June 21, 2014

Darren Kennedy

2014-06-21

 

Brad Richards has come to symbolize what is, at least to me, a pretty significant issue with NHL unrestricted free agency. He's not the first, nor likely the last, player to receive a hugely lucrative contract at a time in his career when he had little or no chance of performing at a level even approaching his compensation. It's a problem that isn't going away anytime soon (unless we're willing to sit through another prolonged work stoppage – we aren't)

 

The primary ways in which star players become unrestricted is by turning 27 before June 30th of a particular year or after completing seven full seasons. Thus allowing them to swim in the money filled waters that are free agency.

 

 

In theory this should mean that players are coming into their prime right as they're free to pick a destination of their choosing. Instead, as a result of bridge deals and longer second and third contracts, we have a number of players reaching free agency in their late twenties and early thirties. For example, Brad Richards was 31 when he signed a nine year, $60 million dollar contract with New York. Even if we assume retirement was going to take place around 2017 (when his annual salary dipped to $1million) that still left him with a cap hit of $6.7 million until the age of 37.

 

Some guys are capable of playing productively into their late thirties. We don't have to look further than Teemu Selanne (although I'm not convinced he isn't some sort of Terminator-like cyborg) and Martin St.Louis for recent examples of that. But there are also plenty of guys who either breakdown or decline well before what should be their golden years – players like Markus Naslund, Peter Forsberg, or Pavel Bure.

 

UFA contracts are, by definition, contracts that the other 29 teams thought were batshit crazy. If they didn't feel that way they would have offered more. With players signing these massive, long-term deals only a couple of years before their decline sets in we're being left with a league of once-upon-a-time stars clogging up cap sheets everywhere. This time around owners were bailed out by the compliance buyout provision. Four, five, six years into the future, when there is no safety net, teams will be saddled with a number of onerous deals to players in their mid-thirties. Owners are simply incapable of helping themselves from, well, themselves.

 

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That was a long opening ramble. I'm trying to keep up with Rick Roos – dude can flat out write.

 

*turns hat backwards – gets to work*

 

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I'm getting older, but I'm not THAT old. In my 15 or so years of watching hockey I can't remember a time when this many legitimate top six centermen were on the market at one time. The list is absolutely staggering; Kesler, Thornton, Spezza, Cammalleri (if you choose to play him there), and Stastny are just a few of elite options available. That's not to mention the crop of solid supporting options, guys like Grabovski, Legwand, Richards (as of yesterday), Roy, and Jokinen.

 

(Notice that I left Bolland off of this list – I'm secretly hoping that Nonis is a regular Dobber reader)

 

The fantasy impact of all these guys, assuming most of them move, is astronomical. Take Thornton for example, everywhere he goes he drags his line-mates production skyward. If he lands in somewhere like Chicago or even Toronto the change in their top six and power play until will affect the fantasy fate of many. If Grabovski remains in Washington he'll take on a key second or third line role that will alleviate Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Kuznetsov from a number of tough minutes, freeing them up offensively. Cammalleri scored at a near 40 goal pace last season. If he lands alongside the right centerman he could alter production by as much as seven to 10 points.

 

If I own any of the above assets in a dynasty league I'm waiting until well after July 1st before making any long-term decisions.

 

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I've written before that Columbus' Ryan Johansen worries me. His 33 goals, 30 assists, and 237 shots was impressive for a guy who has not yet turned 22. However, those numbers were buoyed in large part by a shooting percentage of 13.9% (likel