By Nick Craddock
Two weeks ago the NHL free agent frenzy (not sure if you could call it that this year) began, and in the spirit of prematurely judging things, here is a compilation of the winners and losers of the free agency period thus far.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils lost captain Zach Parise to his home state Wild (see below), but every true hockey fan knows that the real heart, soul, and leader of the Devils is Martin Brodeur, who resigned with the team for two years. Brodeur’s contract all but guarantees that the 40-year-old goalie will see out his Hall of Fame career with the only team that he has ever known.
Replacing the void of Parise will not be an easy task, but as the old adage goes: Defense wins championships, and Brodeur’s stellar play almost won the Devils a Stanley Cup title this past June.
One thing’s for sure: People in the Garden State will be able to forget about Parise much quicker than they would have been able to forget about their starting goalie for the past two decades had their beloved Marty left.
Carolina Hurricanes: Although not technically a free agent, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford began free agency by signing the team’s draft day addition, Jordan Staal, to a 10-year contract extension worth $6 million per year.
Normally, the long-term contracts handed out in the post-lockout NHL handcuff teams for many years and seem ridiculous that the signed player will still be playing by the time the contract expires. Staal is an exception to this trend. With almost 500 NHL games to his name, Staal is just 23, meaning that the Hurricanes will have him under contract for the prime of his career. And Staal may be entering his prime in year one of his new deal, as last season he posted a career high in assists and points in only 62 games. Playing alongside brother and Carolina captain, Eric Staal, will likely do wonders for his stat line.
Without question, locking up a centerpiece for your franchise earns Rutherford and Carolina an A+.
Winnipeg Jets: Prudent spending has been the hallmark of this team’s summer acquisitions, already more than a full year into its rebirth in The ‘Peg. The Jets were on the fringe of playoff contenders last season, but the addition of Olli Jokinen, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Al Montoya (an under-the-radar signing who could push established No. 1 goalie Ondrej Pavelec for playing time, should Pavelec struggle) and the resigning of Jim Slater for the cost of one “Jiri Hudler” (see below) is good business.
Frankly, the knock on Jokinen is that he has only played six career playoff games, but I don’t buy it as legitimate criticism. That fact speaks less about him and more about the crummy teams that he’s had the (dis)pleasure of representing.
All four signings don’t steal the headlines, but all four are serviceable players who could be plugged into this Winnipeg team and add depth to the lineup overall.
Minnesota Wild: Whattttt???? Is the question you might be asking. Followed by, You saw the Wild signed Zach Parise AND Ryan Suter, right?
Yes, the Wild scored the two biggest prizes of the free agency signing period, but being dubbed the top free agents this year is an underwhelming distinction. Of all the slop out there, Parise and Suter are two of the players less sloppy than the others. That doesn’t make either of them a franchise player worth the humongous 13-year, $98 million contracts the two have signed.
Parise’s average annual salary used to be reserved for the likes of players who produced at a point-per-game pace or better, but these monster contracts have become commonplace in the NHL over the last few summers. That’s not Parise’s fault, but should teams be so quick to fork over so much money in the age of the salary cap for short-term solutions? While Parise’s 410 points in 502 career games would certainly be a welcome addition to any team, Parise — at least before the Devils’ playoff run this year — would not elicit thoughts of a franchise player. So simply, there’s no reason Minnesota should be paying him like one.
Likewise, Suter is a defenseman that any team in the NHL would like to have, but does he command the extraordinary salary handed to him? This contract puts Suter in the company of Brian Campbell and Zdeno Chara, in terms of defensemen making $7-plus million per year. Arguably, Chara is deserving of his money because he epitomizes the complete defensemen (offense, defense, physicality, leadership), but Campbell, a defensive liability who can run a power play, received an inflated contract thanks to the system of monster contracts (figuratively and literally) in the new NHL.
Moreover, there’s also no way to predict that Parise or Suter, both 27, will have the longevity to see out their contracts. Again, the chances of these players making it to 40 unscathed are slim.
If nothing else, these signings reignite a fervent fan base in dire need of cheering about something other than the Wild’s trip to the 2003 Western Conference Finals and having a team back in Minnesota.
Nashville Predators: Nashville is a small-market NHL team and, frankly, not a desirable destination for most players who would rather play in more traditional hockey markets. That being said, the Predators have put together a string of quality seasons together largely thanks to an excellent internal structure of the organization, emphasizing drafting and development.
Nashville drafted and developed Suter into a top-pairing defenseman, but now receives nothing in return for that investment. Worse yet, the loss of Suter will likely lead to the Preds losing more homegrown talent in captain and restricted free agent Shea Weber, who could bolt from Nashville next summer if not signed to a long-term deal.
Finding Weber’s and Suter’s replacement from within the organization may be possible, but it takes time to groom a shutdown defensive pairing.
Calgary Flames: Can you say desperation signings? The good people of Calgary are clamoring for playoff hockey after the Flames’ absence from the postseason the past three seasons; however, splurging exorbitantly on Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman are not the means by which to pave a way to Lord Stanley’s Cup. In fact, these moves smack of desperation at best.
Wideman is a defenseman who, like Campbell, has parlayed his offensive skill into an inflated contract. Unfortunately for Calgary, Wideman is a poor man’s Campbell who has lacked consistency. If a team is going to pay $5 million for a defenseman, he better have more than two 40-plus point campaigns, separated by three seasons no less, to his name.
Hudler, on the other hand, will hopefully bring the winning touch with him from Detroit, but since when did a two-time 20-goal scorer warrant $4 million per year? The kid who fills the water bottles on the bench should be in line for a $1 million dollar raise according to these economies of scale.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.