Every summer it seems like there are a handful of guys who slip through the cracks of GMs’ attention spans for what seems like way too long, and certainly this offseason has been no exception. While teams scrambled to give too-old or too-mediocre players too much money, others seemed, for relatively few reasons, to sit on the market for far too long.
The interesting thing, though, is that some of these guys are still on the market as a result what seems to be a fit of good sense by general managers league-wide, which as you likely know all too well, is rather a rare thing. Jaromir Jagr, for instance, remains unsigned and now appears to be preparing himself mentally for the possibility that he won’t be coming back to the NHL next year, if ever.
Could it be that general managers now officially see Jagr as being too old? Not worth giving $4 million for a year or something like that? Seems like it would be impossible, doesn’t it? He still put up 35 points in 45 games last season, which is nothing to sneeze at, and his underlying numbers all seem to show that he was pretty effective at driving play, even if he rarely did so in a way that was aesthetically appealing. The only thing I can think of, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, is that his zero goals in the Bruins’ playoff run is what’s keeping interest limited. I can’t imagine that any GMs are that cautious of the fact that he’s now 41 years old, given that they were not shy about giving him slightly more money at 40 and his points-per-game actually went up despite having arguably worse teammates in Dallas and Boston than he had in Philadelphia.
Mikhail Grabovski and Damien Brunner, meanwhile, seem like the more obvious guys for whom teams should — and, you’d think, would — be lined up around the block.
The obvious stigma for Grabovski is that a team as bad as the Maple Leafs bought him out, and perhaps that he’s one of those dangerous and terrible Russian players we’re always hearing so much about. But one must also consider that he’s not Russian and also that the Maple Leafs are run like an only-somewhat successful tire fire. On the other hand, he is a proven driver of possession who is not so far removed (by a year of being woefully misused by a coach who is an obvious idiot) from two consecutive 50-point seasons. If Derek Roy of all people can get $4 million out of St. Louis, albeit for one year, then certainly interest in Grabovski should be far more significant. So significant that they’re willing to pay him something commensurate to that level for multiple years which is what he’s probably — and should be — asking for? Well, that much I doubt.
Brunner is a little easier to understand all the way around. Nothing overwhelming in terms of possession, and you can probably make the argument that he was the product of his linemates, but when he’s asking for about the same money as Danny Cleary on a two- or three-year deal, and he’s just 26, don’t you at least kick the tires on that? Nashville just gave Eric Nystrom four years and $10 million. Brunner, though a player with far different skills, seems in all respects to be a better investment. Yet he waits by the phone nonetheless.
Tom Gilbert is another guy I kind of can’t believe hasn’t been scooped up, though again the arguments against bringing him aboard are at least as convincing as those for it. His possession numbers aren’t great and neither is his points total. However, when used in the right situations, he could be an effective defenseman. It’s hard to guess at what his asking price might be, but some of the money being thrown around on defensemen this summer seems to dictate he could be a reasonable option for just about any team looking for a good third-pairing guy. If Ben Lovejoy can get three years, anybody should be able to.
Finally, we come to a player who is on this list of guys who should really have been signed by now literally every time he’s a free agent: Kyle Wellwood. I don’t know whose dog he ran over (easier joke: “ate”) to be so routinely given short shrift. Like a few of the others, he took a big step back in terms of production this season, but was among the best on the Jets in terms of driving possession; he started 48 percent of his shifts outside the offensive zone, and ended 52.6 percent of them there. He was also only given 12 minutes a night at even strength, and finished just 13th on the team in power play TOI, which, yup, that’s going to cut into your point totals. He also won 55.1 percent of his dras last season (though somehow only took 78).
There’s really no good reason for these guys to not be signed, other than GMs aren’t always great at player evaluation. Which I suppose isn’t news at all.