There is no other time of the year when Canada’s two national games – both blood sports – seem so much the same.
That would be hockey and politics, not hockey and lacrosse.
Just over a week ago there was the NHL entry draft, a time when the scouts and assistants who surround general managers sound eerily like the advisers pumping up the Prime Minister at an international summit.
You know, the old “We got what exactly what we wanted” line, along with some outrageous spin-doctoring:
“We were stunned he was still available in the 44th round.”
“I can tell you we had him ranked much higher than that.”
“Once he matures…”
And this weekend we entered hockey’s equivalent of cabinet shuffles and new governments: the free-agency frenzy that, as of suppertime Monday, had amounted to a few backbenchers being shuffled about and a few very minor crossings of the floor.
It’s pretty hard to get excited, let alone care, where the likes of George Parros, Joe Corvo, David Moss, Adam Burish, Aaron Rome, et al. end up, but there were, nonetheless, a few changes worth noting – even if only by an arched eyebrow.
While it is hard to imagine the Montreal Canadiens getting any smaller than they have been the last few years, the addition of Francis Bouillon from the Nashville Predators will be interesting. He’s listed at 5 foot 8, which would put the Eiffel Tower halfway to the moon, but he is, all the same, an exceptional talent.
Far more puzzling is the Habs reported decision not to buy out the contract of failed forward Scott Gomez. Several beer leagues in Montreal were hoping to land his services.
And even more mystifying is the Habs hiring on of Colby Armstrong, a total bust in Toronto as a free-agent signing. If Armstrong returns to his once-upon-a-time-feisty-form with the Pittsburgh Penguins – where new Canadiens coach Michel Therrien loved him – his name will occupy far more radio air time in Toronto than it will in Montreal.
The Ottawa Senators have long been accused of not being tough enough for the postseason. They let never-lose-a-fight defenceman Matt Carkner go to the Islanders for a (ridiculous) three-year, $4.5-million deal, they let Zenon Konopka leave for the Minnesota Wild and they lost not-top-six-and-not-bottom-six forward Nick Foligno in a trade with Columbus Blue Jackets for defenceman Marc Methot. They also signed Guillaume Latendresse to a one-year deal. Latendresse is huge – 6 foot 2, 240 pounds – but has played so little over the past two seasons due to injury no one knows what difference, if any, he will make.
Those of us who naively cling to old notions of team and player loyalty are heartened to see Martin Brodeur entering middle age as a New Jersey Devil, surely on his final contract. Seeing him in some other jersey would be akin to seeing Rocket Richard in a Boston Bruins sweater, or Gretzky as a St. Louis Blue … wait?
The biggest free-agent signing of the holiday weekend was not Zach Parise or Ryan Suter, but Alexander Radulov, who is leaving his Nashville Predators for a reported four-year, $36.8-million deal with CSKA Moscow of Russia’s Continental Hockey League. It is not known whether or not he received the “no curfew” clause he was demanding.
Any Canadian general manager will tell you that it is almost impossible for a Canadian team to attract the very top free agents. When one has total control over where they will play, hockey takes a back seat to spouse, weather, anonymity and taxes. How nice, then, to see Jason Garrison leave the sun, sand and golf of Florida for a six-year, $27.6-million deal with the Vancouver Canucks, within easy commute of his birthplace in White Rock.
And how surprising to see Justin Schultz, the 22-year-old college sensation who could have gone anywhere he wished, sign with the Edmonton Oilers and then say, “Playing in Canada has always been a huge thing for me.” More political than that, hockey doesn’t get.