It’s been a fascinating offseason so far. The Flames and Panthers pulled off one of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade, a truly shocking late-night swap that saw Matthew Tkachuk head to Florida for a package that included Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.
The Blackhawks are openly tanking while the Senators are loading up, with both situations highlighted by the deal that sent Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa. The Golden Knights dumped Max Pacioretty on Carolina for next-to-nothing, while the Wild had to move Kevin Fiala to the Kings. We may not even be done as trade rumors swirl around guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Pierre-Luc Dubois, J.T. Miller and David Pastrnak.
All of those moves were stunning in their own way, or would be. But that’s not the most important thing they have in common.
We need to talk about the Shiny New Toy scenario.
It’s dangerous. It’s potentially bad news for fans in Ottawa, Calgary or Carolina, as well as whichever team might be tempted on guys like Miller or Kane. It also makes it feel significantly likely that we’re about to see at least a few teams make cap-crushing mistakes that they’ll regret for years to come.
Let’s explain what’s going on, how it’s played out in the past, and what we can learn from that.
What is a Shiny New Toy?
Negotiating a contract in the NHL is all about leverage. Sometimes the team has it, like when a young player’s entry-level contract expires and his rights are still under team control for years to come. Sometimes the player has it, like when an established star hits free agency, or a beloved franchise stalwart is on an expiring deal and needs an extension before he walks away for nothing. In those cases, teams often overpay, because they may feel like they have little choice.
As a big fan of debating bad contracts, I don’t say this lightly: There may not be a more dangerous set of circumstances for a team or a more advantageous one for a player and his agent, than the dreaded Shiny New Toy. It’s a category of bad contract that I first proposed in a piece I wrote six years ago. I don’t know if you read that one or not, but I’m pretty sure that NHL GMs didn’t, because if anything the list of mistakes has been getting worse.
The scenario is in play when a team acquires a star player in a major trade, usually to great fanfare, and then has to immediately contend with an extension. The player they’ve just acquired either needs a new contract immediately or has a deal that’s about to expire, making them eligible for an extension.
That puts the team in a bind. Sure, it’s great that they added a new player, but now they have to keep him. Their fans are excited. The GM is reading media coverage about what a great job he’s done. They may even be selling a few more season tickets. But all that positivity disappears if they let this new star walk away for nothing in a year or so.