Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/12/2015 (1944 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you’ve ever bought a razor, you’ve got a pretty good idea how Mark Chipman is feeling right now.
Manufacturers will sell you their newest and fanciest razor handle below cost, knowing you are now locked in to buy their refill cartridges at prices marked up as much as 4,000 per cent.
Don’t shave? You’ve had the same experience buying a computer printer: the printer and all the fancy technology that goes into it are ridiculously cheap; the ink cartridges are off the charts expensive.
All of which brings us back to Chipman, a man who is right now at the point where the replacement cartridges for his NHL team are going to cost him a lot more than he paid for the team itself.
Consider: The big news in Jets-land this week was Tim Campbell reporting in the Tuesday Free Press Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba are seeking a combined total of US$152 million to re-sign with the Jets — or just US$18 million less than the US$170 million Chipman and partner David Thomson paid for the entire Atlanta Thrashers franchise in 2011.
No wonder stores keep those replacement razor cartridges locked up behind glass.
Now, let’s be clear: No one is going to be giving Ladd, Byfuglien and Trouba a combined $152 million to play hockey. That’s just the price agents for the threesome are asking right now and so it’s safe to presume wherever they end up signing will be less than that price.
But whatever the final number, it’s going to be high in a league in which the Chicago Blackhawks have demonstrated with ruthless efficiency in recent seasons the key to Stanley Cup-winning hockey is paying big prices for a small core of key players and then building out around them with much more reasonably priced — and easily interchangeable — role players.
Consider the Blackhawks’ core four: forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each earn US$13.8 million this season, while defenceman Duncan Keith is earning US$8 million this season and defenceman Brent Seabrook will begin earning US$9 million a season next year.
Even salary-cap adjusted, the hit for just those four players in 2015-16 is close to half of the Hawks’ entire cap hit of US$69.2 million for this season.
And what do the Hawks have to show for their strategy of paying big bucks for a handful of key players? Two Stanley Cups in three seasons — and three in the last six.
All of which is to say there’s nothing inherently wrong with paying big bucks to build and maintain a small but talented core of players, as Ladd, Byfuglien and Trouba are asking Chipman to do right now.
But the better question at the moment is whether those three are the right players to build this team’s future around?
The Jets certainly seem to think so. I asked Jets winger Blake Wheeler that question following his team’s morning skate at the MTS Centre Tuesday and Wheeler’s answer clocked in at seven words: "I think that goes without saying, absolutely."
But does it, really? Is there not a frank discussion to be had right now about whether Ladd and Byfuglien, in particular, really are indispensable to a Jets team that has made the playoffs just once in the four seasons they’ve been in Winnipeg and appears to have taken a significant step backward this winter?
Is it not worth asking what role the team’s captain, Ladd, and minutes leader, Byfuglien, have played on a Jets club that had just a 3-9-0 record against their Central Division rivals this season heading into Tuesday night’s tilt at the MTS Centre against the St. Louis Blues?
And is it not worth having a healthy debate about whether the Jets would be better off instead trying to build a Blackhawks-like core around the likes of youngsters such as Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers than a pair of 30-year-olds in Ladd and Byfuglien?
Scheifele is also a restricted free agent at the end of this season and we don’t yet know what number it’s going to take to re-sign him. Safe to say, however, that it’s going to be a big chunk of change, too. And when you add Scheifele’s number to the Drew Doughty-like $7 million a season that Trouba is asking right now, the Jets seriously have to ask themselves:
Is this team’s future now in players such as Ladd and Byfuglien, or is their future still to come with the likes of Trouba, Scheifele and Ehlers?
Chipman has said in the past that there will be money to spend to the limits of the salary cap when the time is right. But as the Jets stumble through this 2015-16 season, you’ve got to seriously wonder whether the timing right now is all wrong.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.