Blackhawks News

Slots, Timelines and RFA negotiations.

By Unknown author
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Last Friday, the Chicago Blackhawks announced that they were NOT going to re-sign Defenseman Chris Campoli and the reason given was simple:  Campoli didn’t fit in the teams salary structure.

There have been all kinds of responses to the news that the Hawks were not going to resign Campoli:

  • The Hawks are being vindictive to Campoli because he was taking them to salary arbitration.
  • Campoli was greedy and trying to get more then he deserved.
  • Bowman should have waited until after the arbitration hearing before announcing the end of negotiations.

Personally, I don’t think any of those responses are valid.

"“We kind of indicated this to Chris at the beginning,” Bowman said. “’You may want more from us, and it’s really about fitting in with our structure. On our team, with the guys we already have signed, we need somebody in the certain price range for that role.”"

Being Vindictive

Last year, Niklas Hjalmarsson signed an offer sheet from another team.  Many fans have suggested that the Hawks were going to trade Hjammer. Mostly because the Hawks were considered to be vindictive under Rocky Wirtz’s father.  Thing is Rocky Wirtz has continually demonstrated that he has a different plan for the Chicago Blackhawks and does not operate the way his father had before him.  So Hjammer was not traded even though he was willing to leave the Hawks Organization.  And if the Hawks weren’t vindictive in that situation there is no reason to believe they would be with a player that would stay within the organization after completing salary arbitration.

Campoli was greedy

If you read comments in the Blackhawks blogoshpere concerning Leddy and Campoli you would see that they are somewhat split down the middle.  One group of fans think Campoli would be paired with Hjammer as the teams second d-pair. While the other group thinks Leddy was going to be a top 4 defensemen and it was Campoli who was going to be the Hawks 6th d-man.

Which position on the depth chart matters because of the difference in the average expected salary.  Campoli made 1.4M last year.  If Campoli thought he was going to play on the second d-pair he could reasonably be expecting a salary in the range of 2.7-3.5M.

On the other hand, if Campoli was only going to be the Hawks 6th defensemen he might top out (in maybe) the 1.7M range.  So there is a big difference in salary depending on where he would fit on the Hawks depth chart.

Looking at this from both sides it is pretty obvious there would be problems.  Campoli is at the next step in his career.  He sees what he perceives to be an opening in the “next rung up.” And Campoli thinks that he he is going to be filling that role and wants to be paid accordingly.

Bowman on the other hand believes that Leddy is ready to take that next step.  So he is looking to fill a lower salary slot then the one Campoli was expecting.  I don’t really have a problem with conflict in this situation.  These are real human beings in real situations and sometimes there just isn’t a good fit.

Announcing that negotiations have ceased

Now here is the thing, Stan Bowman has taken all kinds of criticism for “telling” the Blackhawk fan’s that negotiations with Campoli have ended.  Somehow this is perceived as giving up trading leverage.  And there was a perception that Bowman should have waited to sign Lepisto until after the arbitration hearing.

Well first off, Stan Bowman has to deal with the off-season timeline defined in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  The order is as follows:

  • The Unrestricted Free Agency period begins July 1st.
  • At the same time Offer sheets are made to RFAs
  • The deadline for players to request salary arbitration is July 5
  • There is a delay until the actual hearing of around a month
  • The team has 48 hours after the ruling to decide to accept or cut bait

What a GM needs the timeline to be in order to make an intelligent and well thought out salary arbitration decision is:

  • Offer sheets come first
  • Then the player can elect to go to arbitration
  • A timely date is set
  • The team gets 48 hours to make a decision
  • Then Unrestricted Free Agency begins.

Now the reason the GM wants it that way is because the GM needs to be able to sign a Free Agent if the Salary Arbitration falls through.

Putting together a team is not done in concrete.  It is a flexible set of options and alternatives.  Concerning Campoli there are three options:

  • Plan A: Sign Campoli as a restricted free agent
  • Plan B: Replace Campoli with an Unrestricted Free Agent like, say, Sami Lepisto
  • Plan C: Replace Campoli by moving up other players on the current depth chart like Sean O’Donnell and John Scott

If Plan A, signing Campoli doesn’t work out, the Hawks need to be able to replace him using either Plan B or C.  Since Plan C doesn’t appeal to anyone, the Hawks really need to be sure that they can actually sign an UFA during the Free Agency period. But the Free Agency period is happening now and will be mostly over by the time the arbitration hearing is resolved.

So basically Bowman can’t wait for the hearing to be resolved.  He needs to make the decision now.  Either sign Campoli regardless of the future award or sign an UFA now.  He has to make his “best guess” about the arbitration award and act accordingly.   And in this case it is anyone’s guess what that award would have been.

It was pretty obvious that the Hawks were not going to be able to sign Campoli, they had completely different opinions of where he was on the depth chart. And arbitration awards are based on comparable players.  And since both sides present their opinion of what constitutes comparable players , Campoli was going to use 4th d-men and the team was going to use 6th d-men.  And there was NO way to reliably “predict” an arbitration award.

Stan Bowman needed to act now to get his “Plan B” option in place. He had no choice.  If he waited, most likely, all of his “acceptable” replacement options would have signed somewhere else.  So the individual most likely responsible for when Bowman made his announcement was probably neither Bowman nor Campoli.  It was most likely Lepisto.  As an UFA he could sign with anyone anytime.  It seems most likely that it was Lepisto that forced the timing of his signing.  I don’t think Bowman had much choice.

And once Bowman signed Lepisto everyone in the league knew what that meant for Campoli.  Basically, the only people that were informed by Bowman’s announcement were the fans.  He wasn’t giving up any trade secrets.  The league could figure it out on their own.

So I don’t really blame Bowman for “losing” trade leverage by announcing his plans for Campoli.  I don’t really think he had any.

Conclusion

To this end I have basically concluded that sometimes things just don’t work out.  The Hawks knew when they made the trade to bring Campoli over that he was going to be difficult to sign.  In some ways his availability in the first place was because he was an RFA with sign-ability issues.  So in this deal, I give everyone a pass.

There is also one other observation.  The Hawks could have signed Campoli in a one year deal for 2nd d-pair money.  They could have overspent as insurance for Leddy, well, just in case.  They currently have the cap space and chose not to use it.  So they either really feel Leddy is ready or they have bigger plans for their remaining salary cap room.  It will be interesting to see what that might be.

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