Monday, July 03, 2006

Free Agent Frenzy

Free agency opened up in the NHL less than two days ago and the majority of the big name unrestricted free agents have already been signed. The speed at which this thing happens is amazing.

Many of the bigger names jumping to new teams jumped to bigger markets (although New York stayed out of the game for the most part). Boston signed Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. Toronto signed Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill. Los Angeles signed Rob Blake. St Louis signed Jay McKee and Doug Weight. These are all markets that have the ability to maintain larger payrolls than the average NHL team.

The remaining major buyers were those mandated by the CBA as the as the salary floor is climbing faster than the cap so teans with low payrolls must add salary. Minnesota added Mark Parrish, Keith Carney and Kim Johnsson. Phoenix added Ed Jovanovski. Nashville added Jason Arnott. All of these teams needed to add somebody to make the new salary floor.

Nobody clearly bought the Stanley Cup this year.

Now haven't you been arguing repeatedly that this CBA would allow the big markets to buy Stanley Cups?

It will. The salary cap will continue to climb and free agency will continue to liberalize. The UFA age this year is 29. Next year it is 27. It may take a couple years at 27 for us to fully see the effects but they will be there.

By way of analogy, I will tell you a story. There was this kid I went to high school with. He was a little wild. He drank, he did drugs, he drove his car way too fast, he often mixed these various pursuits into one dangerous one. He took a lot of unnecessary chances with his life. When he was still in high school, many of us thought this guy wasn't going to live until he was 25. Boy did we have egg on our faces when he lived until 32, before he wrapped his car around a tree killing himself. The point of course is the basic prediction was right even if the timescale was a little bit off. Now in the case of the NHL, this kid is still about 19 years old. Our prediction could still be entirely true. The circumstances around the prediction have not fully been set up yet. So obviously the results have not come to pass yet.

In the meantime, we seem to have parity. Nobody is elite.

I think there are still bargain free agents out there. There are some players who were not signed in the first round of signings who will make large contributions who will not command the big bucks of the first signees. The smart team should be waiting to sign them instead of (for example) throwing $14 million at Willie Mitchell.

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