There’s considerable risk whenever an NHL general manager moves to acquire an impending unrestricted free agent’s rights. There’s next to zero guarantee that the player being coveted will sign with his temporary home, unless an informal agreement is brokered in advance, and even though it’s usually fringe prospects or mid-round draft picks going the other way – teams are giving SOMETHING up for little more than a head start at snatching up a player looking for a raise. Paul Holmgren took that risk when he acquired the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes for Matt Clackson, a third round pick and future considerations.

It’s a risk that Holmgren and the Flyers are familiar with, having acquired the rights to both Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen from the Nashville Predators in the summer of 2007. The Flyers managed to sign both players to six-year contracts, with a first round pick (formerly Nashville’s) going to the Predators in exchange. Always one to take a chance on rights, Holmgren was rumoured to have had a verbal agreement in place last summer with the San Jose Sharks for the rights to Evgeni Nabokov, which went nowhere after the goaltender bolted for Russia. With Bryzgalov, Holmgren and the Flyers are hoping to reach a long-term deal in advance of July 1st, much like they did with Hartnell and Timonen.

We got to thinking about other instances of rights trading hands and put together a shortlist of some of the more notable instances in recent years. As you’ll see, sometimes the risk doesn’t payoff:

  • The Calgary Flames acquired the rights to Jay Bouwmeester from the Florida Panthers in June of 2009 in exchange for Jordan Leopold and a third round selection in the 2009 draft. The Flames signed Bouwmeester to a five-year $33 million contract just three days after picking up his rights.
  • Dan Hamhuis’ rights were shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers from Nashville at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, only to be flipped again the next day to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a third round pick. Hamhuis waited it out and eventually signed with the Vancouver Canucks.
  • The Nashville Predators swung yet another deal last summer involving an impending UFA’s rights when they sent Dan Ellis’ rights to Montreal for Sergei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn finished the 2010-11 season tied for first in scoring on the Predators, while Ellis would eventually sign with Tampa Bay before getting shipped to Anaheim at the trade deadline.
  • Ryan Malone’s negotiating rights, along with Gary Roberts, were traded by Pittsburgh to Tampa Bay in the summer of 2008 in exchange for a 2009 conditional draft pick. The pick became a third rounder (Ben Hanowski) when Malone inked a deal with the Lightning.
  • The New York Rangers sent Mark Messier’s rights to the San Jose Sharks in June of 2003 for future considerations, but Messier ended up re-signing with the Rangers in September.
  • The Rangers were busy moving veterans around in the summer of 2003, having also traded Brian Leetch’s negotiating rights to the Edmonton Oilers for Jussi Markkanen and a 2004 fourth round draft choice. Leetch eventually re-signed in New York, while that fourth rounder would eventually become Ryan Callahan.
  • The aforementioned Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen were sent to Philadelphia for the Flyer’s first round pick (previously acquired from Nashville in the Peter Forsberg trade) in 2007. The Flyers locked up both players to six-year deals worth $25.2 million and $37.8 million, respectively. The Predators would take defenceman Jonathan Blum with the pick.

As Kent Wilson noted in his post this morning, the Flyers have some work to do if they plan on tendering an offer to Bryzgalov in the range that most expect him to be seeking. As a team that’s pressed up against the cap with a plethora of large contracts, the ultimate cost of solidifying their goaltending could climb to much greater heights.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Flyers’ risk was worth it…