So, it's July 2nd. Free Agent Frenzy day is over, right? Now we all calm back down again?
July 2nd is always something of a down day in the NHL calendar, as the media frenzy around the opening of NHL FA dies down a little with the expectation that all the "best" FA's will have found new homes and gaudy contracts.
Certainly yesterday saw a lot of headline grabbing moves - Oilers with Milan Lucic, Boston with David Backes...the names that might be expected to have gone have all gone and now, the narrative goes, we only see depth moves and teams looking to add complementary pieces.
Except this year, that is most definitely not the case.
The quality that's still sat out in the FA pool is, quite frankly, surprising. Players who were widely touted as among the top free agents leading up to July 1st, were still out there. Jason Demers, for example, would have been an ideal pick up for the Bruins but Florida nipped in first and stole him for the impressive value of $4.5 million per year for the next five years...however, the fact he wasn't picked up on the first day of FA COULD play in their favor and signed for $1 million less than expected on the morning of the second day is an indication on how salaries/demand can drop depending on how desperate players are for a new deal.
GMs are seemingly holding a little back this year, which means that there are a lot of very good, contributing players still available. With the B's still holding around $7.5 million in cap space and the potential to make a huge trade with David Krejci (a move, let's not forget, that the David Backes signing suddenly made a lot more likely).
It's now where the real money is made by NHL GMs. Unqualified RFAs abound this offseason, as do players released off previous deals and suddenly thrown onto the market either after playing as expensive rentals or as teams look for a rebuild, and there are some very good players in that bracket. Players in the latter category like PA Parenteau, who scored 20 goals and 21 assists last season for the Maple Leafs on a $1.5 million contract. Or Lauri Korpikoski, who is sitting on the NHL reject pile alongside him off a solid but unspectacular Oilers season. Or Radim Vrbata, who at 35 is far closer to the end of his career than the beginning and at this point may well be looking for one last contract to top up the retirement fund. He's only one year off a 30-goal season, remember.
Caution: Some people will mention Kris Russell in this group. Those people are wrong. And that is what we'll say about that.
The real value, though, is to be found in the "unqualified RFA" pile-the pile of players who weren't even considered due a slight payrise by their current teams to retain the rights, but allowed to walk for free. This is the pile of players who in many cases may not have expected to be looking for a new job, and who thus could be available more cheaply.
There are some names on there that immediately leap out. Justin Schultz, for example, who has gone from being considered the top defensive prospect in the NHL pursued by the majority of the league to a Stanley Cup winner suddenly looking for a job.
Schultz, at 26, is the prototypical redemption project-he's had a solid but unspectacular career in the NHL after a truly superb first season. He's looking for a role to play after being used as a solid depth defenseman for the Pens, and there could well be a spot for him with a team looking to get themselves a strong defenseman at a relatively cheap price.
Defensively, in fact, there are a whole bunch of other names that at least might be worth a look-highly-touted names from the past who've fallen on slightly harder times. Luke Schenn, for example, or Nicklas Grossmann. These are players still in the prime of their careers who have come off medium to big deals and will likely now need a strong pay cut or at least not a pay rise to stay in the league. As the off-season rolls on, they'll likely be more and more desperate to take a deal.
Then there are the players who've fallen from grace and are full redemption projects...players like Cody Hodgson. Now here's a player who has dropped like a stone and is really now desperately looking for a way back after showing much promise in his early career...he's a player who is likely to be available for a price far below his potential ability, but only if a team is brave enough to give him that chance.
Josh Jooris, Brandon Gormley, Linden Vey, Drew Shore are the best examples of players who have performed decently well on bad or mediocre teams but have been jettisoned as those clubs look to take the next step/go in a different direction. With an average age in their mid-20s, this group are the players who still will likely have fire in their bellies and are looking for a breakout year after having a taste of the NHL and then having it taken away again. They're players who are likely too good for minor league contracts and just looking for a place to land.
Finally, and looking slightly more long-term, are the RFAs who as yet are still unsigned. These are players like Tyson Barrie or Jaden Schwartz - talented and key players in their early to mid-20s who for whatever reason haven't yet settled on a future. They're the type of player who won't be immediate targets for teams, but they should be closely monitored as NHL GMs need to get in touch with their inner vulture - if negotiations break down, trade possibilities open up, and B's have a lot of trade chips.
The reasons players end up on the UFA list are myriad and confusing...but now, after day 1, is when the poker game really begins for NHL GMs. This is when the best value can be had, when negotiations start to get fractious and players have at least one eye on the passing of time, particularly those who decided to test FA with the confidence they'd be in demand, or who never expected to be in this position. Players looking for one last contract, or later-career security at a reasonable price. The humbled, the confused and eventually, the desperate.
This is where the real value is found, and the difference can be made.
This is where FA begins.