A five-or-so-part series on a variety of rather hot-button issues concerning the Nashville Predators that have been swirling around in my head lately. This is Part One. If you’d like to read the introduction, click here.
Hammertime No More?
Y’know, you realize how far the Internet has come as an instantaneous information resource when you realize just how recently that was not the case.
While I appreciate immensely our local Predators beat reporter, John Glennon, for his work and coverage of our local team, it’s disappointing to say the least that the paper itself hasn’t kept up with the times.
The Tennessean.com web site still refuses to allow access to back content beyond their normal shelf life on the web site. One of my chief frustrations when researching a story is to remember reading something I read, say, five years ago, but being unable to verify the context and facts because the text is no longer available.
Sure I know you can pay to access to archives, a practice instituted in the early days of the Internet justified by the higher cost of hard disk technology and lower bandwidth on the web. It just wasn’t practical or cost-effective to make everything on a newspaper site available in perpetuity.
I used to have the same beef with The New York Times as their stories used to expire within a week or less of appearing on the web site, and a subscription or one-time fee to retrieve past articles. And that singular frustration caused me to completely divorce myself from using them as an information source.
However I recently discovered that the NYT has apparently seen the light and now makes available stories from as long ago as the early 1990s Google-searchable. So if you know what you’re looking for, you can usually find it.
None such vision with The Fishwrapper. They’ve maintained the pay-for-archives policy, and having only a very brief abstract shown of each article from which to search, I was unable to find the exact reference I was seeking from The Tennessean while researching this story.
However, in combining a number of other sources, I was indeed able to verify my memory of Hamhuis’ somewhat rocky beginnings with the organization surrounding the events of his signing an initial restricted free agent contract back in 2005.
Hammerin’ Out A Career
Note: Very special thanks once again to @stackiii, @Forechecker, and especially, @PredsOnTheGlass for answering my cattle-call for potential source info references regarding Hamhuis’ contract history. I couldn’t have done it without ya!
After becoming the Predators first-round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Hamhuis’ played another year of Juniors before signing a three-year entry-level contract in July of 2002. That fall he was assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals, where he played the 2002-03 season.
Hammer then made the big club out of training camp in 2003 and had an outstanding rookie NHL campaign, helping the Preds in 2003-04 to qualify for their first playoff appearance.
Then in the fall of 2004 the lockout occurred, so while the veterans played in Europe or otherwise sat out the season, Hamhuis, along with teammate Jordin Tootoo, at least were able to collect paychecks while spending yet another season in Milwaukee.
That summer Hamhuis’ entry-level contract expired and he retained – ironically – teammate Jason Arnott’s brother, the powerful NHL player agent, Wade Arnott, to negotiate his first RFA contract the following summer of 2005.
That’s where the fun began in my opinion.
A Welcome Worn?
The Predators made Hamhuis a qualifying offer on July 31, but he didn’t sign it until two weeks later, August 16. The fact that the single-year tender he finally signed was for more than $228,000 less than his previous incentive-filled rookie contract, would strongly indicate that Poille and Hammer weren’t seeing eye-to-eye.
Perhaps it was because of his solid rookie campaign, or even his growing legend as a performer in world championship play, but Hamhuis and his agent obviously felt he was worth more money than Poille was offering.
Knowing the financial reality the Predators were under even then, along with Poille’s reputation for frugality, I remember thinking to myself when reading that there were issues in Hammer signing that initial RFA contract, “Uh-oh. This really doesn’t bode well for the future.” Historically, there haven’t been many things more likely to land someone in the GM’s doghouse than holding out – particularly a second-year player who was as yet still unproven in the NHL.
A year later, my fears were realized.
In the summer of 2006, Predators fans were eager to put the disappointment of their team’s early playoff exit at the hands of the San Jose Sharks behind them. But instead of looking forward to a better season ahead, our trepidation was made to linger by Hamhuis’ somewhat lengthy holdout as a new long-term contract was being negotiated.
He missed nearly three weeks of training camp, while the Poille was also engaged in trying to sign Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoun to contract extensions and really needed Hamhuis’ situation to be over and done with so that he could know exactly how much he could afford to spend in re-upping the two (vastly more important) veterans.
While he was unable to re-sign Timonen at that point (but still had two full seasons left to get a deal done), Poille did successfully extend Vokoun an additional four years. The contract was signed on September 11th. Hamhuis finally signed his current four-year, $8 million deal ten days later, on September 21st.
It will be interesting to see if Poille’s memory of the consternation wrought by Hamhuis’s holdout, as well as the subtle hints already out there that he doesn’t intend to come cheaply will be the determining factor in how much effort he expends to trade the franchise’s first opening-round pick defenseman.
A Question of Balance
The problem, as has been well-documented in the press this week, is, despite the sporadic nature of Hammer’s play has been this year, he’s still a highly-valued, home-grown, highly-regarded talent. The question has to be how much it would harm Nashville’s playoff chances to trade his potentially solid play for that of a much less-tested prospect in Alexander Sultzer or other defenseman acquired in return? Is the chemistry that Hamhuis has been a part of for six NHL seasons more fragile than we know?
And one thing’s for certain; the Preds will not receive equal value at this point in any trade they make for Hamhuis – defensively or otherwise. The best they can hope for is a depth player or two and a high draft pick. But would that be worth subtracting him from the mix for this season’s playoff run?
As you can see, I’m pretty conflicted on the issue. On the one hand, I know how good Dan Hamhuis can be; all one needs to do is look at how well he played the first two years of his current contract. However he has always been prone to making glaringly bad decisions at the worst possible time, with this season being his highwater mark in that department in my opinion.
Given that he has never really emerged as the scorer his talent would seem to dictate, his defense really becomes the majority of his worth as a defenseman, and like that little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead, when Hammer’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad, he’s horrid.
* * * * *
Next: Accepting the Challenge