Here we are at the 14 game mark, closing in on a time in the season where it is completely fair to judge individual efforts. Some guys just take longer to get going and in Jonathan Cheechoo's case, he also has to learn the chemistry thing with changing linemates. We did an evaluation of the ever changing Cheechoo last week (link) and noted that he doesn't seem to be getting to the slot as much and he can't get his shot off as quick anymore. But perhaps there is more to this, which has become the worst start imaginable. For the numbers people, Cheechoo has appeared in all 14 games, registering 2 assists (no goals) and is a minus-2. The only worse statistical performance so far is Ryan Shannon, who makes a fraction of the salary and enters the season with far lower expectations. Plus, Shannon didn't get half a dozen games with Spezza and Michalek.
I wondered if Cheechoo was just a slow starter and typically finds his groove as the season goes on. Here's a look at his numbers the last few years, split by pre-All Star Game and post-All Star Game:
Pre ASG, 33 GP, 7g, 11a, 18pts
Post ASG, 33 GP, 5g, 6a, 11pts
That doesn't look good.
Pre ASG, 42 GP, 9g, 7a, 16pts
Post ASG, 27 GP, 14g, 7a, 21pts
Okay, so that one paints a picture of a slow starter
Pre ASG, 42 GP, 16g, 18a, 34pts
Post ASG, 34 GP, 21g, 14a, 35pts
Again, leaning toward the 'slow start'
Pre ASG, 56 GP, 34g, 22a, 56pts
Post ASG, 26 GP, 22g, 15a, 37pts
Even in his career season, he stepped it up considerably in the second portion.
I wish I could put more weight on this theory, and there is no question that we all want this story to end happily. Sadly, though, I think looking at his past numbers might be useless. While there is validity to those that say he is a late starter and that it will take him more time to get used to his role on this team, he just doesn't have that luxury on this team with his salary.
Cheechoo's cap hit is $3M, but his actual salary is $3.5M this year and next year. So we're paying this dude $7M (since this contract is not trade-able). I want to play another numbers game here:
Dany Heatley's salary last year: $10M
Dany Heatley's July 1st bonus: $4M
Jonathan Cheechoo's salary this year: $3.5M
Jonathan Cheechoo's salary next year: $3.5M
Ladies and gentlemen, not counting the efforts of Milan Michalek, Eugene Melnyk has paid out $17.5M already for 74 total points (the 72 pts last year from Heatley and the 2 assists from Cheechoo this year). Mr. Melnyk, we'll completely understand if you follow through on your grievance with the Heatley bonus. If nothing else, it reminds all of us how this situation is incredible FUBAR and you're still pissed about it. Outside of Michalek, you'll essentially end up paying $21M for close to nothing. Twenty one million dollars. One more time - $21,000,000.00 USD.
Okay, back to Cheechoo. I'm going to make a bold statement here that some fans won't agree with and will make Eugene cringe a bit more. We're basically playing all home games for the next two weeks, save one quick trip down to Philly on the 12th. I opine that Murray gives #41 until the end of this homestand that wraps up on the 23rd against the Caps to get his game looking like it is NHL-caliber. If he hasn't turned a corner, dare I say, he needs to go to Binghamton.
Benefits of Cheechoo going to Bingo:
- Cap Space. Right now, we have less than a million. Demoting Cheechoo early in the year gives us a good portion of that $3M and gives us flexibility at the deadline. Cap space is gold in this league.
- Easier line combos. Right now, we have a few guys in the press box each game. With Cheechoo out of the fold, there isn't that 'unspoken requirement' to have the expensive guy on the ice. Either the kids get the icetime or we have room for someone new. As it stands today, Cheechoo doesn't bring anything to his line. At least Winchester and Donovan hit the corners and Shannon can stickhandle...
- Cheechoo can find himself. Think about how much fan and medie attention Erik Karlsson has gotten since he was demoted a few weeks ago. Basically nothing. He was under immense pressure here but now he can play top minutes with zero fanfare. The same can be said for Cheechoo. Being sent to Binghamton might be the perfect recipe for a guy that can't find his role on a new team. Let him get some icetime, some speed, some hands, etc. Most important, let him find some confidence.
The obvious downside is that Eugene is dropping NHL money for a guy to play in the minors. It is just more salt on the Heatley wound. But he's a smart guy and he needs to look at that $14M as a sunk cost at this point (even if we, as fans, will still point it out). Move past the money you've spent because it isn't coming back. Focus on the team going forward and the handful of benefits that can come from Cheechoo being off the books. For all we know, he might hit it off with Denis Hamel or Zach Smith and pot a bunch of goals and get some mojo back.
The other argument is that it has only been 14 games. By giving him until the end of the homestand, he'll have 21 games under his belt. A quarter of the season is enough time to say yes or no on the guy, especially with that salary.
So what do you think? Am I being unfair? Or do you agree that we need to cut away from him for a bit?
Sorry, Cheech. Go find yourself and your game on the buses of the A. We need the cap space and you need the head space. Get it?