Whoever said hockey ended when the Stanley Cup was awarded wasn’t a diehard hockey fan. The NHL season goes year-round for true fans. After the playoffs we have the Entry Draft, then Free Agency, then we’re right back to training camp and the start of the new season.
“Free Agent Frenzy” is the name that is often used to describe the opening of NHL free agent season – July 1. This is the day that teams over pay to acquire talent. Sometimes overpaying to win the bid makes sense – such as in the case of top tier NHL players, and sometimes it just makes you scratch your head wondering who thought a 3rd pairing defenseman was worth 4 million dollars a season.
Free Agent Frenzy always gets a lot of press up here in Canada, with TSN broadcasting a full day of news and rumours of who’s signing where, and for how much. When you think about it, it actually sounds quite silly – a bunch of guys sitting around and analyzing contracts, talking about where different players will be working next year. Could you imagine the same sort of thing in say Silicon Valley? We’d be bored out of our minds.
I am not going to break down every July 1 signing and trade, as that’s already been well covered by the major hockey media. Instead, I’ll give you my general thoughts on what happened yesterday, and how it affects my dear Calgary Flames.
As has been said quite a bit, this year was a shallow UFA pool. There weren’t many top-tier players available, but I do feel that there were quite a few good NHL calibre players available to fill out the rosters of teams needing help. There are enough players of interest to keep July 1 interesting and competitive, and some of the players available could be real real stars for the right team next year.
I was really surprised to see that Jagr got signed. He’s been out of the NHL for 3 years, and is now 39 years old. From footage I’ve seen from him in Europe, he’s not the same player we all remember from the NHL.
I can see an NHL team taking a chance on Jagr in a depth role (2nd or 3rd line), but I wouldn’t pay more than 1.25 million for him because of that. Let Jagr prove he can still play at the NHL level, and then award him with a bigger contract. A $3.3 million contract is a foolish move, especially for a team that just shipped out their two top young players to make cap room, only to go out and sign the oldest free agent available.
The biggest gem heading into free agent season was Brad Richards. He was the most coveted player by most teams, and didn’t end up signing on July 1. I’m not surprised he didn’t sign on July 1. He had a lot of offers to ponder, and if I was in his shoes, I’d want to take my time to make the right decision, especially when the deal is going to be long term (nine years as it turns out).
Rumour had it that more than 4 teams sent representatives to Ontario to talk to Brad directly, and that the Calgary Flames made a pitch to Brad Richards, but after seeing the 9 year deal that Brad got, I am glad the Flames didn’t sign him. I don’t like the idea of giving a 9 year contract to any player, or the idea of signing anyone on a long-term deal past age 35.
This is a guy I was hoping would come to Calgary. He’s a good Finnish player whose best years are still ahead of him. The Flames could use a little more European style on the team, and I think we could’ve slotted him into the top 6 in the line-up.
Leino ended up signing in Buffalo, which is a great fit for him. The Sabres have really been pushing hard to improve their team for the coming season. Leino, Regher and Ehrhoff have been added so far this off season. The Sabres are going to be a team to watch this coming season.
The Dallas Stars were a lot more active than I expected them to be. I was surprised to see how many players the Stars picked up, especially considering I’ve heard that the organization is having financial problems.
Adam Pardy is a good defenseman. I liked him here in Calgary as a 7th defenseman, and am glad he got signed so quickly, but I was shocked to see he’s going to make $2 million a year. That’s a huge contract for a guy coming off a shoulder injury who really hasn’t proven much at the NHL level. If that was Pardy’s asking price, I am glad the Flames walked away.
Michael Ryder is a player I’ve liked for a long time now, and he’ll fit in well in Dallas. I’m glad to see that Sheldon Souray got a new contract as well. Souray is still a good NHL talent, and for $1.65 million per year, he can easily fit into a 5th or 6th defenseman role on the depth chart. That was a great signing for the Stars.
The Avs left me scratching my head. Colorado made headlines by trading their 1st round pick in 2012 and another conditional pick to the Capitals for Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov is a good young goalie, but the Avalanche really overpaid for him. I see Colorado getting worse next year, so that 1st round draft pick is going to be worth even more.
Shortly after they signed Varlamov, the Avalanche announced they’d also signed Jean-Sebastien Giguere. I was really surprised that Giguere’s contract is worth $1.25 million a year. I don’t think Guguere’s stock has dropped that much, but it’ll be interested to see if he takes a starting or backup role next year.
For a team that came out last summer and announced to their fans they were going into a rebuild, I find some of their signings very odd.
Normally rebuilding teams are looking for young talent – which they got in Upshall (who they overpaid for), Goc, and Fleischmann but then brought in Jovanovski and Theodore, both of whom are again stars.
I like Jovanovski, and think he’s still a very serviceable defenseman, but I think the Panthers really overpaid for him. Hopefully they will use his veteran presence to help mentor their younger player and they’ll put a “C” on his jersey for the coming season.
The Canucks were the team (besides the Flames), who I was watching most closely, because I think they’ll be Calgary’s biggest rival this coming season.
I was surprised to see the Canucks resign Sami Salo. Considering how much he’s been injured over the last few seasons, I was expecting the Canucks to be looking forward to getting him off the roster. However, for a 1 year $2 million contract, it’s a pretty good deal for the Canucks.
Chris Higgins is a guy I was sad to see the Flames let go, as he was really the only good thing about the Jokinen/Prust deal. Higgins had a really good year in Vancouver last year and I liked watching him play. $1.9 million a year is a fantastic deal for the Canucks.
Marco Strum was a guy I didn’t expect to sign in Vancouver, but he’ll fit in well with the Canucks – they like their European players. He had a bad year last season, but I think he’ll bounce back with the Canucks to be a 30 point guy.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Flames not making any big signings on July 1. Flames fans are used to Daryl Sutter making his big off-season move at the Entry Draft, and when that didn’t happen this year I think everyone was expecting Jay Feaster to do something on July 1 – especially considering he cleared almost $5 million in salary cap room after moving Regher and Kotalik.
There were some players who went for a decent price that I would’ve been glad to see in Calgary (like Chuck Kobasew, Anthony Stewart), but I am glad the Flames didn’t overpay for talent, as is the norm for the opening day of free agency. The Flames only have about $6 million in cap space open for next year, and I don’t want to see them waste that.
The Flames are sure taking their time making free agency signings, and I am hoping that Jay Feaster doesn’t rush into any signings, but that he does grab some of the decent talent still available, before it’s too late.
Moving a core player like Regher is really making a statement that Feaster is looking towards the future, and wanting to make changes to the team. He’s freed up some salary to do something, now it’s just a matter of seeing what he’s got up his sleeve.
How did your favourite team do? Did the player you were hoping to see in your team colours end up somewhere else? Did your team’s rival bulk up on talent?