Guest Celebrity Post: Georges Laraque

A lot of things went down last week right before the 2011 NHL Draft.  Did you ever wonder how players feel about the trades or how they decide which team they sign with during free agency?

Georges Laraque (who played for the Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens) wrote up a post on what he thought of the trades last week, as well as the state of the NHL.  He explains NHL trades from a player’s perspective.

There were a few tweets over the weekend of fans asking how players decide where they are going to sign.  Is it about location?  Is it about money?  What makes a player decide where they are going to sign? 

Georges breaks it down for fans to understand…the player’s perspective to trades and free agency signings. 

 I’m going to give you a totally different perspective about all the recent trades that went on in the NHL lately, and hopefully you get a better picture. First of all, despite what a lot of you may think, I’m not shocked at all about the trades the Flyers had to make; in fact, it kind of reminds me of the Hawks last year when they had to unload their team after winning the Stanley Cup. Welcome to the “Salary Cap World”, my friends. In fact, a lot of people are looking at this as the way to even things out between the different NHL teams, to control salaries… Really? Isn’t the cap going up every year? When I was in the Players Union, we knew one of the biggest issue with this new system was going to be for the fans.

Years ago, it was easy to identify with a team, with the players. Back then, a team, especially its core players, didn’t change very much over time; you could pinpoint every player of your team, learn about them, identify with them, have their jerseys and wear them proudly. Now, with this new system, even the star players get traded and every year your team changes completely, adding on new faces, so why even bother getting a jersey? For many hardcore fans, those types of trades are very upsetting, so much so that some fans will even cheer for another team because they feel betrayed. You know, before, fans were always cheering for their hometown team, but now with all the changes brought on by the salary cap, you can see for example fans living in Philly cheer for Los Angeles simply because their favourite player and captain Mike Richards got traded there…

But really, when we go back to the salary cap, is it really helping all the teams? Yes, in an 82-games season every team has a chance to win, but if you look at the stats over the last couple of years, it’s always the same teams that make the playoffs and have a shot at success. Even with a salary cap, players choose where they want to play. Sometimes the best players, or the best free agents, are willing to take a pay cut just to fit under the cap so they can play with a top team. Sure, they’re perfectly within their right to do that, but it’s still unfair for the bottom teams. And when these guys choose their destination, they always chose the same few teams, so if you’re a bottom team, you will have to overpay top guys to attract them to your team, but you will never win. Some teams in the NHL develop great prospects, and every year they look like they’re slowly rebuilding their team, but after a couple of years, those prospects that become star players go somewhere else and the rebuilding process starts all over again. Without a good free agent or two on your team, you cannot win, and without a winning team, you cannot attract the right players to get your club to win. As crazy as this sounds, it is true!

Chris Pronger is the perfect example of that—a top-notch player added to the Oilers squad who, in 2006, helped us make it all the way to the Stanley Cup final. Without this one key element, we would have never made it that far. Unfortunately for Edmonton, the way things turned out with Chris Pronger at the end—I remember, because I was there—as well as the saga with Mike Comrie, Dany Heatly and Sheldon Souray, made it very hard for them to attract top-notch free agents ever again. In this league, players talk to each other, so the last thing you want to do is burn your bridges. I hope that one day, this city’s team is finally able to stop rebuilding and start winning. After all, don’t we call Edmonton the “City of Champions”? So let’s not live in the past anymore, the 80’s and the Gretzky era are over!

I love the NHL, hockey is a great and exciting sport, but I do feel bad for a lot of teams because—mark my words—in the next, say… 50 years, you will always see the same winning teams and the best players playing with those winning teams. For example, can you imagine Detroit not ever making the playoffs? And between you and me, we know that the players who want to play in Detroit definitely don’t pick the team because they really want to live in Detroit, if you know what I mean… So when we hear about players not wanting to play somewhere because of taxes, the cold weather or the city being just too boring, we know it’s nothing but dumb excuses. The only excuse I wouldn’t question, obviously, is where travelling is involved, because we know Western teams travel a lot more, and playing in the East with such busy travelling schedules is easier on your body and gives you a couple of extra years in the show. And, of course, another great excuse is that choosing to play for a Canadian team means you’re going to have to deal with a lot more pressure from the medias and the fans, because Canadian fans just love their hockey, know their hockey and expect the Stanley Cup every year or really soon.

I’m not sure what the right system is so that things are fair for everyone in the NHL, but right now, fair is something they are definitely not!

God Bless you all,

                            Georges Laraque

[Reprinted with permission from Georges Laraque]

I’d like to thank Georges for his contribution to this site.  This may be the first of many more future posts here on this blog. 

You can follow Georges on Twitter @GeorgesLaraque or on Facebook: Georges Laraque Full Complet.

If you have any topics or questions you’d like for Georges to discuss, email me or post a comment and I’ll forward it along to Georges.

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