The NHL’s first week of free agency has passed with nary an ESPN special in sight, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been without interest. This week in the round-up, we’ll review the fall-out from the Flames’ attempt to recreate, well, something or other, as well as news from other clubs, and I’ll have a look at the Globe and Mail’s series on the potential for new Canadian franchises.
You know, we were just sort of floating along on Thursday afternoon, watching other teams spend a pile of dough and wondering if Alex Tanguay could regain his form upon his return to Cowtown. Little did we know what the boss had up his sleeve. I listened with interest to Darryl Sutter’s press conference last Friday, and beyond his usual potpourri of half-truths, homilies and snark for the assembled scribes, he did unload a few worthwhile bits of information. Daymond Langkow’s status is a worry, full stop. He’s the only center, and one of exactly two forwards total on the current roster (Bourque) that has any recent pedigree of being able to out-play top six competition. If he can’t come back at something near 100%, the club is in a pickle.
No discouraging words from the Captain, though. He took time from working with some young folks yesterday to have a chin-wag with the Calgary media, and exuded his normal sunny optimism about prospects for next year. He’s not entirely wrong when he notes that a few players on the roster a due for a bounce-back, although expecting aging players to pull that sort of performance off isn’t that certain a bet. I’m not sure I buy the premise that Joker and Tanguay have ceilings in the 90 point range at their age and with their recent performance considered, and personally I’d be ecstatic if the three of them managed 180-200 points combined and didn’t get torched in the process.
The club added a few potential ruffians as well, with Raitis Ivanins getting the usual Flame contract for a designated square-dancer. Why did the Flames let Dawes go, again? The answer to that is actually something Daz hinted at when he called the diminutive Winnipegger " a good little player." The fetish that this and a few other clubs in the league have for size and toughness over skill on their bottom two lines is a bit of a head-scratcher. The Ivanins types never play when the games are in the balance, and they never play in the post-season. Bah.
The usual array of questionable contracts flew around last Thursday, and Derek Boogaard almost certainly received the worst one of all. It’s a completely indefensible deal. Even by sluggo standards, he can’t play. Just for the purposes of comparison, he received a better contract than Dan Ellis, who’s an actual useful NHL goalie, more money than our old pal Chris Higgins, and almost as much per year as Chris Mason, who was the next goalie in line for Canada’s Olympic team. I don’t like the Ivanins deal. If Boogaard was on my team, I might stroke out.
Defencemen were the players that made off with most of the booty last week, but of all the deals handed out, the only one where I thought, "that’s not bad" was the Michalek deal. It’s full value for his skills, but he’s very good at playing top comp and doing it from some less than ideal starting points. It hasn’t just been UFA defenders getting paid. Braydon Coburn, Kyle Quincey and Jeff Schultz all received their piece of the rock this week, and the salary numbers for all of them suggest that the market value for Ian White is, at a minimum, 3 million a year. Schultz only got 2.75M, but he got a longer term and he’s not likely as good as White or Coburn.
Meanwhile, the closest thing that the NHL has to the "will he, won’t he" madness infecting the NBA at the moment is the tiresome Kovy-stakes. If he really wants to win, he can’t expect a team to pay him 10 mil a year. I don’t hate him, but he isn’t that good, and any team that dropped enough salary to accommodate him would likely be too thin to make a run through the post-season. This morning brings news that the Devils might be the last NHL team standing, which may well snip Rudy Kelly’s last strand of sanity.
Speaking of people that wanted too much to hang around North America, Evgeni Nabokov hit the bricks yesterday, and the salary he received from SKA almost certainly would dwarf any offer that he might have garnered on this side of the ocean. It’s possible, as Gabe Desjardins has been postulating this week, that the goalie market has actually now over-corrected, but Nabokov was a roughly league average goalie asking for big money in a well-stocked market. As long as he stuck to his salary demands, his story was always going to end this way.
Another player that might well have to make a leap to the East (and I don’t mean Conference) is Alex Frolov. He’s the next most famous forward left that has any tread on his tires, and yet it’s largely been crickets. He’s a good player, but he didn’t exactly endear himself to Terry Murray or Dean Lombardi at various points last year, and if you want to strangle your value as a UFA, having your boxcar numbers slide while feuding with club management is a pretty sure-fire way to do so. His case does point to the difficulty that teams sometimes have in assessing a dollar figure to players that can handle tough comp. Is he worth 5 million a year, as his demands are reputed to be? Questionable, really. I’m not sure he’s been as good or better than Rene Bourque the last two years, to use a local example. Is Frolov worth 50% more than RBQ? Like I said, questionable at best, even though he’s a player I hold in some esteem.
In off-ice matters, the Globe and Mail and TSN have been reviewing the viability of various cities in Canada should the NHL need to locate a franchise north of the border. Anyone following closely won’t be surprised by the results. There are flaws in every potential Canadian market, whether from a lack of population/head offices (Winnipeg, Quebec) to unsuitable buildings (Hamilton) to the presence of the Leafs (Hamilton, Toronto 2). Bruce Dowbiggin brings up the splitting of local TV markets as well, which is something that rarely gets discussed. Consider a potential Winnipeg team for a moment. The Flames and Oilers currently have unfettered access to the Prairies via Sportsnet West. I can watch a Flames’ game here in Winnipeg without having to resort to anything beyond my normal cable package. So can anyone in Saskatchewan. What would be Winnipeg’s "local" TV footprint if a team was moved here? Just Manitoba? Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario from Thunder Bay west? The latter would likely give a new team a better chance of attracting ad revenue, but would the Flames and Oilers just accept the loss of their secondary market out of good will? I don’t doubt that there are fresh eyeballs in Manitoba and maybe Saskatchewan that would prefer to watch a Winnipeg team’s game, but the fact remains that no matter were the Winnipeg team’s viewers came from, the result would still be at least a small cut to the viewership (and ad revenue) of the Alberta franchises.
Finally this week, I’m sure most of you have read Derek Zona’s piece at Copper and Blue regarding discrimination and homophobia in hockey. If you haven’t, it and John Fischer’s companion post at In Lou We Trust are well worth the time.
We’ll talk to you next week.