Tyler Motte’s $800K deal in Tampa another case of NHL teams undervaluing bottom six wingers
Photo credit:© Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
9 days ago
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Leave it to a guy named after a juice company to keep getting squeezed.
Over the weekend, former Vancouver Canuck Tyler Motte finally came off the free agency market when he signed a one-year, $800K deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For those keeping track at home, this is the second year in a row that Motte has had to wait until late in the summer just in order to receive what amounts to an underwhelming contract. Last year, it was a one-year, $1.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators.
This, despite Motte being one of, if not the, most popular and effective fourth liners in recent Canucks’ memory. Just two years ago, Motte left Vancouver because he and his camp felt that he deserved a multi-year commitment…and most in the fanbase and mediasphere seemed to agree with him.
Instead, Motte was flipped to the New York Rangers at the 2022 Trade Deadline. He went on to play in 15 postseason games for the Rangers in a lengthy playoff run that year and earn nearly as much fan-praise as he received in Vancouver, and yet New York wasn’t willing to give him term, either, and so he sat on the UFA block all summer.
The Rangers thought enough of Motte to reacquire him from Ottawa partway through the 2022/23 season, leading to yet another playoff experience that didn’t go quite so well as the first, and again Motte was made to walk at the end of the year and wait all summer for another contract.
Obviously, this is not how Motte thought it would go, nor does he appear pleased with his repeated situation. On August 25 of this year, Motte announced that he had parted ways with previous agent Richard Evans of Wasserman Hockey and had moved on to Pat Brisson. Two weeks later, he was a Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s reasonable to assume that Motte might have received some questionable advice from his representation, and it seems clear that he was led to believe — for two offseasons in a row — that he was worth more than the market would actually dictate.
Two years in a row, this advice has led to a summer of frustration followed by a minimal commitment from another NHL team.
But if Motte, his agent, most fans, and most members of the media all seem to agree that Motte is a premium fourth liner, why is he not being treated (and paid) as such?
The answer may be as simple as this: he is, it’s just that bottom-sixers in general and fourth liners in particular don’t receive the same sort of treatment that they did even a few years ago.
They, more than anyone, have been made victims of the flat-cap era.
It’s not that difficult to figure out. Since the pandemic-shortened seasons and the days of empty arenas, the NHL has been trying to claw back its revenue owed via escrow from the players. This has resulted in the salary cap ceiling remaining relatively frozen for the past four seasons running, and at some point, someone was going to have to feel the pinch of that.
In a perfect world, all NHLers would equally bear the brunt of the flat cap, but it hasn’t really shaken out that way. The league’s best haven’t taken anything approaching pay-cuts. A full 19 contracts with an AAV of $9 million or more have been signed since COVID hit, and the record for highest cap hit has been broken twice in that time frame.
The league’s superstars are demanding as much, if not more, than ever, and it’s resulted in them taking up even more of the revenue pie than ever before. But with only so much money to go around, it’s inevitable that someone would be taking a pay-cut, and it has mostly been the players at the bottom-end of the lineup.
Take Motte away from the realities of the pandemic era, and he almost certainly receives different treatment on the UFA market. He is the kind of player that, ultimately, makes pretty much any team better for having him on their fourth line. He is definitely the kind of player who will return far more than $800K value in any given season.
Motte chips in offence, forechecks with the best of them, energizes linemates, kills penalties, throws hits, and does basically everything a fourth liner could ever be asked to do. The Tampa Bay Lightning, perhaps the best-run franchise in the sport, see value in him, having just signed him.
The average NHL salary was at about $2.98 million when the pandemic hit. As of the 2022/23, it was at about $3.20 million. That’s not much movement, and given that so many high-value contracts have been signed in the interim, the math says that the money has to have come from somewhere, and it has come primarily from those players already making less than average.
Motte is far from the only player to feel this squeeze, but he is perhaps the one with the most relevance to the Vancouver market, and the best way to illustrate was has become an interesting phenomenon.
Is this a case of Motte (and his former agent) misreading the market, or the market misreading Motte?
In a sense, it’s hard to say. Motte has returned better-than-fair value on basically every contract he’s ever signed, and that might lean folks more toward the “market is wrong” side of things.
Then again, if NHL teams keep managing to wait Motte out, sign him to bargain deals, and then get said value out of him all the same, it’s hard to call them “wrong.”
Maybe this is just one of those situations that falls into the category of “It is what it is.” If there’s a winner to be found here, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning for the time being. And with the flat cap era due to conclude next summer, maybe the days of semi-lucrative contracts for fourth liners will dawn again…although probably a little too late for Motte to cash in.
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