Who's up for a little game theory?

Kuklas Korner has a piece today on soon-to-be-UFA Ryan Malone and how Columbus might trade for his rights Philadelphia-style in order to get a pre-July-1st negotiating window:
An NHL source said that Malone has been low-balled twice by the Penguins and is ready to leave July 1 as an unrestricted free agent. Malone’s rights could be traded before that day, of course, and the Blue Jackets are a likely destination.

The source said the Penguins have already made the Blue Jackets an offer for Malone’s rights.
Now this is a move that puzzled me when Philadelphia did it last summer with the Nashville Predators (Hartnell and Timonen), and it's a move that puzzles me still today. For certain, I can understand Nashville's and Pittsburgh's motivation -- why lose a player for nothing July 1st if some team is willing to pay assets mid-June? As for the other parties, I really fail to see what the benefits are for Ryan Malone or the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I threw together a simple game theory table together below that oversimplifies the choices of Columbus and Malone, but essentially Columbus has a choice: outbid 29 other teams for Malone, or not. Malone also has a choice: sign before July 1st, or wait.

Malone will sign before July 1st Malone won't sign until July 1st

CBJ will offer the highest bid

CBJ loses a draft pick unnecessarily

CBJ loses a draft pick unnecessarily

CBJ will not offer the highest bid

Malone loses salary unnecessarily

CBJ loses Malone, both sides are indifferent to the trade


I've included some loose payoffs where the decisions intersect. If Columbus is willing to pay more for Malone than anyone else, there seems to be no benefit to make a pre-July trade; they can win his services on July 1st without surrendering a draft pick. If another team is willing to pay more than Columbus, however, then there is no benefit for Malone to sign with the Jackets in June.

In other words, there is no great reason I can see for Columbus to trade for Malone's negotiating rights, at least with the payoffs as I've structured it. At best, both sides are indifferent about the trade (if Malone signs elsewhere July 1st), but in all other outcomes one of the parties is worse off because of the trade.

Now I know I've made some strong assumptions here (NHL teams act rationally, or that Malone only considers dollars when making a UFA decision), and I haven't considered all the payoffs: one thing that Philly did get from its trade-and-sign last year was an improved perception from the UFA class ("Those Flyers are serious about winning"), which may have helped them land Briere. Still, even with the turnaround success of the Flyers, I'm dubious as to what advantage they gained by the Nashville trade. Couldn't they have signed Hartnell and Timonen on July 1st, kept their draft pick, and still had that success?

What do you think? Is there a hole in my logic? Comments are open for your criticisms.

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