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.