Whatever level of frenzy NHL free agency brings – be it manic or muted – nothing that happens Friday, when the market officially opens, can top the pure, old-fashioned hockey deal that went down 24 hours earlier.
It is rare a team will surrender the rights to a player, drafted second overall, that scored 29 goals as a 20-year-old, but that’s exactly what happened when the Boston Bruins shipped Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars in a massive seven-player deal that brought them Loui Eriksson and prospects in return.
Eriksson is a gem. He annually tops the list of most-underrated players in the NHL and, just two weeks short of his 28th birthday, he will give the Bruins reliability, consistency and stability – all the things they want in a player and Seguin couldn’t deliver. He is also ultradurable, having missed just three games over the past five seasons.
Before his scoring numbers fell off this year, Eriksson had been averaging close to a point per game from 2009-12, and had four consecutive years of scoring 26 goals or more. Head coach Claude Julien is going to love him.
But in exchange for Eriksson, the Bruins took a calculated risk in trading away Seguin, a player with a far-greater upside who may perhaps mature into a dominant centre under the new Dallas regime headed by general manager Jim Nill and head coach Lindy Ruff.
Nill joined Dallas this past spring, after two decades in the Detroit Red Wings organization, where he had a front-row seat to a lot of what Seguin accomplished as a junior with the Plymouth Whalers. Seguin was seen as the rawer of the two talents in 2010, when the NHL entry draft fixated on Tyler vs. Taylor – Seguin vs. Hall – and now he’ll get a much-needed clean slate in the heart of Texas.
The Seguin-Eriksson deal (which also included Rich Peverley and Ryan Button going to the Stars and Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser going to the Bruins) was a fascinating development in a fast-and-furious week around the NHL. Teams systematically dumped bad contracts through compliance buyouts and cleared off salary-cap space to bid on the comparatively nondescript group of unrestricted free agents that hits the market Friday.
The problem with this year’s crop of players is most of the really intriguing commodities re-signed with their teams, including the duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with the Anaheim Ducks.
Daniel Brière was one of the more attractive candidates out there, but he, too, is off the market after verbally notifying the Montreal Canadiens that he will sign a two-year, $8-million (U.S.) deal to join them.
Montreal is small and getting smaller, but you cannot dispute Brière’s fabulous playoff pedigree – 109 points in 108 career games. Few players elevate their games in the postseason the way he can.
Former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla is probably the biggest name in the class of 2013, although it is likely Bruins centre Nathan Horton who will draw the most interest, given how well he played in the playoffs.
Once upon a time, Horton and Stephen Weiss were the two most prominent players on a succession of Florida Panthers teams that kept missing the playoffs. Weiss is available this summer, too, and both should cash in, even if their respective injury histories might give teams pause.
The Edmonton Oilers were also busy, courting free-agent winger David Clarkson and trying to complete a trade to send veteran centre Shawn Horcoff to the Stars.
Every summer, one or two teams spend outside of their usual comfort zones to spur the market.
Two years ago, it was the Buffalo Sabres. Last year, it was the Minnesota Wild. This year, it might be the New York Islanders, who unexpectedly made the playoffs and are a year away from moving to Brooklyn.
The Islanders have the most cap space available – about $32-million – and have their best player, John Tavares, signed through 2017-18 for a reasonable cap hit of $5.5-million.
The Isles would need to step up for any of the available unrestricted free agents to bolster a blueline that has already lost Mark Streit to the Philadelphia Flyers, even if means paying outrageously.
“Signing someone to a big deal and then trading them doesn’t mean that you don’t like the player or he’s not an important part of your team,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said of Seguin. “What you have to understand in this environment, right now, is the cap goes down $7-million and you have to make some hard choices, hard decisions.
“You have to manage your team, manage your players and manage your cap. That was part of the reason why we made this move.”
Historically, NHL GMs make more mistakes in free agency than at any other time in the year, knowing they’ll have to overpay to get the players they want and often ruing decisions long after the fact.
Some believe the collective pursuit of unrestricted free agents will be more sober this summer because of the aforementioned shrinking cap – and that reasonable, cautious, prudent spending habits will be the order of the day.
Odds are, that’s going to be wrong again.
Privately, a lot of GMs believe league revenues will soar next year, meaning the cap is going right back up, perhaps by as much as $10-million. That anticipation – and thinking big-picture, long-term thoughts – will play into their buying decisions.
The dollars and terms the likes of Clarkson and Tyler Bozek will command might even make you forget about Ville Leino – for a while anyway.