Controlling The Message

When George McPhee spoke to the media late Tuesday afternoon, many of the collected questioners were surprised at the substance of his discussion on his inability to re-sign incumbent netminder Cristobal Huet. Even more surprising, however, was just how candid GMGM was in that discussion.

"Huet’s agent, Stephen Bartlett didn’t want to get into the specifics of the negotiations with the Caps," blogged the WTimes' Corey Masisak, "But McPhee atypically was willing to oblige." And oblige he did:
He said the Caps started at the 3 years/$3.7 million and Huet’s camp started at 3 years/$5 million. McPhee said the Caps came up to $4.3 and then $4.6 and finally to $5 million per season, but Bartlett/Huet decided they wanted to test the market. McPhee said the team considered going above $5 million today, but the combination of that and the four-year term was too much.
It's not often that you hear any GM speak so openly about a failed negotiation, and it's especially rare to hear the notoriously tight-lipped GMGM do so.

So why did he in this case (and clearly this was not a heat of the moment decision as he has repeated the talking points to anyone who will listen)? To control the message.

When Olie Kolzig went on a local media tour to talk about how unfairly he was treated by the team that had paid him $42 million over a 15-year period, Caps management was relatively silent, favoring the high road to a war of words played out in the media. As a result, only one side of the story was heard and public reaction favored the player more than it might have, had all the facts been out in the open (and this wasn't the first time that the team's refusal to throw its full version of the facts into the public arena has caused some degree of consternation amongst portions of its fan base, perhaps legitimately and otherwise). [Note: I don't know any more than you do on these - I'm just assuming that the team has a different take than the parties leaving the organization.]

But all of that goes with the territory - blast players on their way out the door and see how quickly others line up to potentially be the next to go in front of the firing squad (really, Cory?).

The Huet situation, however, is different - in part because no matter how great he was for two months, no one's debating whether or not #38 should be raised to the Verizon Center rafters - and one that Caps management wanted to get out in front of for a couple of possible reasons.

To begin with, when you lose a player like Huet to free agency (especially when an agreement had been expected for more than a month), the immediate reaction is to assume that it was because the team didn't want to meet the player's monetary and/or term demands. This wasn't the case here, and a rejuvenated fan base and the rest of the hockey world needed to know that. Couple that with the announcement of the signing of the next best alternative and an explanation of why that deal made better sense for the team in both the long- and short-terms and no one can legitimately question the team's commitment to winning or its ability to attract free agents.

Secondly, the team probably wanted to expose Bartlett's questionable negotiating tactics to serve both as a bit of a public shaming and as a warning to the rest of the League. In a game full of codes and gentlemen, Bartlett's Lucy to GMGM's Charlie Brown routine will not be without repercussions.

The irony of the entire situation, of course, is that McPhee afforded Huet the opportunity to earn as much as twice what he might have had he finished out the season as Carey Price's backup, and this was the thanks he got. And this is how he dealt it - still on the high road, considering how it could have been handled. Well played, I say.

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