P.K. Subban, Taylor Hall, and the NHL Breaking the Internet

2014-15 Upper Deck - P.K. Subban

2014-15 Upper Deck – P.K. Subban

Well, today was an eventful day in the NHL.

Hell, it was an eventful 23 minutes or so.

You all know what happened. Taylor Hall got traded from Edmonton to New Jersey for Adam Larsson, P.K. Subban went from Montreal to Nashville for Shea Weber, and some kid from Unionville named Steven Stamkos re-signed with Tampa Bay for eight more years.

So, yes, some shit happened. The internet almost exploded, which is one of the more advanced things that the NHL has ever done.

Everywhere I turn, what I’m seeing are Oilers and Canadiens fans who are irate, rattled, upset… pick whatever words you want, they’re angry. Angry at the teams, angry at management, and just a few 50’s or Pilsners (depending on where you are) from burning Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin dolls in effigy. Leaf fans will be fine, they’re a bit disappointed, but it’s refreshing for them to not be involved on the horrible end of trades for a change. The Shanaplan is here.

You know what? At first blush, I’d probably agree with the angry fans. However, there’s one thing to take out of today’s events as hockey fans:

We don’t know shit.

What do I mean? Read on, friend.

P.K. Subban was the face of the Montreal Canadiens. He’s just a couple years into a long-term deal, he’s smiled and been nothing but outwardly positive through some rough times, and of course he’s made those enormous donations to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Fans love him, even though teammates sometimes seem to tire of his constant positivity and possibly his constant self-promotion and branding as well.

My initial take is that Subban was moved by Montreal because they’re choosing his coach (yikes) over him, and the safety of an NHL-friendly (read: safe) player like Shea Weber over Subban’s more volatile personality and style of play. This is even though Weber is entering the back end of his career but merely the front end of a huge contract.

However, there’s got to be more to this story. Whatever Montreal fans think about Marc Bergevin right now, National Hockey League GM’s don’t try to make trades that aren’t in the best interests of their teams. They just don’t. Montreal did not owe Nashville a favour of this magnitude, that’s not how it works.

Would I have traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber? If they were the same age and had the same contract status, probably. Shea Weber is an incredible hockey player (so is Subban, obviously). Would I have made the trade on June 29, 2016? No way.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a lot more to this than we know. Was Subban more trouble to the team than we’ve been led to believe? We’ve heard rumblings, of course, but we’ll probably never know, because we don’t know shit.

2012-13 O-Pee-Chee - Taylor Hall

2012-13 O-Pee-Chee – Taylor Hall

Now, as for the Edmonton Oilers, well, I can relate to their frustration, too. Being a Leaf fan for my entire life has ensured that I can relate to angry, frustrated fan bases and questionable management decisions better than almost anyone else on earth (save for the Chicago Cubs, pre-2004 Boston Red Sox, or pre-2016 Cleveland).

Taylor Hall wasn’t seen as the problem in Edmonton. I think there were a lot of folks who thought that the player to get moved for (horribly badly needed) help on the blueline wouldn’t be Hall. It would be Nugent-Hopkins, or Eberle, or even Yakupov, if someone would take him.

There were also a lot of people who thought that if Hall were to be moved, it would be for someone really, really good. Not a highly decent defenceman whose immediate scouting reports come through as “second pairing” and “maybe number two potential.” That might just be Oilers fans being delusional about Hall’s abilities, but the fact is, he’s an excellent player with a lot of years in front of him, and he wanted to be part of the solution.

But see, again, we don’t know shit.

There has to be more of a plan here, too. Peter Chiarelli didn’t go to Edmonton to enjoy the weather and put together a losing hockey team. They’ve done that for a while now. Pistol Pete went there to try to help the Oilers win again.

Trading Taylor Hall is just the first step, I’d suggest, in a series of moves that are about to happen over the next few days and weeks. This isn’t the one big move that’s going to fix what’s wrong with the Oilers. There’s a LOT more that needs to be done, because there are some serious problems going on.

Now, at the end of the day, I can completely understand the frustration that hockey fans in Montreal and Edmonton are feeling. I do not – repeat, NOT – have any sympathy for them, at all, but if I was in their shoes, I’d be pissed off, too.

All I’m saying is that there’s more going on than meets the eye, especially in Edmonton. There has to be. I really think that the next Oilers moves will make the Hall trade make at least a little bit more sense.

As for Subban, that trade might just be pure stupidity, short and long term, but who knows? Maybe they’ve looked into the numbers and they know that Weber will be the piece that gets them to the next level. I can’t see it being the case, but maybe Subban was doing more harm than good.

I’d say let’s not go crazy and wait it out for a few weeks to see what happens next, but judging by the internet today, all the crazy has already been unleashed, so such a warning would be pointless.

Let’s just remember, we really don’t know shit. Even when it all rolls out in the end, we still might not know shit.

Never forget that, and it’ll all be ok.

Jose Bautista, Contracts, and Spring Crazies

BAT. FLIP. WHAT. 2016 Topps - Jose Bautista

2016 Topps – Jose Bautista

First of all – Spring Training, right? The Toronto Blue Jays have had their first few official workouts for pitchers, catchers, and whoever else wanted to be there. Of course, like everything else with the club since 2015 ended, things are not drama-free in Blue Jay land. We’re just a couple of days in, and we’ve already had the almost Jay Bruce trade, and now we’ve got this Jose Bautista stuff.

I’m sure you already know what happened with Jose. But, briefly: on day one, he got into a discussion with reporters about his contract (which expires after this year) and informed us all that he’d delivered his offer to the team, and that there would be no more hometown discounts, and no negotiations. Then, on day two, word leaked that the contract that he’s looking for from the team is in the five-year, $150-million range.

It doesn’t need to be said that fans are handling everything so far with their typical laid-back, well-thought out, intelligent approach, and nobody is going crazy about anything at all.

Now, there’s no way to know if the numbers reported by TSN’s Rick Westhead are accurate, but he’s probably got some decent sources, and a lot of times, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If $150 million is the number, though, my initial reaction is that it’s just way too much money, and Jose can go flip bats at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium or wherever else he wants to go. As a fan, it’ll hurt, but that’s life.

But then on the other hand, maybe he’s worth it. And if you take the five year, $65 million deal he signed after his breakout 2010 season and add it to five more years at $150 million, that works out to an average annual salary of $21.5 million. That’s reasonable for 10 years of Jose Bautista, right?

But here’s the problem. That’s not a fair average number to use. During the first five years of the deal, we have to remember, $13 million seemed like a steep price to pay for a relative unknown. Bautista had come out of nowhere to hit 54 home runs in 2010, and a long-term deal was a risk. Sure, it was a risk for the player, too, but I’d say it was more of a risk for the team who had no idea if he could come anywhere close to that number again.

HE DIDN'T EVEN HAVE A BEARD YET. 2010 Topps - Jose Bautista

2010 Topps – Jose Bautista

Those first five years were in no way a hometown discount. If anything the club did the player a favour, hoping that his production would continue, and guaranteeing him some serious money at the same time. As we all know, the production did continue, but even the optimists were nervous about $65 million back then. Remember, we didn’t really know who this guy was. He didn’t even have a full-time beard yet, how could he be trusted?

As for the next five years, no matter the dollar figure, we’re not getting a guarantee of the Jose Bautista that we’ve gotten to know so well. He’ll be 36 years old when his next contract starts. Granted, he’s known to care of himself and is probably going to be productive for at least another few years, but $30 million a year productive? Yikes.

When it comes to the money, I’m just going to hope that the $150 million price tag has been exaggerated. I do think that there’s a little bit more than just playing ability on the table here. Bat flip in the ALDS aside, Bautista has been the face of the franchise for a number of years, and he’s done an awful lot of great things. I’m fine with overpaying a bit for a player’s twilight years when you take things like that into consideration. I just think overdoing it isn’t necessary, and I’ll tell you, Rogers won’t, either. They might go a bit higher than normal for Jose, but not much.

Now, the other item that I want to talk about is the fact that Bautista came right out on day one and started talking about his contract. I know, I know, he was asked about it, he didn’t just go Sean Avery and bring stuff up to be a dick. But part of me reacted by saying, really, Jose? Really? It’s day one and you’re telling the fan base that you’re not even going to negotiate with the team? I’m not sure I like it when I think about it that way. Unless he’s just trying to fuck with the crazies in the fan base – then, it’s pretty funny.

On the other hand, however, I respect the shit out of what Bautista did. He came right out and was (presumably) honest about the whole thing. As John Lott said, at least we’re not getting “false-hope lollipops” like the ones we got from David Price. If the Jays aren’t going to be able to re-sign him, at least we know where the player stands on the whole thing.

The bottom line is, no matter what happens with the expiring contracts of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, it’s not like all of this should be a shock to us. We’re talking about a couple of players who aren’t getting any younger, and we’ve known for a while that this could happen. Take those two out of the lineup and there’s still a pretty solid core in place for the next few years.

And come on, 2016 is going to be amazing. Remember 2015? That was fun, right? And remember the starting pitcher on Opening Day in 2015? Let’s all settle down and enjoy a great year – even if it is the last with Jose and Edwin.


Mark Shapiro, David Price and Panic Buttons


2015 Topps – David Price

We need to talk about the Toronto Blue Jays and this offseason of turmoil and change after one of the most magnificent rides in team history and the end of a long playoff drought. What we need to talk about is that we, as the fan base, need to collectively chill out and relax. Things won’t be the same, but they’re sure going to be alright.

It would be easy to run for the nearest panic button after the departure of beloved General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and the team’s failure to re-sign David Price, but hitting the panic button at this point would be about as effective as trying to find a cure for cancer by drinking a beer. Let’s have some patience here and use our beer-drinking for other things.

Now, 2015 sure was something special. As fans, die-hard or casual, none of us will ever forget the ride that the boys in blue took us on. The whole country got caught up in it, and it was a lot of fun. That said, 2015 may have been the pinnacle of this particular era in team history, and we may need to adjust our expectations going forward. Don’t worry though, that’s alright. It’s not going to be bad. It’s going to be about sustainability, and we’re going to like how it works out in the end.

Mark Shapiro and newly-minted GM Ross Atkins may have come to town from the fiery waters of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, a team known more for its failures than its successes (see: League, Major), but they’re going to be in a position now where they can finally work within the financial constraints of a real Major League Baseball team. See, according to The Baseball Cube, over the past three years, the Blue Jays have had a top ten payroll in the Majors, averaging roughly $40 million a season more than the Indians, who are always close to the bottom of the league, money-wise. And during that time, the team from Cleveland averaged 86 wins a season, and the team from Toronto averaged 83. Each made the playoffs once (granted, the Blue Jays made it to the ALCS and the Indians lost the AL Wild Card game, but you get the point). Pretty comparable.

Small sample size, you say? Fine. Going back ten years to 2006, the Blue Jays ran with an average payroll of $90 million a year, and the Indians averaged $72 million. In this sample, Cleveland averaged 79.5 wins a season while Toronto averaged 82. Again, pretty comparable, although the payroll numbers were closer. Let’s also remember that it’s not like the Anthopoulos regime was setting the world on fire since he took over as GM in 2009. There was legitimate concern until the middle of 2015 that the peak production years of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were going to be wasted, and that Anthopoulos’ best efforts to get to the postseason would be for naught. Of course, that changed around August 1 of this year, but until then, there wasn’t a lot of hope.

Now, if you’ve ever been to a baseball game in Cleveland, you know that it’s a real baseball experience. It’s a beautiful ballpark that is playing a key role in the revitalization of a Rust Belt city that has been hit hard by a poor economy the past decade or so, but it’s a city with a ton of potential. Everywhere you go at Progressive Field, you know you’re there to watch a baseball game, and you know you’re in Cleveland. There’s a lot of civic pride on display, from the food offerings to the beer to the general ambience. A lot of that is credited to Shapiro and his team, and we all know that change in terms of the fan experience and the baseball experience is badly needed at the Rogers Centre (step one: rename it the Rogers SkyDome because it’s stupid not to).

Shapiro et al know that 2016 is a big deal for the Blue Jays, and that this group has a legitimate opportunity to do some really special things. They’re not going to fire sale this roster. They’re going to try to win with it, but they’re going to have one eye clearly focused on the future. They also know that spending $31 million a season on one pitcher (no matter how awesome and likeable he is) isn’t a wise decision, when you can fill in gaps with quality arms for a lot less, and lean on the young arms you’ve bred in your own system (Stroman, Sanchez, etc.) to step up in their development and play meaningful roles. Personally, I’ll take strength in numbers every single time over putting all of my eggs in one basket. There are a lot more than 220 innings in a baseball season.

2015 Topps - Josh Donaldson (All-Star)

2015 Topps – Josh Donaldson (All-Star)

Let’s also remember that in Cleveland, Shapiro and Atkins didn’t have a core in place like the Blue Jays have. Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki are signed long-term, and those are some pretty incredible tools to start your management term with. Shapiro isn’t moving his family to Toronto to lose. He and Atkins, and whoever else they bring in, want to win baseball games, make playoff appearances, and win championships. They’re just going to do it within the realities that are imposed upon them.

I get that fans are upset with Rogers for not spending more right this very second. We all poured money into that organization through buying tickets, merchandise, and drinking wildly overpriced beer in fairly large quantities. We know that Rogers paid over $5 billion for the NHL rights, so we know they’ve got money, but in a catch-22, they needed that deal to be able to make money. In addition, our investment as fans was really only a few months long, you’ll remember. I would bet that Rogers wants to make sure the money they’ll have rolling in from their baseball team is sustainable before they start spending it. If they start averaging 3-3.5 million fans a year, maybe they’ll spend more. It’s possible, but I don’t blame them for waiting it out a bit. Not everyone who bought tickets in 2015 was a die-hard fan, and they won’t all be back.

At the end of the day, I’m going to say we should give this new regime a chance, and a really good chance at that – let’s keep those panic buttons on the back burner for a while. 2015 was great, for sure, but it was no endpoint.

Everything is going to be alright, and we won’t need these for a while:

Ain’t nobody got time for panic buttons.