Free Agency, Trades, and NHL Careers

By Stevie

Thus far, July 1st isn’t shaping up to be what people thought it would be. Many teams are signing guys and very much active, but nothing Blockbuster has occurred as of yet around the biggest names up for  grabs: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. You can throw in Rick Nash as well  and the outrageous return that Columbus GM Scott Howson wants for him.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Fans are starting to get pretty jammed up at this point in the day but what I am noticing more and more is the very skewed view that many fans have of athletes and professional sports in general when it comes to signings and trades.

This morning, Jordan Staal signed a $60 million, 10 year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. Consensus is about 50/50 on either hating Staal for taking the same deal that the Penguins offered him in a new city or being happy for him.  If Staal had signed for even more money, people would still be up in arms because Staal went for the money.

Here is the thing: the Pens got a really nice return on Staal, rather than losing him next season in free agency for nothing. Staal didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh because he hated the city or the fans or the team. This is his career and with the Pens having Malkin and Sid as the top two centers, there is really no room for Staal to ever achieve that larger role that he wishes to play. Staal is one of the best two-way players in the league. He does not deserve to spend his career drowning on a third line, playing with Tyler Kennedy. In Carolina, he will likely alternate between the first and second line depending on the health of the team and he gets to play with his brother,  which a long term contract in Pittsburgh would have negated completely for the duration of his career.

Staal chose family and his professional development over the Pens. There is no shame in that. And if the Canes HAD offered him more money, so what? This is his job.

That is where the disconnect comes in with fans. These guys aren’t changing teams like if you move to a new school in high school. This is their career and their careers are very finite. It only takes one injury to end things for you and it may be your first year in the league or further down the line. That is a risk. Then what? You start your life all over. Life after sports when you chose a sport career over going to college or the military or a trade school or going right into the workforce is like being 18 all over again. What is your new life path going to be?

Some of the numbers being thrown out there for Suter and Parise are completely outlandish if they are in fact true. However, the whole notion that it makes them primadonnas for going after a bigger pay day than a team with a chance at a championship is ridiculous.

Championships are not guaranteed the way the money is. Go back to Trade Deadline Day of the 2011/2012 season. Who would you have chosen as the Stanley Cup champions? I promise you it wasn’t the Kings…or the Devils making it past the second round. Most people thought the Penguins…and I’m talking experts. Not just fans.

The Pens have a team full of talent and have exited the playoffs early for the past three seasons. So saying that Parise would be giving up a Cup to go to let’s say Minnesota (his home state mind you) for money isn’t bad. Bobby Ryan has openly said he would like to go to Philadelphia. A friend and I were talking today and he had it exactly right when he said “Just because fans hate the Flyers here in Pittsburgh, it doesn’t mean that players hate them.” These guys are all friends off of the ice. The Flyers are Bobby Ryan’s hometown team. Who doesn’t dream of playing in their career in front of their own community and raising a Cup there?

Remember when Mario Lemieux wasn’t too happy about being drafted by Pittsburgh over Montreal, his home? While that may have worked out for the best, it is still something to look at.

Sidney Crosby and many other players have taken hometown discounts over bigger paydays. That doesn’t make them classier than players looking at what is financially expedient. Do you realize how much money Sid is banking off of Gatorade and Reebok? He has money coming in from other places.

Crosby is good on soundbites about how much he loves the fans and such. That may be all very much true. But at the same time, taking the fans into consideration isn’t a top priority. If I made my career decisions based on how many people liked me I’d be in a hell of a bad position in life. Fans are typically great to their players everywhere. Wherever Parise lands, he will have fans cheering for him.

Loving your job is great, but when advancing your career, you have to take money into consideration. I love my job. I like going to work every day. I like what I do for a living. I make a good living. I like my co-workers. But eventually I am going to make a change. I’ve been with the same company for 6 years, but I have advanced upward and moved departments. That’s all that is happening in the NHL today. People are just moving around like they are looking to take the same position with a new company. What happens when you look to make a move in your career? You’re looking for money. I can tell you personally, that I am not switching companies or departments for less money. I love my job, but if another company or department offered me a bigger payday in a nice working environment, I’d take it.

Then what of picking up your whole life and moving it? Moving to a new city (especially if your are a player who has a wife/children/etc) is a HUGE decision. Would YOU take that lightly?

Remember ladies and gents…the NHL is a business. Is Max Talbot grossly overpaid in Philadelphia? Yes. Did he do what was best for his career? Yes. Look at Jaromir Jagr. He CLEARLY went for money, no matter where his “heart” was. It’s their job.

It’s nice to think that we would all choose principle over money, but at the end of the day, making more money doesn’t mean that you are horrible or even that you went to a place you would be miserable. We are outsiders looking in and Philadephia, Montreal, New York, and Detroit might be amazing places to be if you are an NHL player. And if they can supply your wallet with more cushion, good for you.

That being said…Ryan Malone you were so overpaid when you left here! 😉

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