I thought about Enquirer-izing this post's heading with, "Garth Snow Explains Why He Let Ridderwall Go!" but I just can't SEO-bait you like that. (Sorry SBN overlords, I gotta be me.) Frankly, my conversation with Snow wasn't that deep, as I was just seeking some clarification on Stefan Ridderwall's rights and hadn't requested a Barbara Walters sit-down.
As several speculated when it was announced in Sweden, Ridderwall's decision not to sign with the Isles is pretty simple: He had a nice offer at home; the choice was Ridderwall's to make. Not that Snow was going to share negotiations with me, but he did note it's common for a European player to feel more comfortable at home, and he didn't dispute my suggestion that Ridderwall has a pretty nice situation with Djurgården, this year's SEL finals runner-up.
Regardless, last week I'd been wondering, for the purposes of simulating each side's leverage in the Ridderwall negotiations, whether the new Sweden-NHL transfer agreement indeed meant the Islanders' rights to Ridderwall expire June 1. (I know some of you correctly suggested this already, but since I'd seen conflicting reports on the matter -- and Snow echoed what I'd read, that the agreements are fairly complex -- I wanted to be sure before projecting my own view of all the leverage in play.)
Talking to Snow Tuesday, he confirmed that: By not getting Ridderwall's name on a contract by June 1, he'll no longer be Islanders "property." So that deal he signed earlier this week means you can consider Ridderwall gone.
I asked Snow if this changes how he sees his goaltending depth, and he said, "Not really. Kevin Poulin hopefully will be signed here in the near future, and of course we have (Mikko) Koskinen healthy, and we have Anders Nilsson's rights."
Nilsson's a Swede from last year's draft. Which got me thinking about the new transfer agreements, and what it means for GMs in the future. The rest is strictly my own conjecture, so follow me on this line of thinking, and tell me if I'm crazy...
Projecting the Negotiations
First, picture the negotiations. Some feathers in Ridderwall's cap:
- He's 22 coming off a good season
- He had a starting job offer from his current team (with partner Gustav Wesslau departing to Columbus)
- If he didn't sign with the Islanders -- which would be no guarantee of an NHL salary much less an AHL job -- by June 1, the next time his contract expires he can "Do the Gustavsson" (or now "the Wesslau") and offer himself to any NHL team.
If you're Ridderwall -- a unique case who wasn't highly rated before this year but elevated his stock at the perfect time -- why subject yourself to part-time AHL duty (or pray tell, even the ECHL?) when you've got first crack at the #1 role on a very good team in the top league at home?
Meanwhile, from the Islanders' side, to entice Ridderwall to turn down that situation would have taken a greater offer than would be reasonable for a guy who's their fourth or fifth most-important goalie property. Even Jonas Gustavsson, you'll remember, signed with the Leafs as a 24-year-old free agent for only $900,000, while Wesslau just signed for $790,000 according to CapGeek. And those guys are older and closer to a shot at the featured NHL job. Should the Isles be bidding much for a goalie so far down the depth chart?
Looking at both sides' interests, I don't see a fit -- not when, if Ridderwall plays well enough to earn NHL consideration, he'll have more bidders and more leverage later on. If I'm Ridderwall, I don't sign now without a relatively crazy offer.
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Projecting What it Means for Future Nordic Picks
I took more of an interest in this issue not because the Islanders risked losing a prospect, but because I suspect the new transfer agreements with Sweden and Finland give those players a little more leverage now. No longer can NHL teams hang on to the rights of European draft picks (well, ones covered by these transfer deals) until they're good and ready to bring them over.
In fact, unless there's another loophole in these agreements (the NHL hasn't really shared specifics), the Islanders will face a similar decision with 2009 goalie pick Nilsson next year, because the new transfer agreement treats such picks like Canadian juniors picks: You get two years to sign them or they can re-enter the draft, and players not drafted in the 1st round can even return to their SEL club if they don't make the NHL roster.
Granted, Nilsson will be younger than Ridderwall is now and presumably won't have the same leverage.
But with goalies typically having a much longer development curve than skaters -- remember, 2006 pick Ridderwall's progress was a wide open question before this season, while Koskinen went undrafted twice before blossoming -- if I'm an NHL GM and I see more and more Wesslau's and Gustavsson's hitting the free agent aftermarket, under this transfer agreement I'm going to think twice about using more draft picks on 18-year-old goalies from Sweden and Finland.
Let them develop in their native leagues, and when they're groomed and ready, you can do the Gustavsson yourself. Right?