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George McPhee smartly sticks to his terms for NHL free agents

Updated July 1, 2018 - 7:49 pm

Whenever the two words surface in any sport — free agency — my heart begins to race and droplets of sweat form on my forehead.

Damn you, Kevin Brown.

We all have them, no? Examples of athletes our favorite teams signed for long tenures, only to have such contracts ultimately prove foolish and disappointing.

It was bad enough the Dodgers gave Brown seven years for $105 million in 1999 at age 33, but then injuries mounted after just a few seasons and he became an average pitcher at best. To top that sundae off with a gigantic cherry, Brown would later be named by the Mitchell Report as one of the biggest steroid users on the team.

So, yeah, I’m really a big fan of that guy.

I’m always more interested in contract terms than actual compensation, a point on which the Golden Knights proved Sunday to own an intelligent perspective.

Free agency opened in the NHL, and while the Knights announced several signings, none were deals that put Vegas in a potentially regrettable situation down the line.

It speaks to the confidence Vegas has in all those young prospects acquired the last few years maturing into cornerstones of the franchise, not to mention George McPhee rightly not budging off what analytics suggest when it comes to specific players.

There is a great chance the Vegas general manager is still working on what would be a major trade — Erik Karlsson of Ottawa has been linked to the Knights so often, you would think the star defenseman is about to take up residency alongside Donny and Marie — and with that likely means the Knights losing current players and potentially some of those prospects.

It could also mean signing Karlsson to a deal similar to the one Drew Doughty (eight years for $88 million) just received from the Kings.

Which you do for a player like Karlsson, who just turned 28.

But he’s an exception.

Most everyone else in 2018 is the rule.

Short-term trend

McPhee signed 32-year-old Winnipeg center Paul Stastny to a three-year deal for a reported $19.5 million.

He signed 31-year-old defenseman Nick Holden to a two-year contract worth $4.4 million.

He re-signed 31-year-old forward Ryan Reaves for two years and $2.775 annually.

Vegas stood firm on its terms with 30-year-old forward David Perron, who couldn’t get a fourth year from the Knights and returned to St. Louis when the Blues obliged.

James Neal is the 31-year old unrestricted agent forward for the Knights who wants more than anything to return, but Vegas is smartly standing behind the length of deal offered and Neal reportedly wants more years.

Are you sensing a trend here?

“Term matters,” McPhee said. “A couple of summers ago, we had a lot of older guys (throughout the NHL) getting five- and six-year deals. I think everybody realized that was a mistake. We’re trying to be a little more circumspect, and it looks like the league is trying to do that. That’s why we went three years on Stastny.

“There are temptations, but you really have to take the emotions out of things, and that is hard. We’re attached to these guys. Some of the guys that played for us, there’s a strong bond there. As a manager, you’re trying to make the right decisions, and it’s hard sometimes. It’s really hard.”

And yet it’s really smart.

Give a guy like Reaves three-year money packaged into a two-year deal. Pay a player like Stastny even more than some believe he’s worth if it’s only for the three years. But he’s also a center, which makes him even more valuable than a younger Perron coming off a career year.

Remain firm on terms for Neal, who is still a proven sniper and 20-goal scorer, but if he appeared slow at times this past season (which he did), what would he look like in four to five years?

It’s not to suggest money doesn’t matter. It does. You can go from a salary cap’s floor to its ceiling in a handful of moves. But the evidence across all sports of teams signing players north of 30 to long contracts and then receiving less-than-desirable results is ample.

Some still do it. Some will never learn.

From what we saw Sunday, McPhee respects the proof.

He had a really good first day, not because it was highlighted by star names or a blockbuster trade, but because he didn’t in any way put a proven and growing and talented roster in harm’s way with bad deals.

There is more to come in the days and weeks ahead, for sure.

But for starters, McPhee did things on his terms.

And, smartly, they weren’t long ones.

More Golden Knights: Follow Golden Knights coverage at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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