Commentary, opinion and news on the world of hockey.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Free Agent Fever


Noon Eastern standard time. That's when the NHL declares the free agent hunt officially open. The buyout period surprised my somewhat - there was much less movement than I had expected. Regardless, there will be an unpresidented number of high-quality unrestricted players on the market, and who knows where they may end up and for how much.

The list of marquee players on the market is staggering:

  • Peter Forsberg
  • Markus Naslund
  • Mike Modano
  • Alexei Kovalev
  • Pavol Demitra
  • Ziggy Palffy
  • Bobby Holik
  • Alexei Zhamnov
  • Paul Kariya
  • Teemu Selanne
  • Scott Niedermayer

  • Adam Foote
  • Sergei Gonchar
  • Brian Leetch
  • Sergei Zubov
  • Derian Hatcher
  • Brian Rafalski
  • Mathieu Schneider
  • Mike Rathje
  • Roman Hamrlik
  • Adrian Aucoin
It's hard to say where many of these players will end up. It is likely that several will remain with the same team, however salary cap restraints will have a major impact on where and how many players are signed. Even though the league maximum salary this year will be roughly $7.8 million, I find it very hard to believe that many players, if any at all, are signed to this type of lucritive contract.

For instance, there has been recent speculation that Peter Forsberg will end up back in Colorado. On its face, it seems entirely reasonable. However, it all depends on the type of dollar figure he is after. If he wants close to the max salary, it likely won't happen unless it's a the expense of Hejduk, Tanguay, etc.

Making things that much more complicated for in the long term, is the fact that the salary cap may even drop next year.
''No question, and that makes it even that much more complicated,'' said Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe. ''That's what guys are envisioning. You have to consider that. I think it's safe to say that no one is expecting the cap number to go up next year unless everyone has underestimated their revenue projections.''
I also don't expect a mad flurry of early activity - teams will want to know what the value range will actually be set at before the mad dash to the finish commences.

Whatever the salary range for star players ends up being, I'm glad to know that finally it will be a true 30 team buying market. In other words, it won't be the same 6 or 7 teams that horde the elite players. With the new fiscal sanity, teams like the Edmonton Oilers will now have an almost identical (on a monetary scale, anyways) chance at signing free agents as the New York Rangers. And to me, that is exactly what this league needed. The competative balance was so far out of whack that it probably couldn't have gotten any worse.

From a Vancouver standpoint, what can we expect? Well, I'm in the dark here, much like everyone else. It's likely that Todd Bertuzzi will be suspended for an addition period of time, and as far as where Markus Naslund will end up - from what I'm hearing, it probably won't be Vancouver (Sorry Canuck fans, the dream of keeping Naslund and adding Forsberg are remote). The chances of landing Scott Niedermayer are also remote, unless they decide to trade/dump Ed Jovanvoski.

But on the bright side, I do hear that Paul Kariya is seriously considering a move to his hometown. (For more great insight, check out Spector's Hockey - a very well done site with several tidbits of info)

In any event, the free agent hunting season will be a blast to watch, and the new CBA may usher in an era where it becomes a regular occurrence. With the reduction in UFA age restrictions, the list of potential UFA's will probably be fairly exciting every off season. Consider next year's potential UFA's:
  • Joe Thornton
  • Vincent Lecavalier
  • Jose Theodore
  • Ed Jovanovski
  • Wade Redden
  • Zdeno Chara
  • Sergei Samsonov
  • Jarome Iginla
  • Marty Turco
  • Ryan Smyth
  • Patrick Elias
  • Evgeni Nabokov
  • Chris Pronger
  • Patrick Marleau
Whatever happens, the smell of hockey is in the air, and I'm getting pumped.

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