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Islanders Bits: Is 'burning' ELC years really so bad?

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Vote Yes to get a building that actually has a separate room for this.
Vote Yes to get a building that actually has a separate room for this.

I have a theory I've been nursing for a few years that admittedly is not flushed out -- that's where I'd like your feedback -- and is vulnerable to changing market conditions, the uncertainty of the next CBA, and variance in individual player and team behavior.

Nonetheless, here goes: Critical observers of this sport, including myself, often look at 18- and 19-year-old talents in terms of "cost controlled." Theory being, except for instant stars (and in Taylor Hall's case, sometimes even with stars), isn't it better, financially/cap speaking, to keep 18- and 19-year-olds in juniors rather than "burn" a year of their wage-limited years during what should be their weakest season as a pro? A sidecar to this philosophy is that the sooner you play a rookie past nine games, the sooner his entry level contract (ELC) expires, the sooner you have to pay him the big bucks on his next deal.

While I accept the general philosophy of this approach, I've never thought it was a universal rule, for one reason: Sometimes when players "burn" their early years, they're actually burning quite awkward years of growing pains that make them look like less of a player than you expect they will one day be. Which means their second contract, particularly if you go long (say, five years) on it, could easily be a less average annual value (AAV) than if the player had waited another year or two to enter the NHL.

Not to equate these players, but for argument's sake: Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner signed five-year deals at $2.8 million and $3.0 million AAVs because there is some question about just how good they will be. The Rangers' Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan -- a little older and arbitration-eligible, each of them -- are reportedly looking for deals with AAV's north of $4 million (or even $5 million?) per year. But what would their rate be if they'd been locked up a while ago?

Again, those two Rangers are more experienced and had the leverage of arbitration to raise their market prices. But if the goal is to lock up your best players for multiple years at affordable rates so you can fit a better team around them, then having a young player prove he's just good enough to maybe be on a star trajectory but not quite proven enough to demand the vault could be a good thing.

To throw another player in here: If Josh Bailey had just had an Okposo-like season that made you feel 100% certain of his top-six credentials -- instead of the season he had -- would it not be better to lock him up for five years at non-arbitration rates now rather than extend him for another year or two and then suffer the arbitration leverage after he's taken another (hypothetical) Dubinsky-ian step forward.

One variable I'm leaving out: The next CBA. We have no idea what changes it might have, how different unrestricted free agency age and rules might be -- in short, whether it will be smart to have players like Grabner and Okposo locked up for four seasons into the new agreement.

The other variable I'm leaving out here is that if you have these younger half-proven players on your team, you're inherently fielding a weaker roster. (Sometimes, talent-wise, that's still the best option you have.) But what I'm saying is for future payroll management purposes, it's not automatically bad to "burn" ELC years at age 18 or 19. In fact, in some instances, it might help you thread the development/extension needle just right, so that the player signs on for long term before he realizes how good you think he is.


Gratuitous Historical John Tonelli Video

This came up in comments last night, and it occurs to me many haven't seen it. Canada Cup 1984. Count the Islanders and Oilers, as they align just months after battling in the Cup finals for the second consecutive year:

Who didn't love John Tonelli?

Links and Reading

Areener, hot and heavy:

Katie Strang thinks it's time for Garth Snow to make a move because ... it's just time?

It's getting has always been thin: Who's still out there? Top remaining free agents - NHL Free Agency 2011

Dave Strader is a fantastic announcer, in my book. I understand if he's leaving the uncertainty that is the Coyotes.

Speaking of which, I'll be really upset the Coyotes didn't just move back to Winnipeg if they're going to end up moving next summer anyway. Conundrums like this are why.

Kyle Okposo participated in a charity hockey tournament with a bunch of other Minnesotan NHLers back home.

If you do something for Upper Deck you could win a free trip to the 2011 Rookie Showcase. No idea what that is, but Calvin De Haan was there last year.

I actually feel bad for the Blue Jackets, because I suspect they were desperate to take drastic measures to improve and those measures included the long-term deal and not-quite-top-center that is Jeff Carter, plus the not-quite-top-pair D-man that is James Wisniewski. It has an element of Yashin to it, as in: If your gambles aren't quite what you hoped, you have unmovable contracts. In a cap world. (In brief: They'll surely help, but I don't think Carter and the Wiz are the answer.)

Jewels from the Crown interprets the latest in the disputed Ryan Smyth trade.