With the off-season in full-swing, rampant with rumors and the excitement and expectations that always surround approaching drafts, it’s no wonder that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s move to shore up the goaltender position for next season, trading for Anders Lindback last Friday, received a lot of attention.
Much of this attention was mixed but fairly predictable. Local coverage was cautiously optimistic, acknowledging the sum paid for and risk that comes with acquiring such a young goalie but didn’t voice any clear objections. Take, for example, this calculated endorsement Jim Couteau of the blog Bolts by the Bay gave in his report:
“Lindback is a solid netminder to begin with and with further coaching, I feel he has the potential to become one of the top Number 1s in the league. The only lingering doubt I have is how he adjusts to the new blueline in front of him…”
“No. Just no. He’s very good, but inexperienced and his style is far too different from Frantz Jean’s style for him to have a hope of a chance here. Yes he needs to learn control…He’d be cheap, though.”
National coverage, like Kevin Allen’s piece, was mostly routine and balanced, framing the trade as an educated and cost-effective gamble. Jesse Spector went so far as to express his belief that Lindback will be the difference-maker in Tampa, Greg Wyshynski could only guess how the trade will pan out and Adam Gretz, noting the “steep price”, lauded the effort:
“This seems like as good a place as any to start [to address the goaltending]…The question now is what type of production Lindback can give the Lightning…and whether or not it will be good enough to get them back into the playoffs. One thing is for sure: he can’t possibly be any worse than what they had last year.”
Cam Charron, however, deviated quite substantially from the rest of the pack with a rather bold and peculiar judgement of Yzerman and the trade itself. Charron’s essential premise is that by sending two 2nd-round draft picks (plus a 3rd in 2013) Yzerman paid too much to acquire Lindback from Nashville. It’s a bit early to make that call, perhaps, but given Yzerman acknowledged it was a “hefty” sum himself, Charron’s conclusion, on the surface, isn’t exactly outrageous. It’s his reasoning, though, that is so puzzling and, ultimately, flawed. You see, Charron’s biggest problem with Yzerman acquiring Lindback was in the methodology; the big mistake, apparently, was completing a trade rather than using an offer-sheet to secure his target:
“The other thing to consider is that if you’re going to try to exploit an economic advantage by keeping that cap figure for your goaltender low, why not sign Lindback to an offer sheet? It’s unlikely that the Predators would go too high to match whatever Tampa Bay was willing to sign him to: anything between roughly $1.7M and $3.4M would have cost the Bolts a single second-round pick.”
Of course, Yzerman had already expressed his reluctance to use an offer-sheet in a recent interview, providing a counterpoint to the very argument Charron was trying to make by stating his belief that offer-sheets merely inflate a team’s “pay structure”:
“The only way a team doesn’t match the offer is if you grossly overpay the player,” he said. “That’s why I don’t like it. If you do a contract for the right value of a player, chances are the other team is just going to match it.”
Really, what were the odds that Lindback is going to sign a very affordable (i.e. anything under $2m), multi-year deal that Nashville wouldn’t match? Yzerman would have been doing Poile a favor. And if you know you would have to substantially overpay Lindback via offer-sheet now in order to ensure Poile would take the compensation, why risk escalating Lindback’s salary expectations for the next contract when you don’t have to?
Charron, though, is really hung up on the extra 2nd-rounder Yzerman had to give up, so much so that he suggests the process of acquiring a goalie trumps identifying and pursuing one in particular:
“I find it hard to believe that Lindback was the only guy that the Lightning were considering from that “potential starter, slightly used” stock. We’re looking at piles of goalies…you think one of them could have been had for a price less than two second round draft picks…If Lindback doesn’t want to sign the offer sheet, then go on to the next guy.”
Charron makes it seem as if the Lightning should value these goalies (he specifically cites Richar Bachman, Leland Irving, Eddie Lack, Ben Scrivens, Jeremy Smith and Iiro Tarkki as options) almost equally and be content with whoever they end up signing to an offer-sheet, which is ludicrous and doesn’t make sense. That is, unless you choose to view the Lindback trade through the selective prism that Charron himself does: the latest in a string of trades (he notes the Varlamov trade last summer) for which that offer-sheets were the best, but unused, alternative that could have saved teams valuable assets and symptomatic of a much-larger and league-wide problem of “frowned upon” rules hindering shrewder management:
“If you can’t beat ‘em in the boardroom, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice. If teams don’t like the fact that their players will be available when their contracts expire, they ought to make the unwritten rule a written rule this summer when the Collective Bargaining Agreement is re-negotiated and not allow teams to sign players to offer sheets.”
Ah, the prospect of enlightened NHL management freed from the inefficiencies born of mutually-assured revenge to pursue the full extent of what is allowed by a governing agreement; this is Charron’s cause celebre. If Yzerman is to be believed (and, really, given the straight-shooter he’s proven himself to be thus far, why shouldn’t he be?), though, the infrequent use of offer-sheets can, again, be chalked up to more pragmatic concerns. Local beat writer Damian Cristodero summed up Yzerman’s thoughts on the issue:
“Yzerman said he doesn’t like using offer sheets to lure players from an opponent, and it has nothing to do with the idea fellow GMs would look unfavorably at the maneuver…
Asked if he would be worried about such frayed feelings, Yzerman said, “Well, not really.”"
Yzerman went on to note that all GMs try to “put the best team on the ice within the rules of the CBA” and emphasize that it’s their concern for overpaying players that makes offer-sheets ultimately unpalatable and, thus, the prospect of overpaying in terms assets via trade more tolerable.
Perhaps Charron’s really on to something regarding the lack of offer sheets and maybe Yzerman’s just playing coy or just incorrectly projecting his logic to be similar across the league, but, even if that were the case, his criticism of Yzerman and the Lindback trade–again, to be clear, it’s the implication that the Lightning overpaid to get their starter but the single-minded reasoning used–remains misguided.
Ultimately whether Yzerman overpaid or could have successfully made an affordable offer-sheet, is speculative minutiae. What is done is done and, more importantly, the Lightning are confident that, in Anders Lindback, they have a starting goalie for the present and the future, the final piece to a young and promising core that includes Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. For a Lightning fan base that has seen so many struggle and so few succeed at the goalie position, it is Lindback’s performance, not what was used to obtain him, that will define his legacy in Tampa.