What the Phoenix Coyotes and Kyle Turris Can Learn from Others

By Jeff Quirin
NHL Hot Stove Associate Editor

To be a young man called to the stage in the early moments of any NHL entry draft is quite an honor. One earned by intense dedication, extensive sacrifice and a little hockey gods given talent. The accompanying title of “lottery pick” brings further sacrifice and dedication with it if the ominous”potential” label is to be removed before pundits can slap on the “bust” sticker.

*Kyle Turris

Kyle Turris, the Phoenix Coyotes top selection in 2007 (3rd overall), knows all about the dynamic. As one of the long term foundation cornerstones of a franchise deprived of financial strength, his expedited maturation is a more of a necessity than a luxury. The same story that plays out across with width and breath of the league each season since the institution of the salary cap.

Scrutiny of such processes never trails far behind.

When attempts failed to jump start the one time University of Wisconsin forward like others of his draft pedigree the validity of the decision was questioned. The appropriate response came in the form of a tour of duty in the AHL. After spending 63 games struggling through the 2008-09 NHL season, all of 2009-10 was spent down on the farm in San Antonio. After registering 23 goals and 63 points through 77 games with the Rampage his dues were paid and was deemed ready to return to the biggest show on ice.

As basically a second year pro playing for a veteran coach, with a well seasoned lineup, in a system that revolves around defensive responsibility above all, a 25 point effort in 65 games is a respectable showing. Especially given his relatively low ATOI total, 11:16.

The numbers also show how far Turris still has to grow.

The Coyotes have been statistically one of the leanest teams offensively compared to the other 29 clubs. Routinely finishing in the bottom half of league scoring since the lockout. An opportunity was there for the taking. Besides veterans like Shane Doan, Ray Whitney and breakout defenseman Keith Yandle, the lineup was generally devoid of legitimate scoring threats. Fulfillment of potential, executing on the wishes of bench boss Dave Tippett surely would have lead to more ice time. More chances to score. More chances to be an impact player.

More chances to be like others of his draft pedigree. More chances to prove he is worth a lucrative contract extension.

*Turris - Worth the cost of potential?

At the conclusion of the 2010-11 season Turris was heading towards restricted free agency. One of many high profile up and coming youngsters. Like most (if not all) of his peers, he was surely seeking a max value agreement. Rightfully so in fact. The players do have a right to earn as the market dictates.

Based on a report by ESPN’s Scott Burnside, Turris has apparently concluded that his performance to date should be roughly equal to some of his fellow draft class graduates.

Still, league sources told ESPN.com that Turris is looking for a three-year deal worth an average of slightly more than $4 million annually or a two-year deal worth slightly more than $3 million. Those numbers would put Turris in the same high-rent district as James van Riemsdyk, who recently signed a six-year extension with the Philadelphia Flyers worth an average of $4.25 million. Van Riemsdyk is another player from that talent-rich 2007 draft class; he was the second overall pick behind No. 1 selection Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.

While the Flyers are definitely paying for potential with the van Reimsdyk contract, as the Coyotes would with Turris, Burnside also makes a critical point stressing the difference between the two contract scenarios.

While van Riemsdyk perhaps developed at a slower pace than Kane, who won rookie of the year honors and scored the Cup-clinching goal in Chicago’s 2009-10 championship run, he has shown steady signs of evolution as a top young player. Van Riemsdyk scored 21 goals last season and was the Flyers’ best forward in the playoffs (seven goals in 11 games).

Clearly the Flyers have seen enough potential realized to justify such action. JVR has 75 points in 133 NHL games where as Turris has just 46 points in two less games. Adding Turris’ AHL numbers does move the figures up to 109 points in 207 professional games. A pace roughly equal to the Flyer’s newly signed scoring winger. That said, AHL production does not equate to NHL production. Turris has not done enough in the NHL to become Phoenix’s third highest paid forward.

The difference is even more staggering when expanding the comparative population to other 2011 RFAs. Taking San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture and St. Louis Blues forwards TJ Oshie and Patrik Berglund as examples:

- Couture scored 32 goals in 77 games and was a Calder finalist. He agreed to a two year deal worth $5.75 million.
- Oshie has registered 44 goals and 121 points in 182 games spread out over three seasons. He agreed to a one year deal valued at $2.35 million.
- Berglund has 56 goals and 125 points in 228 career games. He agreed to a two year deal worth $4.5 million.
- Turris is at 19 goals and 46 points in 121 games and is reportedly seeking a contract valued at $9 to $12 million.

No team can afford to spend two times as much as the going rate for 1/3 the product while waiting for the final 2/3 to develop.

Well, one team tried.

* Derick Brassard

In September 2009 the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Derick Brassard, the 6th overall selection in 2006, to a four year $12.8 million deal. At the time Brassard had one year remaining on his Entry Level Contract and appeared in only 48 NHL games. A number cut short by a 2008-09 season ending shoulder injury. Grant it he lead rookies in scoring prior to the injury with 10 goals and 25 points, but since when has a track record of less than 50 games guaranteed so much money? It never has.

General Manager Scott Howson was paying for potential. For the hope that Brassard would become return from injury and fulfill his destiny as Rick Nash’s center. A Columbus version of “Hull and Oates” that has not come to pass.

Brassard regressed in 2009-10. Scoring just 9 goals and 36 points in 76 games. His stats and impact on the ice did improve in 2010-11. Tallying 17 goals and 47 points in 74 appearances. But he is not Nash’s center. That job has likely been given to the recently acquired Jeff Carter. An argument can be made that Antione Vermette deserves a higher placement on the depth chart. Brassard slides further down the list as the salary escalates.

Coyotes GM Don Maloney knows that he cannot repeat the mistakes of his counterparts. Being owned by the league does have its limitations. The money simply is not there to overpay and hope the gamble pays off. Not when the roll is so blind. Turris just does not have enough of a track record of consistent production to warrant the type of pay he is reportedly seeking given the circumstances.

The best approach for both sides is the paying for results contract utilized by Blues GM Doug Armstrong the last two off seasons. Where as potential is not rewarded in terms of contractual security (like van Reimsdyk and Brassard). Potential is accounted for in the terms of a blank slate. The player takes a short term, “low value” contract heavily weighted on actual performance in order to prove themselves worthy of the coveted “big deal”. If the player capitalizes on the opportunity, their earnings potential is not limited to an outdated evaluation of their potential.

The scenario is a win-win for all. The team should add a highly motivated individual. If not, the obligation is minimized. The player is given a chance to raise value when they would otherwise be locked in to a rate.

If Turris truly believes he is a $4 million a year player, which he may be soon, he has to show Maloney and Tippett the goods on the ice before they’ll show him the money at the table. Even if Maloney and Tippet believe Turris will be a $4 million a year player, they can’t given in when the bar has been set so low. Will Turris come down to reality or will the Coyotes cave in? The outcome will be known soon enough.

*Player pictures courtesy BridgetDS (Flickr)