No offence to Brian McGrattan and Jamal Mayers, but there were three pending free agent players Flames fans were most interested in when it comes to their future destinations. Of those three, Craig Conroy, Eric Nystrom and Chris Higgins, only the former remains on the free agent market. So how will the fits be for Higgins and Nystrom in their new locales? And where, if anywhere, will Conroy end up?
Eric Nystrom – The former first round draft pick (10th overall, 2002) signed a three year deal with the Minnesota Wild late on July 1st. The deal ends up being worth $4.2 million overall, with an annual cap hit of $1.4 million. When previewing the pending UFA players on the Flames, opinion was split on Nystrom. Do you give him the money his camp was looking for and hope the later season positives we saw become more regular? Or do let him walk and allocate resources to other targets? The Flames clearly chose the latter, and that wasn’t really surprsing.
The writing seemed to be etched in stone on the morning of Canada Day…I had been told by someone close to the situation that Darryl Sutter and the Flames camp didn’t tender a formal offer to the Nystrom camp until the final 24-48 hours before free agency opened. $1.3-$1.8 million seemed to be the range most thought for the 26 year old forward, which I always felt was too steep for a guy with 39 career NHL points. He was an easy guy to like for the way he played, but there was not enough evidence to suggest his on-ice value was worth a whole lot more than what Calgary had payed him last season.
I really do believe the guy had lots more to offer, and I would have loved to see that proven right in a Flames jersey. Unfortunately, however, NHL GM’s can’t be paying fairly good sums of money, on a cap-tight team, to a guy they THINK can offer more, but hasn’t on a consistent basis to this point. All the best in Minnesota to one of the good guys in the game, but from a strictly business standpoint, standing pat was the right move for the Flames.
Chris Higgins – After being acquired by Calgary in the second Olli Jokinen transaction (of which there are now three), Higgins impressed some, while others were more ho-hom on the 26 year old forward. It was an awful season for Higgins, a year he could not put his finger on. If there was bad luck to be had, Higgins had a piece of it, and even in his short 12 game stint with the Flames, it was on display. Whether a stick would break in the slot or a shot would zip high, Higgins couldn’t seem to get his offensive game back to his 20 goal totals with Montreal.
Higgins signed a one year, $1.6 million deal with the Florida Panthers on July 2nd, which I thought was good value for GM Dale Tallon’s team. In terms of cap hit, Higgins was down from the $2.25 million he counted against the Flames and Rangers cap last season, and that was to be expected with his numbers being down. But his overall impact was good, as Kent has pointed out numerous times on FN, and that didn’t seem lost on Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
Sutter made overtures to the Higgins camp, and unlike the Nystrom situation, it seemed as if the lines of communication were much more open leading up to July 1st. But I had the feeling this one wasn’t going to get done as soon as the season finished. The indications I got on Green Garbage Bag Day in April were that, sure, Higgins would listen to offers from the Flames, but entering his first period of unrestricted free agency, he might try and test the market. It seemed similar to the tone I got on the same day two seasons ago, when Jordan Leopold was a pending UFA. As soon as the word from Higgins’s agent was "he’s going to July 1st", once again, the writing was on the wall.
From the standpoint of the player, I don’t think you can really blame the guy. After two frustrating offensive seasons, I think there might have been a "back to hockey, and just hockey" sentiment from Higgins…and that’s what could potentially get in Florida. Sure, the distractions of South Beach are there, but notable other things aren’t. In Montreal, Higgins was playing in the hotest of all hockey hot beds as a former first round pick; in New York, he was playing in his home state in North America’s biggest media market; in Calgary, he had a success starved group of Flames loving fans. In Florida? He’s got hockey. And nice weather. Maybe that’s the right place to reset and refocus. Who knows?
Craig Conroy – Conroy`s future was largely discussed last month as we previewed July 1st, but there`s no harm in updating things. However, there`s not a whole lot to update.
Conroy remains an unrestricted free agent, and we really haven`t heard a whole lot of teams linked to the soon-to-be 39 year old fan favorite. Darryl Sutter said they`re still hoping to have more conversations with him, however this was back on July 2nd, so those talks could be continuing as you read this, or they could have come to a halt in the last ten days.
To me, Conroy seems like the type of free agent we`ll hear signed late this month or sometime during August, even if his 2010-11 team is the Flames. I imagine NHL GM`s realize he still has some sort of value, but with RFA and other UFA players to be signed and re-signed, Conroy isn`t going to register as a high priority at this point. As more and more guys start to go, that`s when a team might take a look. He`s not going to command more than the $1.05 million he counted against the cap last season, so a team won`t have to put a heavy investment into him.
Of course, Conroy`s future with the Flames could very well rest on the future of Daymond Langkow. If Langkow`s health situation takes care of itself, it`ll be tough to slot him in, regardless of how much Sutter loves veteran players he`s familiar with. However, if Langkow`s recovery isn`t progressing in time for him to start the season, Conroy can fit on the team now, and his cap hit will be manageable enough to still work Langkow`s $4.5 million back in when he`s healthy. Very interesting to watch.