Before getting into the depths of the subject, there are a few concepts that need to be discussed. These concepts, once understood, will help understand later on the different strategies related to building a long-term contender in NEFHL.
The first concept is team value, not in terms of only players, but of assets in general. Team value is a bit like net worth. Net worth in a franchise hockey league is measured by player rights owned and draft selection value. While it’s not “calculated” anywhere, some calculations regarding team’s players value were done in previous articles. If a team has a total value for its players, prospects and picks of 100 and another team has a total value of 40, the team at 40 needs to come up with a method to gain 60 net points to contend. The value of all players, prospects and picks as a whole, for all teams together, is relatively stable every year. This means that when one team’s value rises, then another team’s value falls. This reflects either an NHL player on a good team being on the decline or retiring while a player on another team is becoming better in the NHL.
The second concept is related to value retention in the league. Being able to retain a lot of value means that once your team is worth a lot, then you are more likely to be able to keep that value going on. In the NEFHL, the current rules favor value retention. With a good control over players through a late UFA age and a loyalty mechanism that lets you retain one UFA each year, you can retain value relatively easily. The cap will make GMs shuffle that value through trades but in general will let GMs retain their worth.
The third concept is related to trading. In theory, a trade is an equal exchange of value between two teams. In reality, value may not be the exact same going both ways. However, in general, the value gap in terms of assets value in most trades is small. When a top player is traded for 4x first, those 4x first could be traded back for another top player. Both teams trading keep their relative value relatively intact after the trade. Just like day trading doesn’t make someone rich, most GMs won’t be able to increase their net worth with trades. Trading plays more like a puzzle, it helps you rearrange your pieces but doesn’t change the size of your puzzle (which is bigger when you have a lot of assets and smaller when you don’t).
The fourth concept is the free agents. In theory, free agents should push value down for players approaching the status by limiting the time length worth of assets. At the same time, with the free agents being bid for, in theory this is supposed to rebalance value from top teams and bottom teams. However, in reality, the limited number of free agents available yearly (less than 5% of the league’s assets worth) doesn’t move the needle much. In addition, the scarce availability of UFAs means high salaries which further depreciate the assets value.
The last concept is the draft. Due to the limited number of ways to increase your team’s net worth compared to the other teams, the draft is the only way to really improve a team’s value over time. This isn’t foolproof either, as the draft is hit or miss. However, when comparing top teams and bottom teams, the quality of players drafted will increase the value of assets over the better teams. Considering that value retention in the league is high, this is the best way to insure you will add net value to your team. Plus, once you have drafted the talent and value, you get to keep that value forever due to the current ruleset.
Once you understand those concepts, how do you build a long-term contender in the NEFHL? It depends on where your team’s net worth.
1. Teams that are worth a lot in terms of assets (like Vancouver and Chicago):
Maintain the team’s worth by leveraging the late UFA age and loyalties. Trade assets before their decline to recycle it over and over again. Recycle some high salaries players to fill out cheap 3rd/4th lines if necessary (or bottom pairings). Use your recycling power trading rare assets for prospects that will be cheap on their ELCs.
2. Teams that are in the middle with an average value of total assets:
Those teams have to increase their worth to become long term contenders. They are in front of hard choices… either go for it for one or two years, be patient as a middle of the road team or go for a rebuild.
The first choice is going for it… that means they trade their upcoming assets for current assets. Since the top talent is in general not available, this often leads to add players that have less consistent value over time. This can push their team up short term. Their team assets value remains the same but is concentrated in roster players with likely “hard” to recycle assets. Most of the time, this will lead to a decline in total assets value and move the team down to the bottom tier.
The second choice is to be patient. Slowly try to gain net value through opportunistic trades. Add net value compared to top teams through the draft. Unless you can fleece one or more GMs through trades, or really hit the jackpot with your draft selection, this approach can unfortunately take longer than a full rebuild.
The last choice is to go for a rebuild. Trade your assets which might lose value over time. Start from a net worth that’s average which will let you rebuild quicker. Then look at the next section to see how it works.
3. Teams that are in the bottom tier when based on assets value:
Those teams have huge gaps to make up in value to go to the top tier. In theory, they can look at the trading, free agents and the draft to increase their net worth.
With very little asset value available as free agents each year, you might add a bit of value here or there. However, having to overpay kills a good part of the value of UFAs, so the overall bump up is small.
Since teams in this tier have a low total net worth, most of the valued assets are prospects and picks. Because as a general rule trading sends equal value both ways, getting that star player likely costs you a third of your overall assets. Overall, unless you are a genius trader, this won’t get your assets up to move to the top tier.
The draft adds new talent to the pool. Net value gains can be made here. Young players will replace players in decline and improve your net worth. With very little talent available as free agents and no pressure for teams to trade their talent at discount value (because of late UFA and loyalties), this is the only reliable way to move your team up in worth.
With the favorable rules in place that lets you keep the value of your assets nearly forever, you want to be a team rich in assets. Once you are there, savvy GMing will let you stay in that position for a long time. However, it’s hard to get there in the first place due to the limited available assets on the “free market” (free agents) combined with small potential gains through trading.
In the current setting and the possibility of new rules helping high net worth teams to keep their value, the value of rebuilding through the draft keeps improving every year. While it does take time and is in general a mediocre experience, rebuilding is a necessary pain unless you’re a “rich” (in terms of assets) team that can recycle assets through the years.