Predictions for a free-agent Sunday that could end up being much ado about nothing, if the two prize players available – New Jersey Devils’ forward Zach Parise and Nashville Predators’ defenceman Ryan Suter – do the prudent thing and sleep on the multiple offers that come their way today.
Remember, Parise is represented by the same Toronto player agency that handled last year’s premier free agent, Brad Richards. Like Parise, Richards had multiple offers to ponder, from teams as disparate as the New York Rangers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Calgary Flames.
Like Parise, Richards heard from a lot of suitors personally and then decided to wait a day to make a final commitment. When you consider that a decision as monumental as this one will determine a player’s path for years to come and maybe even for the rest of his playing life, who wouldn’t want to take a deep breath and think it through for at least 24 hours – even if that disappoints the networks and fans and teams that want to see these deals come to an instant conclusion?
Suter is in the same strong bargaining position as Parise, with teams lining up to make offers for his rights. His agent is Neil Sheehy who was the long-time defence partner for his uncle Gary Suter. It was reported Sunday that Chris Chelios, another long-time running mate of Gary Suter’s, would be part of the Detroit Red Wings’ team, trying to coax Suter to the Motor City.
Is it just me, or is this a relatively new phenomenon – teams rolling out players from their present and their past to convince free agents that their team is the best option? The Edmonton Oilers used that strategy to land coveted defenceman Justin Schultz on Saturday. The Oilers won a bidding war of sorts for Schultz – essentially, every team offered the same two-year entry-level contract for the maximum in salary and signing bonuses – by putting on a full press to court him. Taylor Hall made a pitch on behalf of the current edition of the team; Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey were part of the alumni push. And of course, coach Ralph Krueger and director of hockey operations Kevin Lowe were also there to extol the virtue of the teams.
Suter has said that he will circle back and talk with Nashville once he’s heard all the offers, and if so, it is hard to imagine that how that can all be accomplished in a single business day – or even why it needs to be. Others may be forced to wait until the Suter and/or Parise dominoes fall, but they can take their time. Anybody who puts a time frame on a decision is likely to be dropped from the bidding in the early stages.
Accordingly if Parise and Suter are still lingering on the market when business shuts down Sunday night, what could happen today? It is unlikely that the third-most attractive forward, Shane Doan, will sign with anyone until he gets a clearer sense of what is happening with the Phoenix Coyotes’ future in the Arizona desert. That won’t be decided until the second week of July, at the earliest. Ideally, Doan wants to stay and play for the only franchise he’s ever played for in his career. But if it looks as if the Coyotes are one-and-done in the desert after this year, and Doan needs to move on, then the Vancouver Canucks would likely move to the front of the line of the teams bidding for his rights. Doan would be a good fit in Vancouver, but don’t expect anything firm there until fare deeper into the summer’s free agent period.
Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils is similar to Doan in the sense that he too has only played for one franchise in his NHL life. As with the Coyotes, the ownership uncertainty in New Jersey is playing havoc with Brodeur’s future too, to the extent that he will explore free agency, with his new agent, Pat Brisson of CAA (who also represents Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) handling the negotiations. Brodeur has pretty much done handshake deals with Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello throughout his career, and usually settled for less than he could have got on the open market. The fact that is no longer willing to do so speaks volumes about the uncertainty in New Jersey. If Brodeur signs with anyone today – the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Chicago Blackhawks – then that may represent the biggest news of the day.
A year ago, another of the NHL’s greying stars, Jaromir Jagr, surprised all by opting to join the Philadelphia Flyers ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Montreal Canadiens, largely because Philadelphia offered him the most money ($3.3-million). If the Calgary Flames come in with the highest bid, there is a thought that Jagr would consider moving to Alberta to play out what might be the final year of his career. The Flames have already overpaid to add defenceman Dennis Wideman (five years, $26.5-million) and then re-signed two of their own journeymen, forward Lee Stempniak and defenceman Cory Sarich to new contracts. While the appetite outside of Calgary appears to be for a complete remake, internally, the Flames are staying the course, and trying to compete while they still have right winger Jarome Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff under contract. Calgary can start negotiating an extension with Iginla today, in the same way the Penguins could with Crosby and the Kings with Jonthan Quick. Soon enough, the Flames will know if Iginla wants to stay on beyond the 2012-13 season or perhaps go elsewhere. That will ultimately determine how their future looks long-term. Short-term, they are still trying to patch and pray, same as they have in the past three years.
Ultimately, it could be a day when the likes of Matt Carle and P.A. Parenteau join Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino in the unexpected multi-millionaires club, two serviceable NHLers who made a wise choice – for their pocket books, if not necessarily for their careers – by getting to July 1, where a whole lot of teams with salary-cap space to spare are chasing a relatively thin crop of free agents, ready to overpay to fill a hole or a spot on the depth chart.