It's the worst time of year to be a Restricted Free Agent. As the preseason gets into gear and fans start paying for tickets, whispers have turned into strident proclamations that RFAs are beholden to a megalomaniac of an agent, that they are risking their reputation and future with the club over "a couple million dollars." It wasn't supposed to be like this, though. They just wanted to play hockey, the thing they're best at, but now they're having to practice silent restraint. They're acutely aware of why they haven't signed yet, sure, but this was never part of the dream. All they know is that everything is the worst until that wonderful day when a contract is shoved in front of their face that doesn't make their agent retch. Then they can finally put on the sweater and start impressing all those simpering sports bloggers with their phenomenal skills again.
Brenden Dillon is one such hockey player. While his situation hasn't deteriorated anywhere near the level of a few Eastern Conference debacles, his absence is more than noticeable now that goalies are making real saves, players are making real line changes, and Paul Bissonnette is somehow playing in the same league as Tyler Seguin. Yes, we know it's convenient that the Stars have a lot of young depth on defense to try out while Dillon's spot remains vacant, but Dillon will be on this roster even if Klingberg, Jokipakka and Honka each score a goal apiece on every shift they take. Leverage exists on both sides, but it's essentially been a matter of completing the paperwork from day one. Of course, Jamie Benn can testify that it's not that simple.
Dillon is feeling that frustration, too. He opened up to the Vancouver Sun about his contract negotiations recently, and the conversation certainly paints the picture of a player torn between his love for the game and his knowledge of what has to happen right now:
You grow up playing hockey and you’re thinking ‘oh, I just want to play the game, it’s so much fun.’ Then you realize it is your job. For me, I don’t want to think of it as a holdout, I want to think of it as hopefully getting closer to playing and I’m really confident things are going to get done sooner than later. It’s one of those things where it can go from not talking to all of the sudden having a deal done in a day, or a couple of days. So I’m just waiting for that call and to be told to get a pen and start signing the papers.
It really can't be said enough, can it? It's a job, and this is one of the handful or so times he'll have in his career to actively negotiate for a better contract. It's public, it can seem ugly, and fans sometimes feel like the players are turning their noses up at more money than Normal People will ever see in their lifetime--money that comes from the pockets of said Normal People by means of admissions, concessions and advertising dollars spent marketing products to the NPs.
Dillon gets that. And he freely admits that he dislikes this part of the process, necessary though it is. Dillon again:
"It’s that time of year when I should be down there and I want to be down there. It is what it is and this is the part of the game that I can’t really control and that’s why, as players you have to trust in your agent. Hopefully things are going to get closer and closer and then eventually get done. I’ve been in contact with the guys in Dallas, the texting, the calls, and, you know, it sucks. You wish you could have been down there a month ago. "
It can be helpful to use good analogies. Well, too bad, I've just got this one: An annual performance review.
You've been working 60-hour weeks and saving your company money left and right. You're the one holding your department together, and you've barely said a word about how difficult it's been for you to keep up your performance when you weren't feeling well. Now it's finally your turn to go into your boss's office and to listen while she reads the year-end notes you're both looking at word by word. Finally, after suffering through this pointless narration of your categorical performance, you're probably going to be a bit miffed if your manager presents you with the basic minimum wage increase available to your position at fiscal year-end. In fact, if you don't love the raise you are presented with, that just might result in your putting in less overtime afterwards. Your employer might balk at this because you've been the only one left at the office lately to handle that delivery at 6:10pm, and now you're deciding to go ahead and leave at 4:30 like everyone else. Those late deliveries sit outside overnight in the rain, or they get delayed until the next morning, resulting in an angry customer the next day. A conversation with your boss will ensue very shortly. At that point, your employer would have to decide whether or not having you there to do your job at an above-average level is more valuable to the company than the money they are saving by witholding an extra raise. It's a small company, so that money comes from a bottom line somewhere, and they can't afford to just let it be known that they give everyone however much more money they want every time their annual performance review comes up. It is strategically beneficial for the company to make everyone feel as though budgets are tight--because they are--and that this particular raise is not a reasonable request--it may or may not be.
Also, there's a really popular website that posts everyone's salaries and you make over half a million dollars each year. This is where the analogy breaks down.
Dillon (and Eakin, remember) will get signed when both sides have found a way to convince themselves that they can live with settling for the amount on the table. Each side needs to feel like they did perhaps just a touch better for themselves on this new contract than might have been expected. Do you know how hard it must be to convince both parties in any negotiation that each one came away without being jobbed?
Let's just be thankful that the negotiations have been calm and quiet thus far. If Jim Nill is as admirable as many seem to think, we'll probably have forgotten about this whole thing by November. If we haven't then that means the kids holding down the D really are scoring a goal per shift, and that probably means the world is ending. To the apocalypse bunkers!
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Note: The Stars have a scheduled day off Tuesday, but they will hit the ice again in Frisco at 9:00am (game team) before heading to Florida for the game against the Panthers Tuesday night. The non-game players will practice at 10:30am.
Not a bad night's work, boys.
Here's the Stars game recap by Mark Stepneski. [Stars]
The Dallas Morning News has some photos from last night's game that didn't count for anything, but stop telling me that. Hard not to love that one of Steve Ott getting jersey-tucked. [DMN]
The Ralph Strangis Stars Blog is fully operational, and his latest musings focus on how training camp has changed over the years. Any guesses on the gift-ee of the Guerin elbow? [Stars]
What will Antoine Roussel turn into as his 4-year deal matures? Given how far he's come, it's tough to say he couldn't get better. [DMN]
Ryan Suter on his father, Miracle on Ice team member Bob Suter, who passed away recently. Sure sounds like Bob Suter was just the quintessential role model. He'll be missed. [Minnesota Star-Tribune]
Fear the Fin reminds you that John Scott is bad at many things, but most of all that he is incontrovertibly useless when it comes to deterrence. [FTF]
Calgary's Mikael Backlund is still unable to do "The Twist" in the team's mandatory dance-routine warmups, and Bob Hartley is getting concerned. [Pro Hockey Talk]
Ryan Johansen has lowered his polite request to something under $5 million per year, per Pierre LeBrun. That probably won't be enough to change the minds of all the other agents who can't figure out his plan, though. I side with the crowd that sees 'Lumbus settling with RyJo for $4 million at this point. [ESPN]
Mike Green just might find new life under Barry Trotz's guidance, per Barry Trotz. If that's not a reliable source, then I don't know what's wrong with you. [NHL]
Here's a pretty profane rant by a Boston blog about how ludicrous a stance the Bruins' management team is taking in Torey Krug/Reilly Smith negotiations. Keep calm and Kari on, folks. Dillon and Eakin will be here in good time. [Days of Y'Orr]
It seems weird that so many players have gotten banged up during training camp time. Bobby Ryan got his "bell rung" by Kyle Turris, which should probably make any Senators fan feel like this. [Ottawa Sun]
Puck Daddy went down the list of ten borderline hall of famers who are still playing. Does it mean something that three of the first four mentioned are current or recent Stars? No, that is a stupid question. [Puck Daddy]
Not hockey, but there are rumblings that Qatar might not host the 2022 FIFA World Cup after all. [The Score]
Finally, watch this clip of Dennis Wideman making you smile during a shootout, which hasn't happened much lately: