Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tucker

The most difficult task facing JFJ at the moment (other than trying to come up with an explanation as to why the $19M spent on the back end of this club hasn’t dropped the teams goals against) might be what to do with Darcy Tucker.

Love him or hate him, Tucker represents outstanding value in today’s capped environment. Last season, he was fourth in team scoring with 28 goals and 33 assists – good for 61 points and 77th overall in NHL scoring.

All that for $1.596M. Not bad.

With thirteen goals already this season, it’s clear that Tucker is in for a big raise. But don’t buy into any of the recent media coverage indicating that this is a deal that has to happen quickly. David Shoalts correctly pointed out that the NHL dictates that a player cannot sign a contract that is a 100-per-cent increase or more on their current salary until after January 1.

Should he stay or should he go?

Clearly, the contract terms Tucker is seeking will dictate whether he’s signed or dealt.

Howard Berger was one of the first to weigh-in on what level of compensation Tucker might be due.

I generally like Howard’s coverage of the Leafs and he seems like a decent guy, but his post’s implicit suggestion that Tucker be compensated along the likes Savard ($5M), St. Louis ($6M) or Demitra ($4.5M) was ridiculous.

More recently, Brendan Morrow’s name popped up in the media as measuring stick for Tucker’s next deal.

But neither Morrow nor any of Berger’s comparators are legitimate analogs when it comes to either Tucker’s age or his production.

Savard finished 9th overall in NHL scoring, outpacing Tucker by 36 points.

Demitra may have only outscored Tucker by 1 point, but he put up those numbers in just 58 games and Demitra has a history as an elite scorer recording 93 points in 2003 – a stratosphere Tucker has never approached (and likely never will).

St. Louis may not have filled the net lately, but his contract was clearly in reaction to his winning the scoring title, the Stanley Cup and the Hart Trophy in the pre-lockout year. The only thing Tucker has won was an easy decision over Patrick Eaves.

Morrow put up similar numbers to Tucker last season (Morrow: 23-42-65/ Tucker 28-33-61); however, Morrow was a +30 to Tucker’s -12. Morrow is also four years younger than Tucker and likely has many prime years ahead. Given the type of game Tucker usually plays, I don’t anticipate that he will age gracefully and injuries will eventually take their toll.

Damien Cox suggested Tucker should be signed for $3 to $3.5M. That might be more in line with what Tucker is worth. (I also couldn’t agree more with Cox about NOT offering Tucker any type of no-trade or non-movement clause).

Personally, I don’t know what Tucker is worth, but a $3 to $3.5M deal would put him in the same pay bracket as Selanne ($3.33M); Horcoff ($3.6M); Comrie ($3M); Nagy ($3M); Sullivan ($3.2M); Brendan Morrison ($3.2M); the Sedins ($3.5M); Weight ($3.5M); Afinogenov ($3.3M); and Justin Williams ($3.5M).

Cap Issues: If Tucker gets $3.5M – What’s Left?

Given the number of stories about NHL attendance problems this year, I can’t see the cap taking another big jump like it did this year. So let’s presume the cap for 2006-07 is $44M.

The Leafs have committed just over $23M to nine players for 2006-07: McCabe ($5.75M); Kubina ($5M); Kaberle ($4.25M); Gill ($2.075M); Raycroft ($2M); Kilger ($900K), Stajan ($875K); Wellwood ($875K); Belak ($675K) - plus the final year of Belfour’s buy-out ($770K).

The club has an option on Sundin that’s going to come in somewhere around $6M depending on how it's done

That puts the Leafs salary for 2006-2007 at $30M with just 10 bodies on the ice. That may be the perfect number of skaters for a Wednesday night pick-up game, but for the slightly more intense NHL, the Leafs they need to sign another 12 to 13 guys.

Should Tucker sign at $3.5M, the Leafs will have $10.5M remaining to sign 11 players, including all of the RFAs on this team, and any UFAs that tickle JFJs fancy (including any of Peca, O’Neill, or Aubin…)

My best guess as to the Leafs Payroll for 2007-2008 (with a HUGE thank-you/hat tip to the NHL salaries page blog) is $38.2M committed to 20 players, which provides a small amount of wiggle room ($5M?) to get 3 more players signed-on. I'm not sure if it's the ideal situation, but it's not an impossible one.

Bottom Line

The simple question for JFJ is: can I get Tucker’s name on a contract for $3 to 3.5M.

The tougher question for JFJ, given the existing financial commitments of the club and his super-secret-plan, is: what’s Tucker’s optimal value to the organization – is it as one more multi-million dollar multi-year contract or is it as trade bait?

The toughest question for JFJ is: if the contact terms being sought by Tucker are too high, does he have the balls to trade the guy who just might be the most popular player in Leafs Nation?

Despite the headlines (and this blog post) we won't know after Janary 1...

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:32 pm

    Great summary of the situation. This is where the GM situation gets tough. If JFJ is going to be making these decisions then they have to either pick up the one year option or extend him. If they aren't going to do that then they can't let him make this kind of decision.

    At the deadline (assuming Darcy continues finishing on the PP like he has) Tucker could be a great asset to dangle in front of a legitimate Cup contender for some serious returns.

    Like so much with the Leafs this year all we can do is hold our breath and hope that the good roll the Leafs are on continues.

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  2. Paul Steckley7:12 pm

    Well, JFJ received his one year extension so it looks like he will be the one making the decision.

    Based on what he did with McCabe, I expect him to overpay for Tucker and sign him for $3.5-4 million. He's not worth that much, of course, but McCabe's not worth $5.75 million but receives that much nonetheless.

    So long as the Leafs continue to sit in 4th or 5th spot I don't see JFJ trading Tucker at the deadline. If they are out of the playoffs by that point the smart move would be to move him.

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  3. I can't see Tucker signing for only 3.5 million. He'll get 4, and if Toronto doesn't pony up, another team will. You know it.

    Berger - last April, he said Toronto should offer Chara 9 million to sign with the team, so he discredited himself with me for all time in the salary guesstimate department (it's in his blog archive on HockeyBuzz...I'm too lazy to find it). Also, in his recent "best Leafs of all-time list" he didn't even include Sundin in his personal top-20, yet put Gilmour at #6. Go figure. Berger, a nice-seeming guy, but out to lunch.

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  4. Too bad there is zero chance that you are going to be able to sign Ponikarovsky for $750K and probably not Ian White for$540K.

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  5. Paul Steckley5:34 pm

    Wardo, I think you're right. Which just goes to prove something I've been saying for years, Owner/GM stupidity is the true cause of the NHL's financial troubles, not player greed. Tucker's a great bargain at $1.5 million, a good return at $3 million, and overpaid at $4 million, but there's always someone willing to overpay (see McCabe, Bryan).

    Berger's top 25 was pretty laughable. Sittler only at #9? Has he ever looked at the Leaf record book?

    David Johnson, assuming that O'Neill doesn't return, and the Leafs can rework Sundin's contract, they should have enough cap room to resign Ponikaraovsky and White. They won't have the Domi salary hit next season and cutting O'Neill loose will save $1.5 million, so there should be money available to bring both Poni and White back. Considering they're both restricted free agents next season, it shouldn't be too difficult.

    Then again, this is JFJ we're talking about.

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