Fear Not, Vegas – Things Are On Schedule

Before I begin, I want to first say that I have the utmost respect for the folks at Sin Bin Vegas, who have done a fine job bringing news and analysis on the NHL’s 31st team.  It’s not really my style to directly respond to someone in an indirect manner; it reminds me too much of the various feuds that exist between musicians where they’ll passively/aggressively complain about the other person through the media.

Earlier today, a post went up titled “There Simply Hasn’t Been Enough Coming From The NHL’s Newest Team”.  Although it focuses more on the sales and marketing side of things, there’s a bit on hockey ops as well.  The middle part will be my focus because it contains the most:

Social media should be on fire with updates on how league moves relate to our fate. How each and every little moving piece can (and will) effect the future of our brand new baby. The new Twitter went from 0-20,000 followers in less than a day. The Instagram and Facebook blew up as well. But since the announcement, they’ve sent out 84 tweets, 24 Facebook posts, and 12 Instagrams (is that the term?).

The first paragraph requires a bit of an explanation.  The NHL possesses the sole right to determine what does and not constitute tampering, and there’s really no question that the NHL has both the most strict interpretation and by far the heaviest penalties among the major sports leagues for violations of it.

We saw this less than two weeks ago, with Vancouver slapped with a heavy fine when GM Jim Benning spoke about his team having an interest in two pending free agents.  We saw it in 2009, when Toronto was heavily fined when coach Ron Wilson mentioned the possible pursuit of two pending free agents.  We’ve seen it in 1999, when the league hammered the St. Louis Blues for a tampering violation of a pending RFA (Scott Stevens of New Jersey); that stunt cost the Blues a 1st-round pick outright, and also gave New Jersey the unilateral one-time right to flip 1st-rounders with St. Louis at any point in the ensuing five drafts.  We saw it in 1998, when Toronto was forced to give up a draft pick to Anaheim for tampering with a scout who was under contract.

The NHL’s interpretation of tampering, and their punishment for violations, are extremely severe.  The message is very simple: if you are in any way connected to an NHL team, do not do anything that can be even remotely construed as tampering with anyone who is under contract to another franchise.  If you draw a paycheck that is signed by an NHL team or its parent company, keep quiet.

Is it possible that the Las Vegas official team website or Twitter account mentioning players who could be available in an expansion draft, or who are pending free agents next July 1, could be construed as tampering?  Yes.  And the lesson that’s been taught repeatedly is simple: don’t do it.  It’s a lot less of a hassle to not post something in mid-July rather than to post something and then have to explain to the NHL and other teams why you shouldn’t be hammered with a stiff penalty before a single player has been added to the team’s roster.

The list of what the team can and should put out is honestly pretty limited.  It would involve things like internal hiring, various news from around the league that would likely be little more than linking to NHL.com articles, and perhaps a link to the CBA.  I’ll even provide a link to the CBA right here, in case you feel like killing the better part of a day learning about everything from free agency to cap recapture to the proper forms for sending a player to the minors.

The second and final part I’m going to address:

It’s is too easy to neglect, and I understand it when you consider the fact that the team doesn’t yet have a name, a logo, a GM, scouts, trainers, a sales staff, a marketing staff, a PR staff, and the list goes on an on.

This is all true.  And in all honesty, it doesn’t matter at this moment in time.  It may not matter next month, or the month after.

Of the last nine expansion teams to come in – San Jose, Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Florida, Anaheim, Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus, and Minnesota – exactly four of them gave a GM more than one year between the time that he was named to the position and the expansion draft.  Those are Jack Ferreira with San Jose (386 days between hiring and expansion draft), Phil Esposito with Tampa Bay (441 days), Don Waddell with Atlanta (367 days), and Doug MacLean with Columbus (862 days.  That’s not a typo.)

No one had more time to assemble something and prepare it for its debut than Doug MacLean in Columbus.  He was hired in February 1998 and had over two full years to prepare for an expansion draft and whatever else could be thrown at an expansion team.  By the time he was fired in 2007, the team had a lifetime record of 172-258-62, good for 406 points of a possible 984 (.413 point percentage, equal to a 68-point season.  That’s roughly a 26-42-16 season).  Compare that to expansion brother Minnesota, which gave Doug Risebrough just 295 days between his hiring and the expansion draft.  When MacLean was fired, Minnesota had a lifetime record of 209-194-89, good for 507 points of 984 (.515 percentage, equal to an 85-point season.  That’s roughly 42-39-1.)  This was despite the fact that MacLean had nearly three times as long to get his hockey ops staff put together compared to Risebrough.

The other names on the list didn’t fare much better.  I’ll set aside Esposito because of the absolutely bizarre entanglements with team ownership, including his own stake in it.

Ferreria was actually carried over from the Minnesota North Stars as part of that franchise’s split in 1991, and he was the GM for only their first year.  Their first year, with a 17-58-5 record.  In an apparent attempt to be more “modern”, Ferreira was fired after the first year with hockey ops duties being split between three people.  The 1992-93 Sharks were even worse, plummeting to an 11-71-2 record.

Waddell was hired by Atlanta one year plus two days out from the expansion draft.  As my various analyses of Atlanta’s expansion draft show in no uncertain terms, that could not have been a bigger disaster, and the remainder of his tenure was little better.  Some people who were still there at the end had been hired shortly after Waddell was brought on board, and it made absolutely no difference in the fortunes of the franchise.

Compare this to Bobby Clarke with the Florida Panthers, who had a mere 114 days between his hiring date and the expansion draft.  The Panthers set expansion team records for most wins in their first season (33) and most points (83), and they missed the playoffs in their first season by just two points in the standings (also a record).

I have looked at all the various factors that go into predicting, and dare I say causing, early success among an expansion team.  And I can say from careful study and analysis that there is no correlation between the early hiring of a GM and a hockey ops staff (coaches, scouts, trainers, etc.) and any type of early success, whether in the first year or in any later year.  Nor is there any correlation between a late hiring and a lack of success.

There are a couple of factors that very strongly correlate with early success, none of which are at play here.  Ultimately what will determine the first-season success of Las Vegas, and its success in the first few seasons, does not relate to the fact that there aren’t solid rumblings about a GM in July of the preceding year.

Take heart, fans of Las Vegas.  Everything is right on schedule.