Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pollockisms: On How To Run The Canadiens, For Those Listening

Yesterday Dennis Kane posted a very good collection of quotes from the late, great Sam Pollock.

Something of a hero of mine (as an armchair GM, he presents the ultimate example to strive for), I was very interested to read the list in its entirety. I recommend the Pollockites among you do the same.

Because Dennis left the door open and because I still find myself in awe of some of the common sense the man uttered, I picked a few that I reflected and elaborated on a bit further:

“You can’t pay 10 minor leaguers NHL salaries just to keep them. Giving a prospect $40,000 instead of the $25,000 he should make may not seem like much, and to some it didn’t, but 10 times $15,000 can put you in the red in a hurry.”

Sound advice for the salary cap era, and about 30 years earlier.

That whole piece I wrote about Chiarelli making his own mess in Boston could have been introduced or summed up by this very quote. What Pollock knew was that how you pay the minor leaguers throughout the organisation has a trickle down effect to everyone else.

If one extrapolates what he says here to depth, you may construe that depth, while important is not worth digging a deep salary hole for yourself. You can only ice 18 skaters and 2 goalies a game, so in effect having NHL quality depth beyond that is a luxury. It sounds to me like trader Sam would have been keeping a few spare parts about, but keeping a sensible lid on the situation.

Contrast this to the people out there who are still hollering for a Canadiens trade, or another signing just because it would fit under the cap. It's worth reflecting on the idea that depth is no more than a luxury and that having more than 18 NHL skaters around (even more so in the salary cap era) is a tactic to be questioned and not necessarily lauded. Yes injuries will happen, but I suspect Pollock would be one to deal with situations like that as they arise, rather than sacrifice something off the top-end talent in order to stock up on insurance.

The other concept in his quote is one of salary escalation. Some players nowadays come out of the gates with way too much earning potential, and for what? They'd all play for league minimum, I'd wager. If Pollock were around, I suspect he'd be a much bigger fan of the latest Latendresse signing than he would of the Tuukka Rask monstrosity.

"Long-term contracts are useless unless a reasonable form of renegotiation is built in. Otherwise, one side is bound to be unhappy somewhere down the line.”

Remuneration for services rendered. What a novel concept.

Again, the NHL has changed a bit since Pollock ruled the roost, but I suspect he'd stick by this.

Gainey had this almost right, but fell down when he misunderstood the unique chance to negotiate during a season. Short-term contracts to Higgins, Plekanec, Komisarek and co. were genius at the outset. The players were paid well within their talent bracket (Pollock would be proud). However, by letting them all go to free agency, he saddled himself with unnecessary risk.

In effect, the mid-term new contract offer is the re-negotiation built in to a long-term deal, isn't it? Playing well? How about a raise? Not playing so well? Would you sign on for the same again?

Though I'm hard on Gainey, I think he's been restrained. Paul Holmgren, the king of the long and unsophisticated contract would not impress Sam Pollock. As Sam said, how could one side of the arrangements he's meted out not be unhappy at one time or another. We've already seen it in Philly with Hatcher, Rathje and now Briere. Don't be surprised when Mike Richards or the Flyers sour on that deal, or when the Pronger behemoth goes belly up.


Pollock was more than a good manager for the Canadiens, he was a GM with as much fire for competition in the meeting room as his players had on the ice. The reason he was steps ahead of his colleagues is because the job was no jolly to him, but an arena where he was pitted against rivals for the ultimate goal – the Stanley Cup. If more GMs in the NHL today thought half as much as Sam Pollock did about the game and its future, this league would be a much better spectacle.

Here's to you Mr. Pollock.

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