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The Malik Report

How things will work from here—an into-July-we-go unrestricted free agency primer

The math adds up as usual, in both personnel and term. On July 1st, about sixty players signed with new teams as unrestricted free agents, following up two high-profile trade-and-sign moves (Ehrhoff and Wisniewski)  and half-a-dozen guys beating the deadline to re-sign with their own teams. On Saturday, I rolled out of bed early after a 16-hour day because while the fireworks happen on Canada day, and while my co-worker Alanah so wisely noted that signings happen but aren’t necessarily reported on the 2nd and 3rd because reporters in the U.S. and Canada are taking time off for our respective national holidays, the moves that make your eyebrows rise happen on the second day, usually including the biggest-profile player of the bunch (Richards) making up his mind, as well as a mix of subtle (White, Bergenheim), shocking (Vokoun) and just plain silly (Connolly) signings hit the wires in staccato fashion.

From here on out, however, all bets are off. There are some years when July 3rd yields an, “Okay, the biggest guy (Richards) signed and the other guys have made their, ‘If we didn’t get the guy(s) we want, we’ll go with plan B, C or D moves’ (Connolly, Gagne, White), so it’s time for us to get the best of what’s left” day, and other years, it seems like the GM’s go golfing until the fifth or sixth.

A solid assessment of the “Where we go from here” state of things comes from the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby, who spoke to Maple Leafs assistant GM Dave Nonis about the shape of things to come for the Kaberles, Arnotts, back-up goalies and attractive restricted free agents still out there…

“I think you’re going to see the market solidify,” said Dave Nonis, senior vice-president of hockey operations for the Leafs. “Teams are still looking out for bargains, but they also have restricted free agents to sign and some salary arbitration to take care of. “(The first two days) unfolded almost as exactly as I thought it would. There was that immediate frenzy where people wanting to spend the extra money they had in a 24-hour period. Then people began bargain shopping. Now they are looking for shorter-term deals and two-way contracts and other ways that can help them. I believe you’ll see some trades around the league now. If you look at new contracts and see you need some re-allocation, such as having too many defencemen and deciding to go for a forward. But it may take 30 to 45 days to decide on making those trades.”

And the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, who spends the lead-up to free agency talking to “league sources” about potential moves (and does a better job throwing stuff that sticks than the guy who charges people money to read his stuff), offers a wise assessment of the “stupidity” made by general managers who, again, based on the math, sign around eighty-some players for $200-300 million and about a hundred years of term, with only the identities of the teams who spend money like it’s quite literally on fire changing on a per-annum basis—and somewhere between 10-15% of those years of service will of course go un-played or be bought out at a later date:

As NHL GMs got ready to go on a spending spree Friday, at least one league executive was prepared to sit back and watch the insanity.

“I think the smartest teams will be the ones that do nothing,” said the executive approximately 90 minutes before high noon. “We’re just going to watch what everybody else does and then make our decisions.”

No kidding. Even with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire next September, that didn’t stop teams with room under the salary cap — and especially those trying to get to the $48.3-million cap floor — from throwing around cash on unrestriced free agents. The stupidity reached a feverish pitch as desperate GMs and their sidekicks filed into the Toronto office of Newport Sports to try to entice Brad Richards to sign.

Amongst Garrioch’s most accurately-assessed “bizarre” moves:

C Brad Richards, NYR (9 years, $60 million): He was the best player available and this turned into a predictable feeding frenzy with Richards choosing his destination Saturday. It got so dumb the Calgary Flames — in a brilliant public relations move — offered Richards a nine-year, $65-million deal. How this unfolds should be fascinating to watch.
D Christian Ehrhoff, BUF (10 years, $40 million): Yes, I get it, new owner Terry Pegula wanted to flex his muscle in his first year with the Sabres. But this is just bizarre. We’re not talking about a Ray Bourque or Bobby Orr here. Ehrhoff will get $18 million in the first two years.

D Ed Jovanovski, FLA (4 years, $16.5 million): There were a few teams hoping that at 35, Jovanovski might want to take a one-year deal to win a Stanley Cup. He could never have imagined that a team desperate to get to the salary cap floor would allow him to cash in the way he did. GM Dale Tallon can’t even buy out Jovanovski and escape the cap hit if this doesn’t work. This one is shocking.

Unless Tomas Kaberle agrees to take a pay cut from Jovanovski territory, he’s going to be sitting for quite a while.

In any case, the guy who very literally puts in 120 hours per week, my boss, has asked me to take today off and/or easy because things will indeed be slow today as both GM’s and reporters actually indulge in a lazy summer Sunday, and the Red Wings tend to spend a day or two negotiating with their final free agent target before landing him either during prospect camp (happens every other year!) or toward the end of the month (ditto), but I won’t encourage you to leave Paul alone because July 3rd is just plain old weird—some years (and this is our sixth post-lockout UFA day, seventh if you include the year of the amnesty buyout) July 3rd is a complete dud, and some years, you’ll see another six or eight high-profile players move as the “losers” in terms of earning power scramble for homes before the long waiting game kicks in on the 6th or 7th and we wait till late July or early August for the guys who should have signed on the 3rd, 4th and 5th sit out because of pride and/or vanity.

We’ve still got a couple days’ worth of fireworks before I head off to the Wings’ prospect camp in Traverse City and Paul leans back and starts to enjoy the novelty of an 80-hour work week, and as Dave Nonis suggests, today and tomorrow are usually the days when those restricted free agents get offer sheets from uncouth GM’s who don’t have Ken Holland’s state of decorum.

Today will be a little sparse in terms of the usual blather from Sunday columnists because of the joint holiday weekend, but about another dozen guys will find places to call home, some of them will be “name” guys and it is as sure as the Fourth of July that in some instances, a GM will at least blow a few fingers off trying to make a firework’s worth of splash.

Don’t you join them. Be safe while celebrating the independence of your country by blowing up a small part of it, don’t drive if you knock back a few ginger ales (there are always people like me who are stuck with Shirley Temples and are quite happy to take you home) and sit back and enjoy what should be at least an entertaining couple of days, at least if you like watching sports executives make decisions that, more often than not, come back to haunt them.

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MsRedWinger's avatar

Really, George, DO take the day off, get some sleep and enjoy!

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 07/03/11 at 02:39 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.