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What We Learned: What do players really owe their NHL teams?

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

The Kevin Hayes situation that went into effect this weekend brought to light a particularly troubling sentiment among Blackhawks fans in particular.

The idea, basically, is that Hayes is a “prima donna” and “selfish” and somehow bad because he decided he did not want to sign with the team that drafted him four years ago, and would instead hit the open market starting on Saturday. As of this writing, he has not made a decision about which team he will sign with.

There was further a lot of confusion about why he would make such a decision. Would he not want to play for a team that gave him the best chance to win a Stanley Cup? Would he not want to show some sort of fealty to the team that drafted him four years ago? Is he really only about the money?

These are all very complicated questions, but the simple answers to them are, respectively: “Apparently not,” “Why should he have to,” and “Why wouldn't he be?”

It's a funny thing about sports. Fans acknowledge, always, that it's a business first and foremost, but simultaneously demand a loyalty from players who are, at the end of the day, simply paid employees. And the thing is, too, that this both is and is not about money simultaneously. If Hayes's biggest consideration here is money (which it might not be), then one has to keep in mind that he can't go sign a $5 million deal somewhere and play for the highest bidder. He's still governed by rookie maximums and other aspects of the current collective bargaining agreement, and thus a team like Calgary couldn't actually pay him more than Chicago could have.

But the difference, though, is that Calgary or Colorado, or maybe even Boston, can offer him something that Chicago cannot: An NHL roster spot, or at least the chance to earn one. That, of course, translates to more money because in the NHL you can make 10 or even 20 times your AHL salary.

For instance, if Anaheim had sent Sami Vatanen had down to the AHL last season, he would have made just $67,500 to ride the bus (plus his signing bonus). But instead he was with the NHL club and pulled $900,000, plus the chance for up to $425,000 in performance bonuses, plus his signing bonus. And thus, playing in the NHL was a very, very good financial move, in addition to being positive for his career a a hockey player.

So why would anyone begrudge Hayes the ability to do so by the same token? As has been discussed, Chicago's deep down the right side, with a lot of wings from that side on one-way contracts, and well established in the organization. He was not, and would have had a tough time convincing the team to effectively bury Kris Versteeg's $2.2 million cap hit just so he could get a crack at the roster. So he started looking elsewhere; it should come as no shock, then, that Hayes's various rumored destinations have a paucity of natural, effective right wings at present. That's good not only for his wallet, but for his sense of himself as a hockey player. Playing at the highest level possible in a situation that's as perfect for him as it can be is, you'd think, the goal of any professional athlete.

And further, it's not like Hayes broke any rules here. Chicago fans are going to feel hard done by, but the reason he was able to start negotiating with everyone was because he's allowed to do that under the terms of the CBA. If any drafted college player wants to wait all four years (or, in Justin Schultz's case, fewer than that because he was drafted out of junior but played another year there before going on to Wisconsin), then he's within his rights to wait it out. Hayes isn't the first person to do it and he won't be the last.

Hayes does not, in fact, owe anything to the Blackhawks for drafting him. Just as Schultz didn't to the Ducks, or Blake Wheeler to the Coyotes. All are, like any other professional athlete, guys who have a very limited number of years in which to make a lot of money before their bodies give out or they get left behind. If guys are even lucky enough to make it that far, the average NHL career is about five and a half years. You therefore have to make as much money as possible while you can.

The idea of having to “pay dues” by taking a 14-hour bus ride to Norfolk for $70,000 per year means that there's not only the incredible difficult life of playing in the minors, but also the removed a huge financial benefit. If Hayes can make in even half of this coming NHL season what he would in five years in the minors, how do you begrudge him that opportunity?

It's a trite comparison because no one spends hundreds of dollars to watch office workers sit at their computers all day, but the old thing about how sports fans demand this kind of loyalty but would leave their employers for a competitor for a $10,000 raise is still true. They wouldn't (and shouldn't) feel bad about doing it, and they wouldn't want people criticizing them for it.

And this isn't a criticism college rookies face exclusively.

People complained that PK Subban should just be happy with whatever the Canadiens were offering him. Or that Jarome Iginla should have taken less money and just a one-year deal to possibly win a Cup with the Bruins, rather than sign for three years and far more annually with Colorado. Now, both Subban and Iginla are already millionaires a few times over just from their hockey-playing alone, before you get into endorsements and everything else. But at the same time, these guys' careers could end in training camp this year, for all they know. They could become the next Chris Pronger or Marc Savard or Matthias Ohlund, and if they can keep money coming in — in a league that still mostly favors the owners, mind you — then they both are and should be perfectly able to do so.

So what players owe their teams is this: Service when they are under contract. If you're signed and you're healthy, you play. Pretty simple. Everyone adheres to it, too.

But the only loyalty an NHL player should have when he's not under contract is to himself.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks re-signed Jakob Silfverberg for a nice one-year prove-it contract, which seems fair. He seems like he can be really effective for them down the road, but last year didn't really show if he was quite there yet. Of course, he's also turning 24 in October, so his prove-it time is running out.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes will be partnered with Ticketmaster for another decade, which is probably longer than they're going to be partnered with Arizona.

Boston Bruins: I don't know why but I always love to see all the NHL veterans who get training camp invitations, as Simon Gagne has with the Bruins. They rarely work out, but it's still nice and makes preseason games at least a little fun to watch.

Buffalo Sabres: Real thing Chris Stewart said about the Buffalo Sabres in 2014: “I think on paper right now there's no doubt in my mind that we're a playoff-bound team.” They better hope he's about a thousand times better at hockey than he is at doubting things.

Calgary Flames: Still no progress on signing Lance Bouma. He's the only non-Kevin Hayes player left they need to sign.

Carolina Hurricanes: Apparently the Hurricanes offered Dan Bylsma their coaching job but he said no thanks. Makes pretty decent sense. Take most of the year off, wait for someone to get desperate.

Chicago Blackhawks: When Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane go golfing, they're right-handed. When they play hockey, they're left-handed. What gives? Oh right, everyone knows that your bottom hand on a stick is the stronger one. Right right right.

Colorado Avalanche: Happy trails to JS Giguere, who is retiring. I'm glad he got to win a Cup.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are going to sign first-round pick Sonny Milano to an entry-level deal, after he decided to skip out on Boston College in favor of Plymouth of the OHL. Smart move by him because he's going to get a hefty signing bonus and potentially start his UFA clock at like 19.

Dallas Stars: Lindy Ruff is hopeful that the stability the Dallas defense saw toward the end of last season will be the one they bring to the table for the entirety of the campaign this time around.

Detroit Red Wings: Yeah, people seem as baffled about giving Ken Holland four more years as I am. The evidence that he's improving this team really isn't there.

Edmonton Oilers: Don't do this. No.

Florida Panthers: Yeah, no kidding the Panthers need young players to fill the lineup. No one else wants to play for them. It's been this way for years.

Los Angeles Kings: If this rivalry needed Ryan Kesler to keep it going, and not the playoff matchups or being pretty close to each other or being in the same division, it wasn't much of a rivalry to begin with.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild's outdoor game will potentially be played on Feb. 16, 2016, at Target Field. Now the question is simple: Do they play the Blackhawks, Kings, or Penguins?

Montreal Canadiens: I love this man.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Yeah, if the Preds were in the Eastern Conference making the playoffs would probably be a hell of a lot easier, because their division wouldn't be Chicago and St. Louis and Dallas and Minnesota and Colorado and Winnipeg. Well, maybe those last two don't matter so much. But you see the point.

New Jersey Devils: Can Mike Cammalleri cure everything that's been wrong with the Devils the last two seasons? Sure, if he shoots 40 percent to make up for the iffy goalscoring, and goes like 8 for 10 in shootouts this year.

New York Islanders: Josh Ho-sang, I know what you are saying to me.

New York Rangers: How many decent pro prospects do you think have a drive to succeed? Like, every one of them?

Ottawa Senators: JG Pageau thinks he can  next season. Remember when he lit up the playoffs for a minute a few years ago? That ruled. Hope he makes it.

Philadelphia Flyers: Darroll Powe is back!

Pittsburgh Penguins: Rob Scuderi is all like, “Hey I was terrible last season.” Everyone who said his contract was awful summer 2013 was like, “Yeah we know.”

San Jose Sharks: That stadium where the Sharks are holding their outdoor game? People are apparently already worried about how bad the traffic is going to be getting in and out of there for any event. Fun.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues have won more regular-season games in the last three seasons than any other team in the Western Conference, which is a stat I didn't expect. Playoff games, not so much.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning have the second-best prospect pool in the league, because having the No. 1 skater (Jonathan Drouin) and No. 1 goaltender (Andrei Vasilievsky) will usually do that for you. That doesn't include Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, who were both strong in their rookie seasons.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Imagine thinking that the Leafs' core is the problem in Toronto? And not, say, the bottom half of the lineup?

Vancouver Canucks: Bo Horvat wants a spot on the Canucks. He's working on his power skating to get there. I dunno, the bottom of that lineup is pretty packed, it seems to me.

Washington Capitals: How do they not have the Winter Classic site nailed down yet? Seems ridiculous.

Winnipeg Jets: Alex Burmistrov says he'll probably be back in the NHL for 2015-16. With any luck, he'll come in right after the new GM.

Gold Star Award

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 (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

Andrei Markov as Habs captain? I can see it. But it should be PK Subban. We all know that.

Minus of the Weekend  

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(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Somehow Patrick Kane playing beer league hockey over the summer is now seen as another potential controversy. Good lord, come on.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “kresco” is
no Kreskin.

To Calgary:
Jordan Eberle
Samuel Morin

To Philly:
Mark Giordano (50% retained = $2,010,000)
David Musil
Flames 2015 3rd

To Edmonton:
B Schenn
Curtis Glencross

Signoff
Jock health is the most important kind of health.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here

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