Martin Lapointe and NHL player salaries

JP Nikota
August 15 2012 07:49AM

"Everybody but the people who run teams base performance on how many points you get [or] how many goals. Well, we don't. If he gets goals, that helps, but you have to look at the overall contribution to the team. Martin [Lapointe]'s a character person. He comes to play every night. He came from a winning program. And we needed at his position."

- Harry Sinden

The above quote tells us a lot about how the NHL's financial situation got to be where it is today.

Note: Once again, I've culled a substantial amount of this information from Bruce Dowbiggin's Money Players. Give it a read.

A bit of background first:

Back in 2001, when Sinden made these remarks, most players didn't hit free agency until their early thirties, but there existed a clause in the CBA that any player could become an unrestricted free agent if, after ten years in the league, if said player's salary remained below league average. Because Martin Lapointe had signed longer term deals through the earlier part of his career with the Detroit Red Wings, his services had remained cost-controlled in an era when player salaries were rising dramatically. Thus, at what was then the relatively early age of 28, the two-time Cup champion was free to test the open market.

The end result of this situation is that Lapointe was signed to a $20-million, four-year deal with Sinden's Boston Bruins. Then as now, for a third-line player that had only once exceeded the twenty goal mark, this was a heck of a lot of money for the Bruins to pay (click here to see how you could make some money). Since this deal was something of a landmark, this caused a lot of people trouble.

A sign of things past:

Perhaps I should adjust this title to read "things that should have been left in the past", but the reality is, any GM that was (or continues) building a team with this intangible approach to team building was left in the dust long ago by other, more business-like (read: competent) managers around the league.

Look, knowledge of intangibles is critical to your ability to manage people in any capacity—believe me, I get it, I'm a teacher—and managing a hockey team is no different. Knowledge of a player's habits and pastimes can be critical when you make all kinds of decisions for your team, and I don't only mean trades. How is this player's young family doing? How have they been fitting in socially with the other players in the room? How is their work ethic?

When push comes to shove, however, the numbers have to come first. Signing a player to a ridiculous multi-year deal based primarily on intangibles will almost certainly lead to ruin. Some general managers put more weight on numbers than others, but it's only become more and more true that monetary investment in a player has to be tied to more concrete benchmarks.

Did Martin Lapointe turn the Bruins' franchise around by being "a character person" or "coming to play every night"? He most definitely did not, but he can't be blamed for that.

A sign of signings present:

There were a lot of factors that contributed to the spiraling player salaries throughout the 90's and early oughts: players began to disclose and compare their salaries, which brought about changes to salary arbitration, the nature of free agency changed, offer sheets were introduced, and the league owners were getting temporarily fat with the money from relocation and expansion fees. There were other factors as well, but landmark deals played a big role in ramping up the salaries of not just the Gretzkys and Lindroses, but the Martin Lapointes as well.

When a GM goes hog wild for a player that doesn't have the concrete numbers to support the financial investment, he is inflating the value of every player of the same ilk. Sure, Jaromir Jagr might have been worth 9-10 million dollars in 2001, but that deal wouldn't help player agents of middling NHLers nearly as much as when Lapointe signed this offer.

Ever wonder how a guy like Brendan Prust gets $2.5M from Marc Bergevin and the Montréal Canadiens? This is a similar, if not causally related situation. You would think, since Bergevin also signed Colby Armstrong, a player that was an overpaid, bottom-six player, that it would occur to him that it was a bad idea to give Prust that kind of money, but here we are.

Boo hoo, my players are costing me too much:

Well of course they are, idiot. For two decades, players were well-paid on the basis of intangible nonsense, and then everyone absolutely peed their pants when a player finally hit free agency under the age of thirty, causing things to get crazy for a couple years until the league wound up cancelling a whole entire season to try and fix their mess with a salary cap.

Another eight years later, general managers still become so desperate to add one "key" enforcer or a "specialist" for the PK or faceoff dot that they continue to make poor financial decisions for the sake of a player who is willing to "go to the tough areas of the ice" or "raise the compete level". 

Stop signing Martin Lapointe.

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#51 The Keystone Garter
August 16 2012, 04:15PM
Trash it!
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I like Tanguay because he played with Forsberg and Sakic... Yeah, that's what it is. NBA allows offensive charging, so you either take the 3 or jog holding the ball to the hoop. There is no slow war-like penetration because you can just knock over the defender. Ontario and BC are like that too, with 4 down football in schools. They wanted more pts instead of a superior product generating those pts. I'd be curious about why NHL Franchise values have been increasing; Wings won the Cup after "losing" M.Lapointe. Boston had 21 yr old Raycroft in net during Thornton's prime. That was weird trading at the deadline for Gonchar while leaving a prospect in net. It is weird to see Washington do the same...

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#52 The Keystone Garter
August 16 2012, 04:18PM
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That year Boston lost with Lapointe to Mtl, Det had Hasek, Joseph, Osgood and Legace...IDK why T.O. gifted them the Cup last year, Racoon could've made a more exciting offensive attack; Boston was bringing it in the zone like they didn't have thumbs.

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#53 The Keystone Garter
August 16 2012, 04:28PM
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Bruins didn't pay for Thornton after and got nothing in the trade. If it wasn't for Ottawa letting Chara get away and 3 trades with Toronto, the Lapointe deal would've maimed their franchise. The value of sports franchises has gone up 5x since the 1990s. I'm guessing this is because the NFL has turned sports into entertainment, so games get viewers that theatre, concerts and movie goers once got. Boston also signed a bunch of players for under the average salary. They wouldn't pay Thornton (who got slow) or Allison (who got slow), so don't seem like a good poster child. There was something personal between Boston and Det there; Boston was happy to sign away a Wing; forget why.

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