By Rob Ficiur
The National Hockey League and National Basketball Association celebrated Canada Day. Free Agency is the time of the year when teams invest astronomical amounts of money in (mostly) aging free agents who will turn their team into champions. The days and weeks before Free Agency Frenzy can be called Buyer Regret season. Leading up to free agency teams can buy out overpaid and underachieving players. Most buy-out players are paid 2/3 of their remaining salary to not play for that team. Many of these bought out players were great free agent deals two or three years ago. A few patterns emerged in this year’s Free Agent season:
1. Staying Home –
Kyle Lowry re-signed with the Toronto Raptors. To most fans, this seemed unlikely when Lowry announced his free agency the day after the Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs. In the Players Tribune website, Lowry announced his decision to come back to Toronto because after considering all his options, Toronto was home.
Likewise in San Jose, the Sharks re-signed 38-year-old superstar Joe Thornton to a one year deal. Rumors had Jumbo Joe going to Toronto, Los Angeles and Chicago the week before the free agency frenzy began on July 1. When I saw that the Sharks were paying 7.5 million for one year, it explained why he did not go elsewhere; most teams don’t have the cap space.
2. Over paying –
Over paying for past stars has been and will continue to be a problem. This year had two different examples of overpaying.
The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Patrick Marleau to a three year $18 million contract. Marleau is a great veteran signing of the young Leafs. Even at age 37 this past year he scored 27 goals. The question is will the team be happy when a 41-year-old Marleau is not scoring in the final year of that contract? Of all the free agent over payments this one might work. Patrick Marleau has been a consistent scorer for his entire 1493 game of his NHL career. What will Father Time do with a player with this many miles on the odometer?
The Dallas Stars will be the 2017 poster boys for over paying a free agent. Thirty-year-old Alexander Radulov signed a $30 million five-year deal to play in Texas. Why would a team give this many years to a player who has had NHL success for one year in a row? Radulov scored 18 goals for Montreal last year. Before last year he played several years in the KHL. Nearly ten years ago he was an up and coming star with the Nashville Predators – but his off ice discipline found him out of the NHL. Dallas is anxious to be back in the playoffs, but one great season does not guarantee five more – especially with Radulof’s history.
4. Bargains –
There were some great bargains during the Free Agent Frenzy. Mike Camalleri (35) and Adam Vrbata (35) signed one-year $1 million dollars deals. Four-time Stanley Cup winner Kris Kunitz signed for two years and $2 million in Tampa Bay. None of these players are who they used to be – but they teams got them for a less than market price.
5. Goalie musical chairs –
Goalie Musical Chairs started before Free Agent Frenzy. Dallas sent a fourth round pick to LA so they could negotiate and sign Ben Bishop before July 1. Carolina sent a third round pick to Chicago for the rights to negotiate and sign Scott Darling. Calgary traded for Arizona’s number one goalie Mike Smith.
When free agency hit, musical chairs hit another level. Calgary’s goalie (Brian Elliot) went to Philadelphia; Philadelphia’s goalie (Steve Mason) went to Winnipeg; Winnipeg’s goalie (Andre Pavelic) went the New York Rangers; Vancouver’s goalie (Ryan Miller) went to Anaheim; Anahem’s goalie (Jonathan Bernier) went to Colorado; Colorado’s goalie (Calvin Pickard) had just been drafted by Vegas. Back up goalies were available for less than $1 million – so get two because you don’t know when you will need one.
6. End of the road? –
Four days into free agency there are three future Hall of Famers are still looking for a new home for next year. These stars of the past include: Jaromir Jagr (45 years old, 1915 points), Jerome Iginla (39 years, 625 goals) and Shane Done (40 years, 1540 games all with Phoenix). Will they take a discounted $1 million to play one more season? If so they will play next year. If they want close to market value, it could be the end of the road for three elite players.
Free Agency slows down after the first few days. There will still be surprises, great deals and at least one head scratcher as teams search the remaining free agent pool for that one player that their team needs to take them over the top.