Ask Gary: Does hockey ownership matter?

by Gary Shelton on July 15, 2017 · 2 comments

in general

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

The Lightning is fortunate to have one of the best owners in all of sports in Jeff Vinik for all the good things he does including spending money on players. But I was wondering since hockey, unlike baseball, has a salary cap, are there any cheapskate hockey owners out there that have a significantly lower payroll than the salary cap allows? Does an owner deserve praise for spending to the cap in your opinion or is that just the cost of doing business in hockey since most everyone does it?

Larry Beller

Larry, we've seen Oren Koules and Len Barrie. We've seen Art Williams. We've seen Kokusai Green. So, yes, there is still plenty of room for bad ownership in hockey. It isn't always reflected in the salary cap, but that's a good place to start.

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Consider that the Arizona Coyotes are $21 million beneath the cap. Both New Jersey and Nashville are $20 million beneath it. There are 13 teams that are $10 million beneath it.

The thing that has impressed me about Vinik is that his big contracts have come over two years. He has a good, young team, and suddenly, pow, everyone wants to be a millionaire. And he hasn't blinked. He hasn't even stopped his community charities.

So, yeah, I think an owner should be praised for spending close to the cap (but leaving room to make other deals). Because all of them don't.

I remember covering an NFL owners' meeting when the league instituted a salary cap. Because I covered Hugh Culverhouse and the Bucs, I had to ask if there was a salary floor. Because if you don't mandate that teams spend a certain amount, there are always owners who would rather have a bigger house. Everyone knew that Culverhouse, on his own, would never spend close to it.

The NHL has a $54 million floor, which is $19 million beneath the cap. That leaves plenty of room for an owner to maximize his profit and minimize his team. Maybe it's just me, but I've seen enough bad ownership groups to admire it when the owner spending the money is not a concern.

Hey, Vinik could have saved $19 million by trading away Stamkos, Hedman and Killorn and still spend above the cap floor. Think about that.

None of the 13 players on the list below, all being paid $10 million or more for the 2017 MLB season, have appeared in a major league game this year.  They are being paid a total of $223 million not to play this season.  Interesting, three of them are former Rays (Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, and Melvin Upton – and Josh Hamilton was in the Rays organization) all of whom are being paid more this season than the Tampa Bay Rays highest paid player – Evan Longoria ($13 million).  So how can MLB and MLB teams expect taxpayers to pony up even a dime when they run their business so incompetently?

Player              Team       Age       Salary

Josh Hamilton  Texas          36     $28,410,000

Prince Fielder    Texas          33    $24,000,000

Carl Crawford     Dodgers     35    $21,857,412

Alex Rodriguez    Yankees    41     $21,000,000

Scott Kazmir          Dodgers  33     $17,666,667

Andre Ethier          Dodgers   35    $17,400,000

Melvin Upton         Giants (minors) 32     $16,450,000

Matt Harrison        Phillies     31       $13,500,000

Billy Butler               A's            31       $11,666,667

Rusney Castillo     Boston       30       $11,271,428

Allen Craig             Boston       32      $11,000,000

Ryan Howard        Phillies       37     $10,000,000

Total 223,721,904

Average 17,209,377

 

Scott Myers

In the mind of the owners, and I suspect you know this, they are completely different things. I'm sure an owner would tell you that it is because of the risk of big contracts that they can't afford to build their own stadiums (not that I believe they would, anyway. Not when there are communities that would build their stadiums and fluff their pillows in the owner's box).

If you look around, most teams do spend more money after getting their newest palace. I suppose that's logical. But for a fan who simply doesn't believe in tax-supported stadiums, there are plenty of arguments. One of them is the careless way that teams throw around dollars.

Just talking about your list, it's staggering when you consider the waste. Was Melvin Upton ever a good investment? What season had he ever had to indicate that he was the star you were paying for? Josh Hamilton was getting old -- and had an abused body -- when he signed his latest contract.

And that's the thing. Put aside the ridiculous money on your chart and think about the age. A team is guaranteeing that it will pay a player for years after he's done by signing those deals. I read the other day that Bobby Bonilla is still being paid by the Mets, and will be until 2035. Is that good business?

So, no, I can't explain it, and I certainly can't defend it. Baseball can be a silly business.

But you know as well as I that giving bad contracts isn't going to keep an owner from wanting a new stadium. To those guys, it's a bad bottle of wine. It doesn't affect what color shirt your wearing. Maybe it should, but it doesn't.

There is conjecture that Jeff Vinik is one of the secret investors in the Tampa Bay Times.   As a journalist, would you see that as a good thing or a huge conflict of interest?

Jim Willson

Jim, I hadn't heard that. It wouldn't surprise me, truthfully, because these are bad times for newspapers. They could use investors.

But, sure, it's a potential conflict of interest. If the reader suspects that a newspaper isn't covering a business in the same manner, there is a risk. I always thought there was that risk when the newspaper had its name on the building.

Now, I can promise you this. I was never, not once, told what to write about the Lightning when the building was named the Tampa Bay Times Forum. It was all above my pay grade. I didn't even get a better parking space out of it. For those covering the team, that was a deal for the big-time managers of both businesses.

I never had anyone suggest I should like Vinik; I did that on my own. No one said I shouldn't criticize an owner or a front office worker. That was up to me. I can swear to you that, as far as the foot soldiers covering the team were concerned, there was no conflict of interest. But if an outsider wanted to suggest there was a potential conflict of interest, sure, I guess you could say that.

But if you think about it, those sort of business conflicts exist all the time. Is the Times turning away from Dillard's because the store advertises? Is the Times ignoring the United Way because it supports the work it does? Of course not. There has to be a separation of business and news coverage.

I would say no. This is a newspaper that has waded and jousted with the biggest businesses and politicians in the state. It's not my fight anymore, but it wouldn't worry me if there was a partnership between the team and the Times.

Who had the most influence on constructing the current Rays? Silverman, Neander, Bloom?

Jim, I don't think anyone knows how a meeting with Silverman, Neander and Bloom works. I don't know who the lead voice is, or how much it differs from deal to deal. I don't know who championed the move to trade for Hechavarria, or who thought it was a good idea to let Logan Forsythe go.

My suspicion -- and it's only that -- is that Silverman talks first. He's been in charge the longest. I know Matt, and I think he would bend over backwards to get other voices involved. I think if Neander and Bloom agreed that a certain player was a great fit, he could be swayed.

I do think that with any organization on a budget, you need as much agreement as possible. That includes Stu Sternberg. Not that Sternberg is picking out players, but he has to be involved when a financial decision arises.

Frankly, the team has done fairly well with the chemistry, don't you think? I go back to the off-season, when the team was in talks with Chris Carter. Carter went to the Yankees, and the Rays turned to a cheaper Logan Morrison.  Morrison has been the far better player.

So who gets credit for that move?

Morrison, probably. I've said it before.If a move is a success, none of us care who cast the deciding vote. If it's a bust, we want to shine the spotlight on him.

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller July 15, 2017 at 7:21 am

Thanks for the info Gary. What you said just reinforces what a good owner Vinik is. I guess what worries me the most about the Lightning, and this has nothing to do with ownership, is that all of a sudden they have a lot of guys with big contracts and some may not be as motivated. The team in general needs more muscle and guys that play with an edge in my opinion. I don’t know that signing what they consider their core players to big contracts and swapping out a couple of defensemen is going to get them any further in the standings. The concern is the team is not constructed in a way to fend off the bigger, tougher, nastier teams in the NHL. I thought letting Luke Witkowski go was a mistake. He’s not the most skilled guy but he gave the team some muscle and gritty play that they don’t have enough of. They need a better balance between skill and toughness because hockey is a sport where the most skilled teams often don’t win enough if they don’t have those gritty guys who create time and space for the skill players to use their talent.

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Gary Shelton July 15, 2017 at 9:01 am

I think you’re right to be concerned. Eddie Acaro once said “it’s hard be hungry when you wake up in silk pajamas.” Are players just as willing to go into the corner for pucks? Do they swap checks as vigorously? I’m not saying they don’t; great players make you forget their money. But human nature makes you concerned, doesn’t it?

I don’t know how much ice time Witowski would have gotten with all the new defensemen of the Lightning. He was a grinder, not a gifted skater. But you could be right on that one, too. You usually are.

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