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Screen Shots: NHL GMs need to learn to say goodbye

Long-term deals to Bryan McCabe and Jason Blake have pushed the Leafs to the cap limit.

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Long-term deals to Bryan McCabe and Jason Blake have pushed the Leafs to the cap limit.

Desire is a powerful, wonderful and occasionally dangerous thing. It can keep some people motivated to realize a lifelong dream; it can deliver others to heights they never previously imagined; and, as demonstrated by dozens of American Idol episodes, it also can cause many to hold tight to those dreams, even when they don’t possess the tools to achieve them.

Sooner or later, that latter group of “delusionals” require a Simon Cowell type in their lives, someone brutally honest enough to speak the three words they ought to hear:

Let. It. Go.

The NHL has its fair share of people who need to hear the same message. Quite a few of them are GMs overly enamored with their roster. Their desire to lock up most, if not all, members of their present-day roster to long-term contracts is at least partially to blame for the struggles their teams must now overcome.  

The evidence is everywhere. Doug Armstrong, now former GM of the Dallas Stars, signed Mike Modano to a five-year, $17.5-million deal in 2005, which, it turns out, would’ve been perfect if it only had four fewer years and 15 million fewer dollars on it.

John Ferguson Jr. retained the services of Bryan McCabe in Toronto with a five-year, $29-million deal in 2006. The expectations and ramifications of the deal have all but completely choked the confidence out of the beleaguered blueliner, to the point where he now resembles the spawn of Gil from The Simpsons and Shelly Duvall’s character in The Shining. Ferguson also signed Jason Blake to a five-year deal, which may go down in league history as the last half-decade contract ever bestowed upon a 34-year-old.

Buffalo’s Darcy Regier, who defied conventional belief about hostage negotiations, ceded to the demands of Oilers GM Kevin Lowe for the services of Thomas Vanek and consequently has a $10-million winger with a minus-6 rating.

Lowe himself got a bad case of stars in his eyes after Edmonton’s unexpected Stanley Cup run in 2006.  He spent himself silly on Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Dwayne Roloson and in the process couldn’t sign the team’s most popular player (Ryan Smyth), whom he soon had no choice but to trade.

As well, a good handful of the Florida Panthers’ youngsters – including Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton – have been signed to multi-year pacts, despite the fact the team has yet to make the playoffs with any of them in the lineup.

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In all of these cases, GMs fell victim to pressure points, real or imagined, and allowed their fear of the unknown to whittle down the list of options available to them down the line.

The large jumps in the salary cap ceiling has saved some of them in the short term, but since nobody in the industry expects continual cap bumps that big, their day of judgment isn’t that far off.

Look, I understand asset protection is a paramount priority for every NHL franchise. I’m also aware teams will be more likely to toss out restricted free agent offers, as Lowe did to Vanek and Dustin Penner, making it vital to secure genuine talent as early as possible.

But there is no doubt that, in the rush to safeguard themselves from being pillaged, GMs have put all their chips behind their Plan A’s and pushed any and all Plan B’s completely off the table. They have willingly straight-jacketed themselves without possessing even the most minimal Houdini-like skills and may need the aid of smoke and mirrors to stay employed.

Say what you will about the quality of deal Lowe made for Smyth, but at least he had the good sense to bite the bullet, part ways with a player who didn’t fit his salary structure and instead get (a) cap flexibility, and (b) something to build with.

Lowe could’ve ended up like Canadiens GM Bob Gainey, who should’ve traded Sheldon Souray at last season’s trade deadline, but let him walk away as an unrestricted free agent this summer for nothing, instead.

At least Gainey was wise enough to not give Souray a too-rich, too-long contract and let Lowe do it instead. (Sure, Gainey overpaid and over-termed Roman Hamrlik, but nobody’s perfect.)

So let it go, GMs. When it comes to the future, roll the dice and live a little. It’s like your mom told you after you first had your heart broken by some reckless harlot  – yeah, the sting might hurt like hell in the short term, but eventually, someone better will come along.

Adam Proteau’s Screen Shots appears every Thursday only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can send him a comment or question through our Ask Adam feature.

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