The off-season can get pretty boring for hockey fans. Unless a blockbuster trade is announced, the news cycle is a slow one and fans often turn to any small thing they can grasp at to blow out of proportion and debate endlessly. Take, for example, the all-too-familiar Bob Murray discussion Ducks fans often find themselves engaged in during times like these.
That’s not a knock on fans involved in these discussions; I’ve done it previously on this very blog, and I’m about to do it again in this very article. It is simply the nature of the off-season. I’d love to be talking about something else, but our options are limited this time of year.
You might recall earlier this month when I posted an article entitled “In Defense of Bob Murray,” in which I played devil’s advocate and attempted to build a case for Murray, claiming that his detractors are being a bit hasty. In response to my article, Anaheim Calling posted an article last Thursday (July 26) examining my claims. Go read that article now to give yourself some context to the response I’m about to give.
I hate to bring this up again and keep this debate going, not only because I assume most of you are all pretty sick of seeing this discussion drag on, but because, as I stated in my first article about Murray, I’m just not that emotionally invested in it. However, I feel that Daniel, writer of the Anaheim Calling piece, made some assumptions that warrant a response. Essentially, his claim is that Brian Burke did not leave behind a contract or salary cap mess in Anaheim, and therefore Bob Murray inherited a roster of manageable contracts and avoided the need to rebuild. This was intriguing to me, as in every circle of Ducks fans I’ve seen this debate take place in, I’ve never seen anyone claim that Brian Burke left behind anything but a nightmare in Anaheim as far as salary and contracts go (granted, this brought the Cup to the team, so we can be pretty forgiving about it). Even the most ardent Murray detractors that I’ve heard or read have acknowledged that Burke left the Ducks in a mess, but their argument is that Murray should have done more in spite of this. Which is a fair argument. So I was interested in seeing Daniel’s take on this, to see a different perspective entirely.
Unfortunately, right out of the gate his argument falls short, as he admittedly uses made up numbers derived from a misleading average salary of $1.74M per player on the 2008-09 Ducks roster. He uses these incorrect numbers to claim Murray was looking at a $40 million team salary budget, but admits this number feels too low. In order to correct this, he artificially inflates it to $46-47M (stating he “[seems] to remember salary discussions around this time being closer to the $46-47 million range”), and concludes that Murray had about $10M worth of salary room/cap space to play with. What I found odd is that Daniel uses CapGeek.com to find only the average salary of a player on the team, instead of the real salary per player (which is available on CapGeek.com for 2008-09), or more importantly the cap hit for each player (available on the same page). I should point out that Daniel is presumably focusing only on 2008-09 as opposed to 2007-08 due to the fact that Murray took over in November of 2007, and Burke already had the bulk of that season’s roster in tact. This is certainly a fair move on Daniel’s part.
Initially, assuming that Daniel was in fact correct and that CapGeek.com didn’t archive team rosters for 2008-09, I looked elsewhere to get Ducks players’ real salaries in order to see how they added up against Daniel’s assumption. I found these salaries on USA Today through a quick web search. Realizing that the salaries weren’t enough to paint a full picture, I jumped back to CapGeek.com to see if individual player contracts were archived for the 2008-09 season in order to determine cap hits one by one. I found that not only were the individual players archived, but so was the entire team roster (with salaries and cap hits, as pointed out above). So, using USA Today’s roster and salaries and using CapGeek.com’s cap hits, here is the 2008-09 team:
Daniel is about $3-4M off in his salary estimate, which is quite sizable. But more importantly, the 2008-09 total cap hit is about 6.5-7.5M higher than Daniel projects based on salary. Why is the average salary of about $2M shown here so much higher than Daniel’s $1.74M figure? Because CapGeek.com derives that average from overlapping contracts (e.g., they have Ryan Whitney and Chris Kunitz both factored in to that roster even though they couldn’t have played at the same time), and they factor in the NHL salary of two-way contracts for players who weren’t called up during the season (typically the league’s minimum allowable salary), and other small details that don’t accurately reflect the team’s situation. In fact, CapGeek.com is deriving the average from a 37 man roster, which is clearly not what the team looked like. This skews the average quite a bit. The roster above much more accurately represents the 2008-09 situation (I realize that this roster uses Whitney’s numbers as opposed to Kunitz, but as Daniel points out, their contracts were similar, so swapping them back wouldn’t change my totals much).
Let’s throw another wrench in all of this, not already presented in our numbers above: Todd Bertuzzi. In an alternate reality where the Ducks don’t buyout Bertuzzi before the start of the 2008-09 season, that’s an additional $4M in salary (matching cap hit), pushing our salary total to almost $54M, and pushing the total cap hit to… uh oh, about $57.5M, meaning we are now over the 2008-09 salary cap of $56.7M. Luckily, Anaheim did buyout Todd Bertuzzi’s contract, costing $2.6M in salary that season, and $1.3M against our cap for the next two seasons. That pushes Ducks’ 2008-09 salary to approximately $52.4M, with a total cap hit of about $54.8M.
At the very least, one could argue, we’re still under the cap at $54.8M. This is true, but let’s go back to Daniel’s statement that he “[seems] to remember salary discussions around this time being closer to the $46-47 million range” (which, as shown above was not an accurate picture of the total salary expenses). Coincidentally, I too remember that $46-47M range being thrown around back then. However, I don’t remember it being the amount given as the salary for the team at the time, but rather as the team’s suspected target internal budget for player salary. In other words, an internal cap. Granted, the team does not make financial information like that public, so we were all guessing and making projections of that internal budget back then; take that figure with a grain of salt.
When we look at more accurate numbers and compare them to the internal restrictions and the team situation at the time, it’s more clear that the argument that Burke left us in a mess is a valid one. The other points in Daniel’s article rely on Anaheim not having any financial barriers at the time, and as I’ve shown that this wasn’t the case, I can’t really address his points that followed other than to point to his first premise being false.
This debate will rage on. I didn’t see myself as a part of the debate outside of my one devil’s advocate piece, and didn’t expect to find myself defending Bob Murray yet again (because, as previously stated, I don’t feel as passionately about keeping Murray on board as these two articles suggest). On that note, I will try to refrain from interjecting myself again and leave it to those of you who have stronger feelings about it than I do. But in this case, I simply felt that we should at least all be playing with the same set of facts. You are free to disagree with my conclusions upon knowing the facts, but at least base your conclusions on more than inaccurate estimates. If you still disagree with me, by all means, sign Daniel’s and Anaheim Calling’s “Fire Ducks’ GM Bob Murray” petition.
Do I think Daniel intentionally used misleading numbers to support his view? No, absolutely not. Instead, what I think Daniel did is actually a microcosm for much of the criticism against Murray: Daniel took a small piece of information available to him, and then hastily used it as a condemnation of Murray without considering the bigger picture or bothering to research the all-too-important details. I don’t think Daniel is a bad guy for doing this, I think he is just being hasty because he feels passionately about it. But ultimately, Daniel is a Ducks fan, and I would certainly sit down and buy him a drink at any opportunity. We’re definitely allowed to disagree, but in the end we’re both rooting for the same team. This makes Daniel okay by me in my book. I’ve met many Ducks fans, and despite Daniel’s and my disagreement on Murray, I assume based on how close-knit Ducks fans can be, Daniel feels the same about our community.
Jer is ready to be done with these Murray debates. Follow him on Twitter @JerMeansWell.
Tags: Anaheim Calling Anaheim Ducks Bob Murray Bobby Ryan Bret Hedican Brian Burke Chris Kunitz Chris Pronger Contracts Corey Perry Drew Miller Erik Christensen Francois Beauchemin General Manager Geroge Parros GM Hockey J.S. Giguere James Wisniewski Jonas Hiller Mike Brown NHL Peteri Nokelainen Rob Niedermayer Ryan Carter Ryan Getzlaf Ryan Whitney Salary Cap Scott Niedermayer Teemu Selanne Todd Bertuzzi Todd Marchant