THE SCENE: The set of a Canadian national sports station, July 1st, 2013.
Host: Hi, and welcome to our coverage of the free agent madness 2013. This year is an unprecedented season in the way of unrestricted free agency, with so many of the NHL’s biggest stars opting for the option for free agency after the shortened, un-capped season. I’ll send it over to our business insider and he can explain the particulars.
Hockey Business Insider: Thanks, Host. Basically, this is going to be a completely mad summer in the way of free agents. It’s part of the collective bargaining agreement that the NHL and the NHLPA signed in December to preserve a short season, and is modelled after a solution found on a baseball blog online written by somebody under the pseudonym Tom Tango. The major issue with the bargaining of last fall was that the NHL and PA had no way to reconcile the current contracts signed with the league’s new financial structure, which called for a lower percentage of hockey-related revenue to be paid off to players.
Tango’s solution was to drop the split of HRR immediately to 50-50 and roll back all contracts, however the individual players could choose whether to take the modified contract or opt for free agency. As a result, a lot of the game’s stars, who will not only lose millions on a salary rollback of this scope, also feel somewhat betrayed by their ownership and management signing them to long deals that they had no intention of honouring.
Host: Right, and who does this benefit?
Hockey Business Insider: Well, mostly hockey commentators, who are bound to make a fortune discussing all the transactions, but actually, you’ll find that most of the players who opted for UFA are the guys who never got that lifetime contract in the last round. While Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby both lose a good chunk of pocket change under the agreement, their future is secure, each of them making well over $60-million over the course of their careers. This gives the opportunity for some guys, Jonathan Toews for instance, who stood to lose $1.6-million over two seasons, to opt for free agency two years earlier than expected.
But also, a number of teams could. You look at the Toronto Maple Leafs, for instance. Sure, they’re losing top players like Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Nikolai Kulemin, but with only seven players tied up in contracts, general manager Brian Burke has a virtually clean slate to work with, and a lot of salary cap space as well. With the six-year limit on contracts and the provision that wipes signing bonuses from the table that turn contracts into back divers, Burke, who is philosophically opposed to those contracts is now fighting on an even platform with his competitors. He has the money to spend and the desire, and there’s a lot of talk of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry joining the Leafs, and the Leafs have more opportunity to sign some of the other elite forwards on the market like James Neal, Eric Staal, and Jason Spezza, just to name a few.
Host: Of course you mentioned Neal, Staal and Spezza, but let’s bring in our top analyst to discuss other players whose names are on the market today.
Top Hockey Analyst: Well, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, who both had two years left on their deals, have hit the market. While we won’t have the Parise-Suter watch of last season, it’s worth noting that Ryan Suter has opted to leave the Minnesota Wild while Zach Parise accepted his current deal. I think he didn’t feel he could trust management and accept the rollback. Probably Boston’s biggest star, Patrice Bergeron, hits the open market an hour from now and it’ll be interesting to see how much money he makes as an elite defensive forward. The Philadelphia Flyers will probably be the most effective. They’re losing every eligible forward off their roster with the exception of Maxime Talbot, Scott Hartnell, and Wayne Simmonds, with players thinking they can make a few extra bucks elsewhere. That puts Claude Giroux to UFA, Danny Briere to UFA, Jakub Voracek, Matt Read. Only entry-level guys like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are safe off their roster, and they weren’t allowed to opt for UFA under the agreement.
Host: To our second analyst, the Montreal Canadiens won their first Stanley Cup since 1993 in the shortened season. What changes will they have to make?
Analyst: Well, Conn Smythe winner Scott Gomez is sticking around, but the team is set to lose Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, and most importantly, the playoffs’ leading goal scorer Max Pacioretty will re-negotiate a contract with some team, right before his extension was due to set in. I bet there are many teams who are willing to give him upwards of the $23-million he was set to make over the course of this deal. The big talk with them of how they’ll try and spend money is not only by making a big pitch to retain Pacioretty, but maybe add some of the players off of division rivals and position themselves in the Northeast. That could mean they could look at Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville off of Buffalo, or even Rich Peverley or David Krejci off of Boston.
Host: The Bruins situation is interesting because it’s clear their core will be around Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic. They’re losing a good chunk of their depth players today, and Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton the only NHL defencemen the team has under contract.
Like last season’s Shea Weber watch, this one comes with a twist. Shea Weber, who collected a $13-million signing bonus this offseason plus $7-million more playing 57 games with the Predators this season, opts for UFA and the opportunity to choose his destination unlike last season. That Game 7 loss to the eventual Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks in the first round his last game as a Predator.
Analyst: And I don’t think he thinks he can make more money, he just wanted to choose his own path. Obviously last summer he didn’t forecast his future in Nashville and got some bad advice when he signed that offer sheet with the Flyers.
Host: Insider, where does he see himself?
Insider: Well, Philadelphia has the money to spend, but if money isn’t going to be an issue, I think it might be Vancouver. The Canucks have sent out a large contingent of their management team to Kelowna, B.C. this morning and it looks like they’ll get the first chance to talk with Weber. The Canucks have also sent some very respected ex-players such as Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund off to Calgary in an effort to court lifetime Flames superstar Jarome Iginla. I don’t know how they could fit both players under the salary cap, but we know Iginla wants to play for a team with a chance to win.
Host: Well, we’ll go to commercial. Stick with us, as we’re about the see one of the craziest days in free agency history go down. Not only the normal selection of players hit free agency today, but a few of the game’s biggest stars have gone UFA as well. This is going to certainly be a day that’s going to make or break several NHL franchises today, and we’ll see if the Edmonton Oilers can finally make a play to improve on the pieces surrounding their last four NHL first-overall picks, with Nathan MacKinnon joining Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall at last week’s draft.