by Jon Jordan on 06/28/11 at 11:50 AM ET
As the start of free agency nears, hockey folks everywhere will scour the rosters of all 30 NHL clubs, trying to identify potential holes to be filled or positions in need of an upgrade through the madness that begins on July 1st. It’s only natural – and it’s a fun part of being a hockey fan.
Who do I want my team to target? Which players make sense? How can my team get better in a hurry?
If and when any of the prognostications yielded through that process become reality, Average Joe Fan Guy gets to channel his inner Barry Horowitz, pat himself on the back and incense his pals with the ever-gratifying “Told ya so!”
Unfortunately, more often than not, from the fan’s perspective, free agency wish lists and the off-the-wall lineup projections that come with them lead to eventual disappointment. You can plug holes in your lineup in EA’s annual NHL video game release at the touch of a button. In the real world, getting Brad Richards to sign in Phoenix isn’t quite that easy.
There are some factors that flaw the dream scenario process from the start, of course. Namely, Average Joe Fan Guy tends to forget about the business side of things that makes replacing an exiting veteran with a more cost-efficient youngster and other moves of that nature a necessity. So, when the Sean Bergenheims of the world appear to be on the cusp of leaving a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, it would be wise to hold off on automatically looking to fill the void with any of the bigger-ticket veteran names that might be out there. Instead, welcome an up-and-comer like Blair Jones, recently re-upped himself here in Tampa, to an expanded role with the big club and hope that he can meet the demands of that challenge.
Besides, for a team like the Lightning with an eye on frying some much bigger fish (like fantasyland’s prime catch for other clubs in Steven Stamkos, for instance, and either bringing back a cagey old grouper in Dwayne Roloson or reeling in a suitable replacement in net from somebody else’s pond as a second-tier priority), the bidding on third and fourth-line types will have to stay tempered. If value presents itself, sure, they’ll go for it. Otherwise, anything considered to be big spending this off-season for Tampa Bay is far more likely to go to retaining a superstar and addressing a position of need (such as the goaltending situation and maybe a reasonable replacement for the scoring of Simon Gagne).
Elsewhere, another integral part of the roster-shaping process that can be easily overlooked when signing players seems an easy fix are the inevitable trades that will take place. Free agency is hard enough to predict for any given team. Pairing two clubs up on a hypothetical swap of players is nearly impossible. Let’s not kid ourselves; there are only a handful of people in the world of hockey coverage who truly have a credible line in the transaction waters. Everybody else, myself certainly included, is simply taking their best shot at how things might shake out, for the most part (though, just like Average Joe Fan Guy doing “The Horowitz” at the expense of his buddies after “nailing” a predicted signing, some might attempt to anoint themselves off-season kings in this particular category when one of their many fantasy scenarios comes to pass). All that considered, it’s easy to see why the layman won’t often account for trade possibilities in the summer. It’s generally pretty difficult to see off-season trades coming, at least with specific return packages included, that is.
But in the salary cap era, people who follow the game relatively closely are beginning to catch on, in terms of targeting players who could be available in trade, if only by looking at what they perceive to be contracts that are a bit askew in comparison to what a particular player brings production-wise. One such player whose name often comes up in these parts is defenseman Mattias Ohlund – not quite the player he once was with Vancouver but no schmuck by any stretch of the imagination either, as proven most recently in the Lightning’s extended playoff run. At 34 years old, however, and with five years left on a deal that carries an annual cap hit of over $3.6 million, it makes sense why some would identify Ohlund as a player who Tampa Bay might look to move to create flexibility. Trick with him is, in addition to a limited no-trade clause, the specifics of his contract wouldn’t look any more attractive elsewhere.
Ryan Malone’s name is also bantered about as a movable asset for the Lightning from time to time but, given what he brings to the club as a top-six forward who plays with grit and contributes offensively with a knack for the clutch goal, as well as his positive presence in the locker room, his cap hit of $4.5 million is far more palatable than many make it out to be. In all likelihood, Tampa Bay would only look to deal a player like Malone out of necessity (say, if setting the parameters of Stamkos’ contract was done on someone else’s terms, for example, after July 1st).
The point here is, even labeling individual players as those a team might wish to move, is no easy task all the time. And trying to get a handle on which player goes where for a specific return is relatively impossible for the general population.
Still, it’s fun for people to play the GM role and that won’t change any time soon. But as we’re now knee-deep in silly season, it’s probably best to leave it to the boss men themselves to maneuver as they see fit and the few choice pundits to give a hint here or there as to what might happen.
The rest of us, by and large, are better suited to sitting back and watching how it all pans out and, for some of us, offering our opinions in hindsight anyway.
There’s certainly no shortage of entertainment in doing that.
One of those choice pundits, local colleague Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune, reported via Twitter this morning that the Lightning are set to announce new deals for defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron and forward Adam Hall.
Hall rebounded from a difficult 2009-10 campaign spent entirely at AHL Norfolk and played effectively for the Lightning this past season on the third and fourth lines, while Bergeron was a mid-season free agent addition who serves the team well as a seventh defenseman and power play specialist.
Finally, as Hall of Fame announcements will be made later today, I wonder if this might be the year for local hero Dave Andreychuk. As the lone member of the 600+ goal club not currently in the Hall of Fame and the captain of Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship squad, Andreychuk certainly has the credentials.
But as we saw last year, when the Hall of Fame committee inexcusably snubbed a deserving Pat Burns at the most apropos of times, predicting who the secret society will permit to enter hockey’s ultimate shrine is a crapshoot at best.
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