After the First Day: Free Agency Thoughts

Market, via  Merriam-Webster:

d : the area of economic activity in which buyers and sellers come together and the forces of supply and demand affect prices <producing goods for market rather than for consumption>

I think a lot of hockey fans forget what a market really is when it comes time for free agency.  The market is defined by the supply and demand of the moment.  It may reflect the past and the future of the market a bit, but it’s really defined as what the needs of the moment are and what is available to fill those holes.

My shining example is Mike Smith, Tim Thomas and the goalie market.  Smith signed a five year extension, for $5.666… million.  At the time, it seemed like a lot of money for Smith (it is a lot of money in general, but the scope of that kind of money isn’t the real question here).  My immediate thought was, this isn’t a bad deal for either side.

A few days later, and look at what the market is for goalies.  Ray Emery is in Philadelphia, a bunch of backups shuffled around, but every other team is set with goaltending.  And who is left out there?  Ilya Bryzgolov and Tim Thomas.  There isn’t room for them right now in the league.  Bryz might look to the KHL if things don’t open up in the NHL, while Thomas will be sitting in NORAD waiting for someone to get hurt.

That’s the market Smith was signed in.  If this was next year, where the goalie market is much more open, he might not have gotten this much money.  And I fully expect that market to shrink considerably.  No way are that many good goalies going to free agency.  Most will be resigned.

Smith was able to work a deal in this market that was favorable to him, because the Coyotes were low on options.  Unless they brought back Bryz for another stint, they were going to be looking for another Labarbera / Garon dual backup “solution.”

And if you weren’t convinced of the state of goalie market, Nikolai Khabibulin went back to Chicago.  Yeah. Locked. Up. Tight.

That was what the free agent market was this year.  Lots of needs and not a lot of players to fill those slots.  It was a market that was going to be overpaid, but not by gigantic Kovalbucks.  There was talent out there, but not enough to go around.  Most teams had locked up and resigned the more attractive options before UFA day came (Letang, Ellis, Bickell, etc).  When Briere and Lecavalier are the biggest players involved, and everyone knows where they are going before signing day, it’s going to be a strange day.

There was plenty of action.  The Tyler Seguin move was a bit surprising. I look forward to seeing him in the West.  And the Ducks finally trade Bobby Ryan, which I think they will regret.  I like the way the Senators are building.  It isn’t a great team yet, but they are getting better and better all the time.

Some thoughts on the first day of free agency:

- Nathan Horton goes to Columbus and David Clarkson goes to the Leafs, both for similar money. Yet for Columbus it’s a good signing with risk (will Horton stay healthy) versus Toronto overpaying and making a huge error, according to the experts.  Despite similar numbers last season and Clarkson being a more physical and healthier player.  I wonder if the feeling that the Leafs are screwing this up simply comes from their long history of screwing things up.  I get the impression the media just likes that storyline.  Neither is a bad signing.  Too long of terms?  Maybe, but not bad deals.

- I was surprised we didn’t see more seven-year deals, the longest term allowed under the new CBA.  Only two seven-year deals, followed by 5 five-year deals.  Perhaps it’s the lowering of the salary cap, but I would think that would work towards the advantage of the team.  The cap comes down, they have to fit a player under that cap, then keep the deal / average cap hit rolling to maximize value.  Or the market didn’t hold enough players worth seven years.  I’m guessing it’s the latter.

- Jarome Iginla goes to Boston.  Shades of Marian Hossa?  Should we expect Chicago and Boston in the finals again?  I doubt it, but it makes for an interesting parallel.  Six million seems like a lot for a player on the decline and a team that is close enough to the cap ceiling that they can touch it without stretching too hard.  But considering the skill level (and toughness) Iginla started from, that decline could take a long time to effectively manifest itself.  Iginla has to perform for his new team quickly.  The fans wanted him before, were left at the alter at the trade deadline, and were not thrilled about it.  Since we live in the salary cap, Team NHL era, they may forgive quickly if he shows that he was worth the bother.  Otherwise, I hope he brought some ear plugs.  He’s going to hear about it.

- The three sites I have been going to over and over for UFA info have been TSN’s excellent trade tracker, Capgeek.com, and Spector’s Hockey from Lyle Richardson. The trade tracker is great because it’s a simple spreadsheet that’s sortable.  I’ve sung the praises of Capgeek before, and I hope whomever runs that site makes some serious bank.  They deserve it. As for Lyle Richardson, I love his work.  Enough said there.

- The Red Wings have done nothing to reduce their reputation as being the Detroit Old Folks Home.  Daniel Alfredsson leaving Ottawa to sign there only reinforces that perception.  It isn’t a bad move for either one, and while Alfredsson was the franchise player in Ottawa, he didn’t seem too happy with the team in their last round of the playoffs this year, effectively sounding the alarm that he was quitting the series.  When it’s time for you to go, it’s time to go, and for Alfie, it was time to go.  Whether it works out for Detroit is anyone’s guess.  It could be the veteran they need, or it could be another Mats Sundin situation.  Please recall, that didn’t work out.

- Everyone wanted Andrew Ference.  I don’t blame them, he was pivotal in the Bruins run at the Cup. But considering where he went, for that term and that money (4 years / $13mil), less teams were in the running than the fans thought.  He took less money to go to Edmonton than he could have gotten elsewhere, making it a personal decision for him, and that’s great.  Edmonton is finally getting out of the draft-for-everything mode and starting to build a team.  Whether this set of components works out remains to be seen, but at least they are finally trying.

- As for the Colorado Avalanche, I’m fine with what they did in free agency.  Sure, it would have been great to see them land that perfect piece of the puzzle, but I have bad news for everyone looking to solve every problem with free agent signings.  It doesn’t work that way.  If your team solved all it’s issues in free agency this season, they didn’t have that may issues to begin with.  The sins of the past have not been forgotten in Colorado.  Scott Hannan, Greg Zanon, Jan Hejda, shall I go on?  That’s just the free agent defensemen signed that didn’t work out well.  Shane O’Brien? Oh, you want me to stop now?  OK, so those signings didn’t work out, there weren’t many defensemen on the market that would fit in a 1-2 role, and still, fans wanted to see the Avs make a splash?  Instead, the Avs signed a few depth players to stock up the horrid Lake Erie Monsters, which has been an issue for years.  I hope this means they are going to take the minors seriously.  There is still plenty of time for the Avalanche to make trades to shore up the defense, but this is not a problem that will be fixed overnight.  They are doing something, which is more than could have been said before the new regime was put in place.  That’s a good step forward.  There was no splash to be made this year. Perhaps only a slight ripple to be had.  Good enough.

Thin Air: Short and Sweet

- I believe it won’t be too long until the Blue Jackets are no longer mired in the stink of the past.  I think they will turn it around in a few seasons.  Of course, I thought that a few years ago, when they had a decent roster of players and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.  The problem was that the roster never gelled as a team.  They looked like a lot of names on the back, not logo on the front.  It’s cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason.

- How much longer will the Coyotes be owned by the league?  I remember doing a “special edition” of The Rink with the news that the team owner was going into bankruptcy court, and that was a long time ago (heh, remember The Rink? No? Damn).  The league may want to keep the team in Glendale, but I just can’t see it happening.  The great hockey fans in Arizona aren’t numerous enough to justify keeping the team there, and they are only part of the equation.  The biggest part is arena management.  That’s how Florida remains in business, and plenty of other teams that are hurting at the turnstiles.  Don’t be fooled: the prevailing attitude may be that the NHL is a gate receipt driven business, but that is only part of it.  The larger part is arena management and arena deals.  That Taylor Swift concert is as much a concern as the thousands of fans at the game.  The harder Glendale makes it for a prospective owner to get to those dollars, the harder it will be to find a new owner willing to keep the team in place.

- Or think of it this way: if the NHL were the owner of the team for the next five years and knew that were the case, would they keep the team in Arizona?  Would they subsidize the team with the money from 29 other owner’s pockets, or would they move the team to a place they didn’t have to dip into the coffers as often?  Business wise, what would you do? I’d send them packing.

- Fact: I could read Roy MacGregor writing about shopping for canned goods.  I swear, he could find a way to make it interesting.  If you don’t know his work, find it.

- A 7-0 curb stomping of the Islanders is not going to fix the Flyers, but it’s something to build on.

- I call them jerseys, not sweaters.  You can call them what you want, but for me, they haven’t been sweaters for a long time.  They certainly stopped being sweaters when Reebok came out with the EDGE jersey.  Before that, you could go either way and be fine.  Jerseys. Book it.

- No one cares about your flag football team.  Kickball?  Softball?  No one cares one damn bit.  Your rec league hockey team?  Hey, that’s hockey.  That’s different.  Tell me more.

- Matt Duchene was so far offside, you have to wonder if the ref knew whose team he was playing for.

Pure linesman fail.  But what I was more interested in was what Barry Trotz was upset about on the next goal.

 

Maybe it was the line change?  At the game, we couldn’t tell, but the coaching staff kept holding up three fingers on one hand and two on the other, and waiving them back and forth.  Oh well, but yeah, that Duchene goal should have never happened.  Mind you, Mason was letting everything in, so I’m sure Duchene would have gotten around to it.

Thin Air Sunday: Where’s Hejda?

Some Sunday morning hockey thoughts - 

- I got home from work last night in time to see the Colorado Avalanche melt down in the third period, to the fans in Edmonton’s delight.  The worst, for me, came from Jan Hejda on the Oilers game winning goal.  I would embed the video of it here form NHL.com, but I can’t find the embed code. Help here?

(stick tap to Jay Vean of The Avs Hockey Podcast for the embed location)

 

Oilers break out and it’s 3 on 3.  Ryan Smyth has the puck.  You know, old, slow, tired Ryan Smyth.  The one everyone seems to be beating up for having the audacity to age.  That guy.  And Jan Hejda has Smyth.  You know, free agent acquisition with three more years on his contract (including this one) Jan Hejda.  And as Smyth centers the puck, Hejda chases said puck.  That puts two guys on Eric Belanger in the center and no one on Smyth.  Belanger taps the puck back to Smyth, who puts it across the front of the crease to Magnus Paajarvi who taps it in.  Tap, tap, tap.  If Hejda had stayed on his man, the pass from Belanger to Smyth would never have been an option.  

It highlight’s an issue the Avalanche defense seem to have.  They have no chemistry, they have no trust, and they don’t know where each other are going to be.  When you watch Eric Johnson, who sometimes outthinks his own feet, he has a keen eye for the play.  He directs traffic well, he knows where he should be and where his teammates should be.  But he is out with an injury, and the rest of the Avalanche D needs that direction.  They don’t know where to go.  And it’s painful to watch.

- Homer announcers are one thing.  But right now, the corporate line from the Avalanche is way beyond homerism.  The message is that things are not the team’s fault, that it’s bad bounces and bad luck that lose the games for them.  Over the course of a game, or a period, that may be true.  Luck and bounces can factor in, but when you have control of a game, or a period, or even a shift, you have the opportunity to make or change your own luck.  You can move forward.  If the message is to be believed, the Oilers last night skated the puck so well, it wasn’t the Avalanche’s fault they lost, were out played in the third period, and gave up five straight goals (the last one being an empty netter).  The only one to actually call the Avs out so far has been studio analyst Mark Rycroft.  A former (and more recent than color commentator Peter McNab) player, Rycroft knows what he is talking about, and doesn’t mind saying what the thinks, which is a rarity in today’s controlled media world.  (with apologies to radio announcer Marc Moser, who I don’t hear often enough, so I can’t speak for his performance in this respect)

I think I may have more to say about this later.  But the fans aren’t fooled.  We know a bad team when we see one. 

- No coach firings yet.  Huh.  

- This was the first time I’ve had any time away from work for Hockey Day in America.  I didn’t do anything hockey related, unless you consider last night’s cringe-inducing third period of the Avs game.  Why?  Because I’m busy, damn it.  I had things to do.  I also didn’t know of anything going on in my neck of the woods.  And while this may not be Avalanche country as much as it used to be, we still have a ton of hockey, like Denver University, Colorado College, the Denver Cutthroats and Air Force, not to mention the USA Hockey headquarters in Colorado Springs, and plenty of great rinks all over the state.  Does it say how ignorable hockey can be when a hockey fan doesn’t know what’s going on in his neck of the woods?  

- I haven’t heard much about the Dallas Stars lately.  Other than Jagr and Kari Lehtonen, where’s the stories?  What is going on in Texas?

- We are only 15 games into the short season, but there is only one southern conference team in a playoff position, with Tampa knocking on the door.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  

- 33: Difference between the goal differentials of Chicago and Columbus.  15: Points difference between Chicago and Columbus.  6: Number of teams in the Western Conference with a positive goal differential (as of Sunday morning).  Where are those goals going? Chicago.  

- I read somewhere that New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano could be on the hot seat if the team doesn’t turn things around.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.  When you acquire a goalie exclusively for a free cap hit to get to the salary cap floor, rather than actually spending that cap money on an actual player that could help your team, where does winning factor into the plan?  The Islanders are in a holding pattern that makes the Phoenix Coyotes search for ownership look like a blitzkrieg.  They are just waiting to move to Brooklyn, and then we will see if anything happens.  And if reports that Charles Wang is looking to sell the team are correct, they can expect to hold for a while longer.  

Maybe Don’t Trade Nash

Here’s a wacky thought.  Don’t trade Rick Nash.  There, I said it.

A few years ago, I was in Columbus at the same time as their training camp.  Columbus had made a few interesting roster moves, and it looked like they were finally doing something that could have a positive impact one their team.  And lo and behold, they finally made it to the playoffs.

And yet, things still haven’t worked out for the team.  Get a young goalie who looks (albeit briefly) like a stud?  Watch him crumble before your eyes.  Get a coach who has won a Cup and has a solid defensive system?  Watch young players revolt and fire him.  Get some forwards and stay at home defensemen with a little experience?  Watch them fall apart.  

Through it all, you have Rick Nash.  The one ray of sunshine for the franchise.  The one player who has talent to lead the team for a long time.  And of course, he wants out.  

So do the one thing he doesn’t want.  Don’t trade him.  At least, not yet.  Tell him he is going to be central to the franchise next season.  Tell him you have a plan, and you are going to execute it with him in the spotlight.  Tell him you gave him what he wanted when he signed the contract, it’s time for him to put his money where his mouth is.  And for the team to do the same thing.  Tell him you didn’t spend all this time and fan equity to watch the man the franchise is centered around, and the guy the people in the seats love the most, simply walk away.  

And then you fire every one else you can.  You get your crap together in a way that proves you are doing the right things for the team, and by extension, Rick Nash.  

Because no matter what the Blue Jackets get back, they are still going to wreck the team with the same old attitude.  They will destroy whatever comes into their roster, just like they have so many times in the past.  Last season, they made the big trade for Jeff Carter, then secretly replaced him with Gabe Kotter.  Do you think they won’t do the same damn thing with whomever they get for Nash?  Of course they will. 

Just my two cents.

Picks for Goalies can be a Good Thing

Hot off the presses, Blue Jackets Scott Howson just traded three draft picks to the Flyers for goaltender Sergei Bobrobsky.

Good move, Blue Jackets.  Really.

I know, it’s weird, that the Blue Jackets and GM Scott Howson can make a good trade.  It doesn’t seem possible, like Phoenix drawing a sell out crowd, or the Kings winning a Stanley Cup.  I know, that sounds like I’m picking on these teams, but I’m really not.  Narratives are being rewritten all the time, and the story in Columbus could be taking an turn, starting now.

The Blue Jackets have an immediate need.  They have had this need for a long time, as Steve Mason wasn’t the goalie he was cracked up to be.  It was pointed out (I think by Justin Bourne of Backhand Shelf, but I could be wrong) that Mason was given the starting job in Columbus not after a good season, but a good half season.  Considering the goalie woes they suffered through previously, any ray of light was going to look like the clouds parted and the hand of God had reached down and touched the netminder on the shoulder.  Instead, it turned out to be foot of God from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Foot Of God squashes goalie

In the situation the Blue Jackets are in, they had an immediate need, and only two assets they could trade to get that need filled, draft picks and Rick Nash.  So why not just trade Rick Nash for the sweetest goalie ever, one with rocket launchers built into his blocker, and a few hockey cards in the spokes of his bike wheels?  Because Rick Nash, with his no trade clause, controls his own destiny.  You would be limited to where the big guy was willing to go to for trading partners.  That’s just not acceptable.

I’m all for trading picks for goalies, within reason.  If you have the number one draft pick, you probably shouldn’t trade it away for a goalie.  That is, if you knowingly have the number one pick.  But sure, throw a first rounder out there.  Worried that you are overpaying?  You tell me, would you rather have Angelo Esposito or a starting  goalie?

In fact, let’s go to the draft in Columbus in 2007.  Name the draft position you would feel comfortable with dealing away for a starting goalie.  And don’t forget, you don’t have a starting goalie in your system.  I would start at pick ten (inclusive), and that’s with the benefit of hindsight.  Now look at this draft class.  Where would you start?

I wrote about it when the Avalanche traded a first and a second round pick for the rights of Semyon Varlamov.  I thought it was the right move for the Avs, and I feel that it’s the right move for the Blue Jackets.  They have enough players in their minor league system to be able to spare a few lower draft picks in this draft.  What they don’t have enough of are puck stoppers.  Find a need, fill a need.

Strangely, the Blue Jackets did just that today.  It just looks weird because it happened in Columbus.

Free Agency Afternoon Thoughts

Just some general thoughts on day one of free agency:

Florida Panthers – Dale Talon has a lot of people scratching their heads today, but I’m not one of them.  Talon knows how to build a team, and the team he’s building looks a lot like the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.  They don’t have the younger draftees, and they don’t seem to have a rookie goalie in the wings to scoop the team up, but he looks like he could be a few years away from just that.  I don’t doubt the man, so long as he stays comforably away from the upper limit of the salary cap.  And considering he is in Florida, that shouldn’t be an issue.  Jose Theodore is the new Christibol Huet, Scotty Upshall is the new Dustin Byfuglien, and Brian Campbell is still Brian Campbell.  I don’t know where Jovanovski fits in yet.  The big difference here is that Florida got better.  That’s been a long time coming.

Vokoun – I don’t think we will hear much from Vokoun until later, but his options are waining.  It’s been suggested that the Panthers should have given him one more year, but I couldn’t imagine how that would help Vokoun.  His market value is as high as it’s going to get, even as his options for locations are shrinking.

Jagr – AH HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! But seriously, it’s probably Jagr’s last year in the NHL ever.  He needed to follow the money.  Heart has never been his strongest suit, but it was kind of a dick move for Ray Shero to try and tug at those heartstrings.  Manipulative? Maybe.  But Jagr made them pay.  Hockey hate in Pittsburgh is going to be at an all time high.

Christian Ehrhoff – What a joke of a contract.  Two signing bonuses? A signing bonus 4 times the amount of the salary for the year it’s handed out? Just a freaking joke.  Contracts like this give the owners more ammo for the next CBA.  This is the bastard child contract of Brian Campbell and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Colorado Avalanche – I’ll do more on the Avalanche later, but for now, the best I can say is that they got better.  They worked towards filling holes on the club with the available market.  I’ll go deeper later.

Carcillo to the Blackhawks – AH HAHAHAHAAH!!!!! Oh, how the Canucks are going to hate the Hawks twice as much next year.

Erik Cole – I would have liked to have seen him in an Avs jersey.  He’s quietly good, the kind of player the fans like here in Colorado.

 

Overall, lots of teams got better today.  I think the overall sentiment online has been, “why can’t I be a GM?”  In this market, there are more role players than difference makers.  If you had a hole to fill, this is the market to do it in.  If you need big stud, you have few options, and you will pay for them.

More later….

Stewart Fights, Doesn’t Break Himself

Last night, Chris Stewart got in a fight with Derek Dorsett, and as you can see from HockeyFights.com, he overwhelmingly was declared the victor.  Heck, as you can see from the video, he was the victor:

 

And he did it all without breaking himself, much less his hand.  While Avs fans wanted to wrap him in bubble wrap (and I was guilty of thinking that way a little bit), Stewart handled himself fine.

I think that fear came more from the overall makeup of the team, their overall disappointing play, and the shear number of injuries on the Avalanche.  Is it reasonable to ask a player to change their nature because of the possibility of injuring themselves? Not in a case like this.  Maybe when it comes to injuring other players, but to ask Stewart not to fight so as not to hurt himself after it happened only once? Seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?

Meal of Champs

I may die from this, but I will die happy.

The Party at Nationwide

Don’t count the fans out.

And even though I don’t like to sit at the end of an arena, I’ll take this seat.

Blue Jackets Tonight!

Forces have come together that allow me to attend tonights Blue Jackets playoff game. It I one thing to hear a report of the excitement around re game. It is another to experience it.

This is what I am greeted with as I exit the highway. What can you do?

If you happen across this before the game, pop by section 109 and say hi. I’ll be in the last row, wearing a black Johnstown Chiefs jersey.