Calgary and Edmonton are giving a clinic on the concept of sunk cost

CALGARY, AB - MARCH 13: The Calgary Flames mix it up after the whistle with the Edmonton Oilers during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 13, 2018 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB - MARCH 13: The Calgary Flames mix it up after the whistle with the Edmonton Oilers during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 13, 2018 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) /

Both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers have problems on their roster, both are seemingly hellbent on being held hostage by paychecks.

It’s not surprising that a lot of modern concepts take years, even decades, to be adopted by the NHL. This is a league where a great portion of the executives and coaches used to be players, and a great portion of the players stopped going to school in seventh-grade. That doesn’t lead to quick uptake.

You’ve heard the fight over analytics, one the other three major sports had 10 years ago or more. Head injury protection remains elusive if we’re being kind. Television analysis hasn’t gotten too far beyond suggestions of playground justice and “dirty goals.”

So it’s no wonder that both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers continue to feed themselves cod oil simply because a player costs a lot of money, and are unaware of “sunk cost.”

You probably know what that is, but quickly for those who don’t, sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Basically, it’s money you’ve already spent no matter what happened with it.

And that’s what Milan Lucic and Mike Smith are. They are sunk cost. Their contract are their contracts, they’re not going anywhere. What they don’t have to be is actively making your team worse, which both players are. And aggressively so.

Let’s start with Smith. This one you can boil down to the simplest of terms, if your’e so inclined. When Smith starts, the Flames are 5-6-1. When his backup David Rittich starts, they’re 5-1-0. Their individual numbers are even more contrasting. Smith has an overall save-percentage of .877, an even-strength save-percentage of .893. In layman’s terms, Smith can’t stop a basketball lobbed at him by a congested sloth.

Rittich is rocking a .935 save-percentage overall, and a .951 at even-strength. He’s been really good.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone. Smith has been below league-average since that miracle run with the Arizona Coyotes in 2012. Seven seasons is enough of a sample-size, you would think. But the Flames are still hung up on the two good months he had last year, or the difference in checking account balance.

And it’s not like the Flames perform radically different in front of them. Rittich’s expected save-percentage is .918, meaning based on the amount and quality of chances the Flames give up, that’s what an average goalie would manage. Smith’s is .914, and some of that is based on the rebound he leaves lying around like nasal drippings. But Rittich is way above his expected-save-percentage, and Smith way below.

But Smith is making $4.2 million, and Rittich $800K. So what do you think is at play?

Lucic is even more horrific. He has one goal, though he’s gotten to play with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl most of the season. Both have exploded when unshackled from this angry boulder, with just about as much mobility. Lucic’s metrics are horribly bad, including a 20% goals-percentage, meaning he’s been on the ice for four times as many goals against as he has been on for goals for. The rest don’t look much better. He’s providing nothing, and nothing might even be an improvement.

And yet he’s in the lineup every night, when he’s not suspended for some neanderthal act to try and justify his existence, because of a $6 million paycheck. He provides nothing, and the Oilers must know it.

They’re on the hook for that $6 million, just as the Flames are for Smith’s money, whether he plays or not. So why make your team worse? Whether he’s a scratch most nights, or even buried in the minors for the smallest of cap relief. It’s in the budget. They’ve been planning for it, or more accurately, around it. There’s no reason to keep doing this to your team.

And yet it’s unlikely either team will, because the thought of dead money just sitting there in a baseball camp on the bench or in a suit in the pressbox makes NHL execs emit strange noises and strike curious poses. The Flames would be better with Rittich in net, at least for the next little while. The Sharks are going to get their act together eventually, and you’d want as many points banked for them to flag down in the Pacific Division as you can get.

Any minor leaguer can do what Lucic is doing, and probably more. They could at least do it at a slightly faster rate than “cadaver,” which is where Lucic is.

The money’s gone. It doesn’t have to take any more than that with it.