The Sharks have a Goalie — Teal Sunglasses for June 30, 2015

The Sharks have a Goalie

Doug Wilson made it clear he had a plan, but draft day came and went leaving many of us uncertain and frustrated, but he didn’t even wait until free agency to grab Martin Jones, who the Kings had sent to Boston, in return for an out of favor (and unsigned) prospect and a draft pick. Jones is in process of signing a multi-year deal and while the Sharks never guarantee a role, the trade value and the contract tell us clearly who they see as their number 1 goalie opening the season next year.

Both Laurie and I really like Jones. I was frankly surprised the Kings traded him, except that there were rumors he was going to be given an offer sheet (evidently, by the Sharks it now seems) and Lombardi didn’t feel he could match. Boston evidently convinced the Kings they wanted Jones as a backup, but it took less than a day for them to flip him back into the King’s division. that wouldn’t make Dean Lombardi happy, but one has to think there was a bit of “if you can get him from the Kings we’ll make it worth your while” informal chat going on.

At 25, Jones is the right age to settle in to the Sharks goal with the new and forming team core and build a stable lineup for the next few years, and I feel he’s a legitimate #1 goalie talent ready to take ownership of his own crease. It turns into a good deal for both the Kings (who get — damn, Lucic in the west? Really?) and the Sharks, and the Bruins get a good first round pick and a moderate prospect that seems to have fallen out of favor in San Jose, so it’s not bad for them, either — but how good we’ll have to wait and see. But there are no losers here, and I really like it for San Jose.

As Doug Wilson has shown, he cares about two days: opening night and trade deadline day. He’s never felt forced to make deals around the draft or July 1, and he’s willing to take the deal when it happens, and the teams are works in progress except at those two points when he expects them to be ready to play and win (and if they don’t, he’ll tinker or make changes until they do). This can drive fans crazy because they want the drama of the high profile move, but if you look at the history of the Sharks, their best moves aren’t seen as dramatic ones at the time, or (like the Joe thornton deal) happen out of the blue, never at the ‘obvious’ times. That’s just how Wilson works.

Brandon Dillon has landed a multi-year deal, which I like. I think he’s a good, solid addition to the team. In other off-season moves, both Mike Scott and Scott Hannan won’t return; I think the Sharks were forced to play Hannan too many minutes last season due to depth problems but he’s definitely showing his age, so I won’t be upset at his not returning. They were evidently working hard on landing Kevin Bieksa from the Canucks but wouldn’t give up a 2015 draft pick, so that fell apart, and Bieksa just became a King. I’m not too upset at this. Instead, the rumors are that the Sharks are pursuing free agent Cody Franson. Niemi’s rights were traded to Dallas, who paid him way more money than I would have (for too long a term) to share goal with Kari Lehtonen. I believe this may work in the short term,a nd I believe the Stars will ultimately regret this deal, but given the other goaltending options and their needs, I don’t know what other choices that reasonably had.

For various reasons I didn’t get to pay attention to the draft in detail this year, but from what I can tell, the consensus is it was solid but not stunning and rather boring. In other words, a fairly typical Sharks draft where we won’t know until later who the gems are.

My take on the team right now — better than at the end of last season, but not ready for opening night. I’m going to continue to see how Wilson tries to improve it, especially around improving blueline depth. As of now, this team is closer to being a playoff team again, but I’m not convinced it’s there yet. One major questions — goaltending — has been solved in my mind. Now all Jones needs to do is solve it on the ice and prove me right.

The Mike Richards Saga

Earlier this week the LA Kings surprised everyone by putting Mike Richards on waivers, and then instead of buying out his contract (which everyone expected), announcing they were terminating the contract for violation of the player contract and therefore walking away from paying him anything for the remainder of the deal.

It was fun, in a sad way, to see Twitter explode when people realized what was happening, and it was sudden without any hints of it coming.

The situation is still evolving, here’s what I’ve pieced together so far. According to the Winnipeg Sun, Richards tried to cross the border into Manitoba on the 17th of June, and at that point was arrested for possession of a controlled substance — Oxycontin — without a valid prescription. He was detained for a number of hours and then released on his own recognizance, and an investigation is ongoing about what charges he might face, which might include felony charges.

Richards, it seems, didn’t tell the team about this incident. Instead, Dean Lombardi found out about it during the draft while he was discussing possibly trading the player to a couple of teams interested in eating his cap hit in return for other assets. As soon as he found out, he terminated all trade talks and started working with the league on the contract termination.

I think it’s safe to make a few assumptions here: Lombardi didn’t know about the detainment or he wouldn’t have been so pissed hearing about it at the draft. Richard didn’t tell his agent, either, because I can’t see the agent knowing and not getting the team involved, because THEY would understand a contract termination was likely in that case. The Oxycontin wasn’t from a Kings prescription, or the Kings would be working to clear this up as a misunderstanding, and I think it’s safe to assume the Kings didn’t know or approve that Richards was taking the drug. If the team or agents knew about these pills, they would be actively trying to steer the player into the substance abuse program, so we have to assume Richards hid this from everyone. Why? God knows, I don’t.

To say this is a screwup of massive proportions. We’ll have to wait and see what charges he is charged with, but unless this contract revocation is reversed on appeal by the player’s union (if they choose to try), Richards just cost himself millions of dollars. You have to believe his career is over and no team will touch him now. And let’s not forget, he seems to have a substance abuse problem that needs to be dealt with, but all of the normal support channels he would have just got cut off at the pass.

I feel bad for Lombardi here. He could have bought Richards out last year in a compliance buyout and saved a lot of financial pain. He decided not to, and richards responded with a lousy season. Now, you have to ask if these pills were part of that lousy season and how long he’s been taking them — and beyond that, Lombardi is in a position of having to possibly lawyer up to fight an appeal on the contract, and having to deal with seeing a player he put his trust in screw him over, screw the team and his teammates over, and generally screw his life over as well.

I’m really interested in hearing what Richards has to say about all this, once he can talk. But right now, what I see is someone who made some really bad decisions, and has ended up screwing the pooch someone massively and leaves the game in disgrace. His name will always be tainted now, and he’ll have to live with that no matter what happens from here on — and it was all so unnecessary.

And that’s sad to see, even though he brought it on himself.

Sharks 25th Anniversary Season

The Sharks are entering their 25th season in the league, and they intend to make it special — what I want most of all is wins, of course, but I think it’s great the Sharks plan on celebrating this season. This is going to include new logos and patches, a special jersey, and a bunch of stuff we can buy and wear to show off our Sharks Pride.

As a first year season ticket holder and someone who remembers driving to the Cow Palace for games for two seasons, it’s been a long and interesting road to this point.

The Cluster in Arizona

We have a full-blown cluster in Glendale, where the city council has voted to void the arena management contract with the Coyotes and told them to leave immediately. In return, the Coyotes have lawyered up and filed lawsuits in return and a request for a restraining order to force Glendale to cut it out and to prevent them from doing anything while the case is in court. As of now, the first decision from the court has come in favor of the Coyotes where a required payment the city was trying to withhold was ordered to be paid. You can read the sad details that got us here in a nice piece in the Arizona Republic.

I’ve been following the chaos in Arizona for a long time. I have to admit I’m not terribly surprised we got to this point. The financing agreement for the building in Glendale was terrible and a time bomb waiting to blow up since day 1, and all of the maneuvering we’ve seen down there has been to minimize the pain, since there’s no real way to fix it.

This isn’t a “move the Coyotes and the problem is solved”, because the building has a huge debt attached and Glendale will have to pay them with or without tenants — but it seems Glendale feels it can lose less money by trying to kick out the Coyotes and bringing in some other team to manage and book the arena without the hockey team light dates to fill up the building with events.

At first glance, the justifications the city used to void the agreement are hard to see standing up in court, and now they get to stare at lawyers and a $200 million lawsuit from the Coyotes for this attempt to break the contract.

If you ever wanted a “nobody wins” scenario to study, this seems to be it. I can’t see how the city will be in less financial pain without the Coyotes. I can’t see how the Coyotes can ever get comfortable working with the city again, even if (when?) they prevail in the legal forums. I don’t know how the team can thrive (and perhaps function effectively) during the legal fight, which can drag on for years.

Lawyers will get rich, fans will suffer, Glendale will bleed money, and at the end, I feel like the Coyotes will have to leave town no matter what — too many things have been said and broken to kiss and make up after this. It’s a truly ugly, sad situation with no easy way out and back to some workable business relationship. Glendale made some bad choices and was unhappy about having to pay the bill, but the choice they made here was to set everything on fire and the end result for the city will be worth no matter how things wind up in court.

I’ve seen some media types (mostly the typical Canadian ones) pointing at Glendale and the Coyotes and declaring Bettman and his expansion strategies as failures and how hockey can’t work in “non-traditional” markets. Whether or not hockey ultimately fails in Glendale, the folks making this argument conveniently ignore the success in other “non-traditional” markets including Los Angeles and Anaheim, San Jose, and especially Dallas — and also ignore the failure of “traditional” markets where teams in cities like Winnipeg and Quebec City were forced to leave (and fortunately, Bettman’s policies changed the finances enough that they are back in Winnipeg and may go back to Quebec City in the next few years) — and also conveniently forget that under Bill Wirtz the Blackhawks were a failing team in a mostly empty building; and now, look at them.

And that’s my point when people make these claims: it’s not markets, traditional or non-traditional. It’s team management and especially the ownership that sets the tone and policies of those teams. Good owners that build a good team and market it well will work in any market, and Dallas proves that point nicely, among a number of other teams. Bad owners that build poor organizations will fail in any market (except perhaps Toronto).

So Bettman shouldn’t be criticized for expanding into non-traditional markets, in many of them the game has grown and thrived quite nicely. Where you can criticize the NHL is their choice of the original owner in Arizona, Jerry Moyes, who’s the guy responsible for this terrible building and debt in Glendale and who threw everything into bankruptcy when his other companies blew up in his face — the NHL has in fact done a great job of keeping the Coyotes functional through the process of trying to clean up the legal and financial mess that Moyes created and dumped in their lap.

(and don’t forget that many of these “non-traditional market” pundits wanted to hand the team to Jim Balsillie of RIM/Blackberry as a canadian savoir. Let’s just say that a few years down the road, very few people are calling for that any more…)

Having said all of that — I can’t see the Coyotes staying in Arizona. I think the situation is too broken. I would be amazed to see them move sooner than a couple of seasons out, if only that they have to stay through the legal process unless some kind of deal can be worked out. My current feeling is that at some point everyone will wash their hands of this and the team moves — I’d bet on Quebec City, in fact. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that Bettman is privately having his staff work on that option while publically telling everyone nobody’s going anywhere and that they intend to fight and fix this current cluster.

Honestly, though, the NHL would be better off at some point getting the team out of there and leaving the city of Glendale to suffer from their bad decisions on building that building without the NHL continuing to try to help them solve the problem. Glendale no longer deserves help from the team or league in dealing with their financial mistakes — and make no mistake, that building should never have been built, and it was as much as anything Moyes’ ego that drove everyone to a financial deal they could all convince themselves was viable, but which blew up in their faces at the first economic air pocket. That’s a terrible way to do business, and Moyes paid for it in his other business, the city is paying for it now, and the NHL is stuck in the middle trying to figure out ways to make it work for the team and minimize the pain for everyone else — with a city council that is clueless about what they’re doing and what they’ve gotten themselves in for here.

Apologies for the radio silence

I want to apologize for the long time between emails. I launched Teal Sunglasses just before I took off for a business trip, but while I was on the road I ran into some other challenges that have taken up all of my time and energy. Things are getting back to normal now, so I’m working to get this and all of my writing back on a schedule, so you should be seeing these on a more regular basis again from now on. Sometimes life intervenes in ways you can’t put off or ignore, but I apologize that it’s taken me so long to get things back on track.

Join us on Facebook — and tell your friends

Now that I’m out of radio silence again, I’m starting to get more active in discussion the team. Now would be a great time to join us over on the Teal Sunglasses Facebook Discussion area, where you’ll find some of the links and discussions getting started in between issues of Teal Sunglasses. Tell your friends about Teal Sunglasses and if they aren’t subscribed to this list yet, tell them to go subscribe (and if you are reading this and aren’t subscribed, what are you waiting for?) — remember, while these newsletters get posted online in the archive, they won’t go online for a few days, so if you don’t want to be the last to see them — the subscription is free and easy.

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About Teal Sunglasses

Teal Sunglasses is an email newsletter about Hockey, the San Jose Sharks, Baseball, the Business of sports and whatever sporting topics catch my attention. Teal Sunglasses is written and produced by Chuq Von Rospach. Chuq was a 20 year season ticket holder with the Sharks starting with the franchise’s first season and one of the operators of the Plaidworks Sharks mailing list and many other sports mailing lists on the internet. You can follow Chuq on twitter at @chuq or on Google+ or Facebook.

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