication of market research and statistical analysis. Gone are the days in which sales was a game of throwing mud at the wall to see what would stick; today, every item must be carefully studied and micro-managed in order to exploit every shred of opportunity available in a crowded and inherently limited marketplace.

Similarly, NHL hockey has become increasingly professionalized at all levels (from management to coaching, scouting, even player personnel) in response to a progressively more competitive market for all involved. Magnifying and intensifying these pressures, the CBA and its Salary Cap structure place even greater onus on roster decisions, as shortcomings and mistakes can no longer be corrected by throwing money at the best available free agents. Where assets remain limited and funds are suddenly capped, a system that was once dominated by deep wallets suddenly and necessarily converts to an obsessive search for value.


Evinced by the emergence of a burgeoning field of study devoted to the statistical analysis of hockey (see Hockey Analytics, Puck Prospectus, Behind the Net, Hockey on Paper, Objective NHL, Hockey Numbers, etc.), the trend towards more sophisticated means of talent evaluation has also spawned the solicitation of NHL organizations by consulting groups such as Coleman Analytics. The pioneering endeavour of statistician, Richard Coleman, and former Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks GM, Mike Smith, Coleman Analytics is breaking ground in what could prove to be a viable long-term resource for all NHL organizations.statistics

The key to analytics, which Smith himself is careful to distinguish, is that they are not simply statistics. Stats are available in near infinite variations, limited only by the ability to objectively measure some facet of the game, but raw data can only tell you so much: the significance of analytics, on the other hand, lies in the ability to shape, contextualize, and draw relevance from the numbers. Analytics look to dig beyond the surface to discern the objectivity behind the numbers and to engineer complex new criteria by which a player’s relative impact or value can be assessed. A terrific complement to the work of an NHL GM (already tasked with formulating such guesses), analytical studies effectively present mathematically supported conjectures.

Numbers on a spreadsheet can never replace the eyes and instincts of managers and evaluators though, nor should they; according to Smith himself, his services are not to be relied upon independently of traditional forms of evaluation, but as an added mike smithlayer of intelligence and confirmation (or refutation) of what you already think you know. The bottom line is that NHL organizations, like other businesses, have a responsibility to seek out every possible edge they can in order to best position themselves within their marketplace, and this new breed of analytical consultant may offer just that (Smith claims that, in 3 seasons in the NHL, 17 of 20 teams using his services have reached the playoffs).

Most infamously instituted by Okland A’s manager, Billy Beane, in the form of Sabermetrics, the analytical movement has been slower to take hold in hockey than in other major team sports. This, Smith suggests, is at least in part the result of a ‘conservative’ hockey world that is often slow to change, but one whose general acceptance of analytics as a practical tool is bound to increase as the field of study reaches new levels of depth and refinement and, more importantly, as it becomes associated with success.

At the heart of it all, however, the Salary Cap is the catalyst that made analytics a viable and desirable resource for NHL teams in the first place: putting the onus on GM’s to assemble a winning roster with capped funds, the new structure of the NHL turns GM’s from simple spenders (particularly in the larger markets) to high-risk investors who must very selectively divvy up their resources in order to obtain the highest possible returns. Players thus effectively become stocks, thoroughly studied in terms of their relative market value, expected yield and cost-effectiveness.

Pivotal in determining a solid investment? Structured analytics, of course.

17 July 2009

Numbers Game - The Curious Case of Mikhail Grabovski

grabboIn these, the Dog Days of the NHL off-season, I’ve come across multiple Toronto  Maple Leaf fans with a rather optimistic view of Mikhail Grabovski. Knowing the player fairly well, and having watched him play over a period of time, I found myself rather surprised by the idealistic perception of his forward potential in the NHL and with the Leafs.

One of the simplest and most invaluable lessons learned in the early stages of my career in business (as a vendor of domestically retailed product) is that results rule the day. As my tremendously experienced father/boss/mentor repeats time and time again, “there are a lot of stories in the naked city, but numbers never lie.” Organizations (like the one I represent in sales) can claim as many reasons as they like as to why their product is going to be outstanding, or as many excuses as they like as to why their product didn’t perform as well as anticipated, but one thing stands above all the stories and substantiates reality—numbers.

More interesting still, these numbers don’t change; a product’s performance in one setting will very closely dictate its performance in any comparable setting and, with proper historical knowledge and a small subset of relevant data, can be forecasted to within a few percentage points of its results for the total season based on a few simple statistics and trends.

Though admittedly far more complex than the retail sales of a given product, the development and contributions of a given hockey player can be roughly forecasted based on extremely similar principles as those found in the retail game. Pierre McGuire’s comments regarding Cristobal Huet immediately come to mind, as he repeatedly suggested that Huet’s suddenly All-Star worthy play as the Canadiens’ goaltender, in his 30’s, was probably more of a blip than an indication of his true level of play. A product, my father says, does not suddenly become good; it either is good or it isn’t, and the proof is in the pudding.

Bringing this all back to the case of Grabovski, it struck me as being completely out of line that segments of Leaf-nation believe he may score 30+ goals next season, though a quick glance at his career stats reveals that he has never scored more than 20 in any single season as a professional.

“Yes,” Leafs fans will protest, “but he’s just getting started at this level.” To that I must defer to Gabriel Desjardins and his work on League Equivalencies, where he begins by offering the statistical tidbit that NHL players actually peak in terms of point-production between the ages of 23 and 26, and that their point-per-game production reaches 90% of its peak value even earlier (Grabovski is 25). The depth of his research, however, focuses on the average statistical translation of players’ point-production from one league to another. As with comparing results at Wal-Mart versus those at Zellers, for example, different settings or leagues have different standard values by which similar data may thus be extrapolated. For players with little NHL experience, this study and its findings therefore serve as a crude barometer of what may be expected of a given player based on his production at another level.

ahl For AHL players making the jump, a point in the American Hockey League will equal, on average, 0.45 points at the NHL level. Grabovski’s 25 goals and 74 points in 78 total games in the AHL therefore suggests he should score, per 82-game NHL season, about 13 goals and 37 points. As for his experience in the Russian Elite League, where one point equals 0.91 points in the NHL, Grabovski’s 10 goals and 27 points in the 2005-06 season (his best of 3, statistically) suggest an output of about 16 goals and 44 points per 82 games at the NHL level. Having already reached the age at which most players see their production peak, and with a relevant set of historical stats that suggest 20 goals may in fact be a relatively high output, the numbers are clearly stacked against Grabovski ever attaining the 30-goal mark.

“Yes,” Leafs fans will protest, “but he’ll see more time on the PP this year.” While potentially impactful on his overall point totals, Grabovski’s elevation within the ranks of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ roster has to cut both ways. Yes, he will now very likely centre the first PP unit, but he must also now contend with opposing teams’ #1 defensive matchups on a nightly basis. In the end, the issue of dealing with such uncertain variables is both tricky and misleading, and so I will turn once again to a slightly more empirical method of projection of the expected output of a player, by way of ‘Triumph’ at Hockey on Paper. Determining the estimated production of a player moving from one team to another by comparing the two teams’ offensive stats, Triumph’s formula can be adapted as “a reasonable ballpark metric” for players entering another season with the same team.

In this case, changes to the Maple Leafs’ roster from 2008-09 to 2009-10 become relevant in the projection of individual goal and point totals, as the Burkeian shift in team identity and personnel may have a significant impact on the Maple Leafs’ overall offensive output. Building from the backend with big, physical, stay-at-home defensemen, Burke and the Maple Leafs have temporarily abstained from acquiring top-end offensive talent and, with the departure of their #1 centre in Nik Antropov, have let go of one of their top point-producers. Should Tomas Kaberle be moved, as rumoured, it would appear increasingly unlikely for this Maple Leafs squad to generate much in the way of offense, with very little reason to believe they will (as a sum of their parts) match last year’s 250 goals for.grabovski While this last look does nothing to necessarily discount Grabovski’s potential production next season, it certainly puts a caveat on it: a player’s production may spike when introduced to a stronger overall setting or when suddenly surrounded by greater support, but the reverse is also applicable.

There exists, of course, an as of yet undetermined myriad of factors that can and will play a role in Grabovski’s end-of-year goal and point totals; the bottom line, however, is that there is at this point nothing more than stories to validate the opinion that Grabovski has the potential to reach 30 (or even 25) goals next season. Until those stories are played out in next season’s scoresheets and bylines, they remain nothing more than fantasy and unsubstantiated hype.

13 July 2009

Creative Capology – No Cap on Management

The post-lockout NHL has seen a rebirth of the league in many senses; among those, and taking centre stage this off-season more than any before it, is a near-obsessive focus on the Salary Cap and its constraints. salary capWhile the Cap rose substantially in each successive year of its current existence (from its initial number of $39M in 2005-06 to $44.8M in 2006-07, to $50.3M in 2007-08, to $56.7M this past season), this season will see just a minute increase of $100,000 to $56.8M. The result, predictably, is increased attention to and anxiety concerning the Salary Cap and its potentially crippling effects, exacerbated by the belief that the Cap is set to actually decrease going into the 2010-11 season.

Greg Wyshynski, of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, aptly describes this as "a symptom of cap culture," by which, he writes, “every conversation about the Game is anchored by its financial implications.” The summer’s biggest moves (including Marian Hossa’s 12-year contract with the Blackhawks, and the addition of Chris Pronger to the Flyers’ blueline) are therefore mired in debates over their long-term Cap implications rather than the impact these players may have on Stanley Cup contention. This is the sullen truth of today’s NHL, in which fans must debate not only the levels of talent involved, but also the financial ramifications of any and every move.

This fixation with the workings of the Salary Cap is evident on the executive and operational side of the NHL as well, except where fans and media generally focus on its constraints, NHL owners, GM’s and agents are caught in an obsessive search for creative loopholes by which to circumvent its obvious pressures. Like the ‘have-nots’ of the pre-lockout NHL, everybody must now make the most of a limited supply of spendable resources and so most (if not all) NHL teams now employ a full-time ‘Capologist’ to assist in understanding and managing the Cap as well as analyzing and identifying its many opportunities.

money_treeWith the creative management of the Cap has come the proliferation of extremely long-term contracts with averaged down annual salaries (the pros and cons of which have been hotly contested), bonus-incentive structures and Cap-motivated player movement. One aspect of the Cap that has not received as much attention, however, and one which leaves significant opportunity for teams to improve their chances at success without negatively affecting their payroll structure against the Cap, is that there are no limitations whatsoever placed on the salaries of coaching, management and other operational personnel.

While teams in greater financial standing may no longer spend as much as they like in securing the top players available, they may still exploit their fiscal advantage by spending virtually limitless amounts of money in securing the finest scouts, GM’s, coaches, trainers and other organizational assets that money can buy. Similar scenarios can be found in other free market settings, where the pursuit of a given sector’s finest executives goes so far as to incite poaching among competing organizations. The realities of the NHL cannot be isolated from those of the business world as a whole, where competition is intense and companies will do anything and everything to manufacture whatever advantage possible within their respective marketplace.

For NHL teams, like other corporations, an advantageous structure begins at the top with the hiring and placement of the most capable and talented individuals available. With a strictly limited ability to pour resources directly into player personnel, the importance of drafting, development and decision-making become intensely magnified within a Salary Cap structure; ensuring success on the ice therefore requires an extremely competent structure at the executive and managerial level.business teamwork - business men making a puzzle Presenting thus a tremendous opportunity, teams would be well-served to recognize that there is no Salary Cap on management and executive-level personnel. Following one of the primary rules of business, it is the responsibility of each and every NHL organization to structure and surround itself with the most valuable assets available to it. Filtering down from the decisions of GM’s, scouts and coaches, strength at the top directly influences the bottom line—in this case, wins and losses. The first, simplest and, perhaps, most impactful place to seek solutions in creative capology is therefore to spare no expense in securing the best available people at all positions (mirroring the on-ice ideal). Anything less would be contradictory to the pursuit of success.

09 July 2009

Building a Winner - The ‘7-Player Profile’

As with any business executive, NHL GM’s have a very clearly defined #1 priority—to create and maintain a winning formula for the present and future of their organization. For this to be true, GM’s essentially have to predict which business plan and which product will be most successful now as well as in the future and, like any good forecaster, must carefully study and digest past results and trends while constantly adapting to emerging tendencies and evolving realities within their market. Analytics in tow, GM’s and other such executives are left with the final responsibility of compiling their findings and theories on success and projecting them into a comprehensive strategy by which to attain it—or, more accurately, they make an educated guess then wing it as needed. four%20figures%20putting%20together%20puzzle%20pieces

One such theory in NHL circles (and the only one I know in any detail as NHL GM’s typically don’t make their strategies public) is put forward by former NHL Coach & Scout and current TV Analyst & Prognosticator, Pierre McGuire. Dubbed “The 7-Player Profile”, McGuire’s theory focuses on amassing 7 crucial elements, which, according to the Profile, are: 2 very good centres (C); 1 effective power forward or ‘big-body’ presence (PF); 1 offensive defenseman (OD); 1 ‘stabilizing’ defenseman (SD); 1 elite goaltender (G); and 1 versatile impact role player (RP). Build this core, the theory claims, and success will surely follow.

A theory, though, is only as strong as it is accurate, and its validity must be judged against two basic criteria: first, it must be aligned with and neatly capsule recent historical observations; and secondly, it must be judged across time as it is pitted against future outcomes. As mentioned above, a theory’s conception ought to be based upon careful study and analysis of past results; if a theory does not support recent realities, it is automatically and inherently flawed. Once a theory is developed that can accurately explain the successes of the past, it is presented as a quasi-rule and conceptual map of the future.

In the case of McGuire’s ‘7-Player Profile’ then, we may want to look at recent Stanley Cup Champion teams and their completion rates in comparison to the profile. The past two seasons in particular offer an interesting comparison point as Pittsburgh and Detroit battled in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals.

zetterberg_calderIn 2008, the Red Wings were the victors over the Penguins in a 6-game battle. Filling McGuire’s 7 lynchpin positions were: Pavel Datsyuk (C), Henrik Zetterberg (C), Johan Franzen (PF), Brian Rafalski (OD), Niklas Lidstrom (SD), Chris Osgood (G) and, well, take your pick of impact role players on the Red Wings roster. Of course, lines become blurred by regarding Lidstrom as ‘stabilizing’ when he’s also extremely good offensively, but the 7 key elements are filled nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the Penguins made up their 7-Player Profile as follows: Sidney Crosby (C), Evgeni Malkin (C), Ryan Malone (PF), Sergei Gonchar (OD), Brooks Orpik (SD), Marc-André Fleury (G) and, well, they didn’t exactly have a Kris Draper or Kirk Maltby in their lineup (a 19 year old Jordan Staal?). Overall, the Pens’ 7-Player Profile was outmatched by that of the Wings (particularly considering Malkin’s poor play in the Finals), and the Wings emerged the victors.NHL-PENGUINS-RED-WINGS

The two teams’ tales were reversed in 2009 with nearly identical profiles. For the Red Wings, Mikael Samuelsson, Dan Cleary and Darren Helm played the role of versatile impact players (RP) as an aging Maltby and Draper played less of a role, while the balance of their profile remained in tact. For Pittsburgh, Malone was replaced by the likes of Marian Hossa, Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin (PF), while Malkin was much better and Staal and Maxime Talbot (RP) each had a tremendous impact on the series. On this go around, it was one of Detroit’s two centremen in Pavel Datsyuk who was not 100%, and so the balance was tilted towards Pittsburgh.

In terms of analyzing even minor deviations within the profile schematics then, McGuire’s theory appears to hold water. Two teams with great players in the 7 key roles battled through two hard-fought Sanley Cup Finals, each winning once when everything came together.

The last lop-sided Stanley Cup victory, meanwhile, was staged in 2006 when Anaheim disposed of Ottawa in just 5 games. For the Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf (C), Andy McDonald (C), Dustin Penner (PF), Scott Niedermayer (OD), Chris Pronger (SD), Jean-Sébastien Giguère (G) and Sami Pahlsson (RP) were all pivotal throughout the playoffs. On the Senators’ side, Jason Spezza (C), Mike Fisher (C), Wade Redden (OD) and Chris Phillips (SD) fleshed out the core of their profile, which conspicuously lacked a true power forward, elite goaltender (forever their Achilles heel) and impact role player on the level of a Sami Pahlsson. The result, 5 and out.frozen_inside060907 Remarkably, McGuire’s ‘7-Player Profile’ rather concisely capsules some apparently determining factors in the results of the past 3 Stanley Cup Championships. The true test of a theory, though, is how accurately it predicts future occurrences. In fairness here, McGuire’s theory can be traced back at least as far back as the start of the 2006-07 Playoffs, and so it can be attributed with a rather good degree of success in three consecutive instances.

Regardless, it will be interesting to keep this profile in mind as the NHL enters a new season with (perhaps) a new Champion, and new Champions after them. How many pieces of the profile does your team have in place? How do your 7 pieces compare against those of other teams? What will you need to do to match up against the best profile in the league?

As far as I can see, and if the ‘7-Player Profile’ bears fruit, Chicago is the next great up-and-coming squad (ok, we didn’t need any theory to tell us that), and Los Angeles isn’t far behind. Other teams, despite tremendous expectations, just might not have what it takes, should the profile prove definitive.

07 July 2009

My Personal Brand – The Beginning

Prior to this summer’s NHL entry draft in Montreal, I attended a Career Conference hosted by Sports Management Worldwide, who offer several specialized courses intended to prepare their students for non-athletic careers in sports. Over the course of the conference, SMWW President and founder, Dr. Lynn Lashbrook, referred time and time again to his hope that we all be given the opportunity to “monetize” our passion.

sports_manageme_060317_s At the time, the slogan came across as contrived and subtly cunning (the man does, after all, make a living of selling—aka ‘monetizing’—the hope of a career in sports). As the phrase was given time to settle however, it made perfect sense and began to resonate within me—I can make a living doing something I love, and as difficult as it may be (and believe me, the tone of the conference was not exactly optimistic as to the prospects of actually attaining a position in the NHL), I know that I can make it all happen for myself.

It was at this point that I casually began to brainstorm creative approaches and a roughly mapped strategy for attaining my ultimate goal. As luck would have it, Entry Draft weekend was also my first as an active participant in the Twitter-verse as I hoped to get some insider updates while attending the event live. Impressed by its capabilities, Twitter was to become a focal point of my campaign to get a job in the NHL, along with other social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn and this very blog. twitter_logoThrough Twitter, I stumbled upon the profile of Dan Schawbel, a leading expert on social media and personal branding. At first uncertain of what ‘personal branding’ meant, a quick overview of Schawbel’s site revealed to me that personal branding was precisely the initiative I had already set in motion, only better articulated.

“Personal branding,” he says, “is the process of how we market ourselves to others.” Tracing this back to what all that a brand is and should be, I realized that the strategy I had mapped out for myself was nothing more nor less than an effort to create a marketable brand of myself. Several speakers at the SMWW conference spoke to the need to differentiate oneself from the pack, which is precisely what branding is intended to do. My brand, my stigma, my point of relevance, I had determined, would be developed and broadcast through a web of social media tools and other networking opportunities—this, I had decided, was my ticket to fulfillment.pbtriangle

Bringing it all together for me conceptually, Schawbel paints his Personal Branding Success Triangle. “Success,” he writes, “is the ability to monetize your passion” (yep, there’s that line again), which cannot be achieved in his estimation without the proper structure of three crucial and inter-related components: Passion, Expertise and a Support System. 

I have no doubt that I hold within me the passion needed to thrive in the NHL, nor do I hesitate to confirm that I possess the skills needed to succeed—the weakest portion of my Personal Branding Triangle then would be my support system, which is lacking not in depth of support (from friends and family), but in the breadth of my network. The initial focus of my campaign to land a job in the NHL then, is to more clearly define, expand and enhance my brand and the network by which it is recognized.network

The one area in which I disagree with Schawbel is that he holds success as the monetization of your passion, whereas I feel (perhaps naively) that success may in fact precede money. It is the realization of my passion to be a part of the NHL or one of its organizations that will confirm my success—money doesn’t necessarily or immediately have to factor into it.

Similarly, I hope my campaign, despite its advertised motives of self-advancement, brings much more than success, as described by Schawbel. Establishing my personal profile and developing a network of like-minded and interesting individuals will, I expect, be most gratifying in and of itself and not as a means to anything else. People matter; everything else is gravy.

05 July 2009

Protecting your Assets – A Case Study of the 2009 Canadiens

As a relative novice to the business world, I have been exposed in the last couple years to countless words of wisdom and rules to live by—keys to success, or so I’ve been told. Among those, and one that stood out even to my rookie rationale, was what my father told me to be the most important aspect of any business endeavour, period: “Always protect your assets.” Touching far more than strict financials, a company’s assets encompass its entire structure of available resources, from top to bottom. A company is only as good as its assets, my father reminded me, and so they should never be put at risk, no matter the pressures and realities facing the business.

This was a lesson that rang especially true to me while watching this year’s edition of the NHL’s ‘Free Agent Frenzy’ unfold. What’s most attractive about free agents (overpaying aside), of course, is that they cost your organization nothing more than the terms of the contract tendered—not a player, not a prospect, not even a draft pick, just commitment and cash. In other words, acquisition via free agency offers a means of adding assets without subtracting any others.

gainey Generally, teams will use free agency to address specific needs, be it the need for a ‘big-ticket’ talent to push a Cup contender over the top or a couple of role players to fill holes in a club’s roster, including vacancies left by players entering free agency themselves. This year, the Montreal Canadiens have broached free agency in a manner unlike any NHL franchise has before, and offer a potentially valuable case study in asset management at the NHL player level.

Montreal entered the 2008-09 season with 10 UFA’s (not to mention RFA’s) on their roster and with a club policy not to negotiate with free agents during the course of the season. As the season progressed and soured, many were quick to point toward the team’s free agency status as a root cause. More alarming still, however, was the team’s reluctance to hold discussions with any of their UFA’s until the week leading up to July 1st, at which point it was reported that Montreal had begun negotiations with Mike Komisarek, who had been identified as the club’s priority, and that the Canadiens would not be offering contracts to their other UFA’s until after July 1st, if at all.

To date, Komisarek remains the only Canadiens’ UFA to have signed a contract for next season, inking a five-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. By this outcome alone, Bob Gainey can be judged to have erred; by allowing the one player he had identified as a priority to enter free agency and sign elsewhere, he failed to protect one of his most valuable assets—an asset that now belongs to one of their closest competitors, no less.komi

The question reverberates—if Mike Komisarek was Montreal’s #1 priority at the conclusion of a very disappointing season for the blueliner, was he not a priority last summer? and if so, why was a contract extension not secured then? Had they gone the route of Columbus with Rick Nash and negotiated an extension prior to entering the final year of his contract, I am confident that Mike Komisarek would still be a Canadien today.

If the reports are true, Komisarek and Alex Kovalev are the only outgoing UFA’s to have received any type of contract offer from the Canadiens, and it currently appears that none of Montreal’s 10 UFA’s will return with the club next season. Should that prove to be the case, the 2008-09 Canadiens must be deemed an unmitigated disaster in asset management. Regardless of whether or not free agent acquisitions Cammalleri, Gionta, Spacek and Gill can supplant the outgoing members of the Canadiens, the fact remains that Montreal had 10 assets within their organization already (assets in which they had invested heavily) that they have allowed to walk away without anything to show for it.

Montreal’s moves this off-season have been interesting, aggressive and controversial. More than any of these adjectives however, Montreal’s moves have been forced—forced by necessity to overpay to replace a large group of effectively forfeited assets. While teams will always lose players to free agency (be it due to salary cap constrictions, disputes with management or because the player no longer fits into the team’s plans), losing half of your roster all at once should not and, I dare venture, will not happen again at the NHL level. By the example of the Montreal Canadiens (results notwithstanding), structuring a team to conclude their season with so many assets at risk must be deemed reckless and potentially disastrous.