On June 30, when it seemed like half the teams had either just bought out an avoidable, regrettable contract, were about to do so, or were reportedly considering that option, TSN play-by-play man Gord Miller tweeted out something that haunts me to this day:
I’ve thought about this quote a lot in the week and a half since I saw it. This kind of eldritch revelation — that GMs know they give out bad contracts and do so willingly — revealed to us a dark truth at the heart of being a decision-maker in this (or any) professional sports league. A general manager’s job is to ostensibly make the team he’s in charge of better, through high-quality general management. In actuality, very few have the job security to do that to the fullest extent, and are beholden to pressure from ownership to pursue different goals than “realistically compete for the Stanley Cup at some point.”
Take Jim Benning in Vancouver. His owner, Francesco Aquilini, clearly values being competitive for the playoffs every season, rather than trying to build a team capable of winning Presidents’ Trophies and putting themselves in an ideal position to try to win a Stanley Cup.
In theory, and sometimes in practice, these two ideas are one and the same: you can’t Compete For A Cup without first Competing For The Playoffs. There are plenty of low seeds who go on deep playoff runs and, in theory, are a small number of goals away from winning the Cup. However, one must remind themselves of the arguments around the 2016-17 Ottawa Senators, who (in)famously came within a goal of the Cup Final against the eventual champions. They were a bad team and crashed back to earth the next season, but this did nothing to dissuade people from the “all you have to do is get in” narrative, even if that’s the wrong lesson to take from it.
Benning, of course, notably signed the worst contract this summer — five years of Tyler Myers with a $6-million AAV — a year after signing two other inauspiciously bad deals — four years of Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel at twin $3-million AAVs. On the surface these are atrocious contracts and will plague the Canucks’ cap flexibility for years, but in theory, by becoming harder to play against, Benning did what he knows his job is: Get back to the playoffs.