Nobody can say exactly what unrestricted free agency will look like this summer, because the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement with the players is about to expire in September and some believe there’s a lockout looming. The market could grind to a complete halt, or it could reward just a select handful of ultra-desirable players, such as the New Jersey Devils’ Zach Parise.
Parise is a unique commodity - young (27), American (born in Minneapolis), engaging, and skilled. Until a knee injury sidelined him for all but 13 games last season, he’d piled up 176 points in the previous two years for the Devils and scored a career high 45 goals in 2009.
In Calgary this week, Parise demonstrated all the different sides of his personality. He noted that his first brush with hockey stardom came in the annual Mac’s Midget tournament, with Shattuck St. Mary’s high school. He talked about how it took him a good 15 to 20 games to get the rust off his game at the start of the year, but he’s been piling up the points since early December. He acknowledged that dollars would be a major factor in the upcoming contract negotiations, but the chance to win a championship would also figure prominently in his decision.
The Devils usually get their guys signed when they really want them, but if they cannot get a deal done with Parise and if he ever hits the open market, expect the Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings to be waving their checkbooks wildly in front of his face.
The Kings bid over $80-million for Ilya Kovalchuk two summers ago, only to lose him to the Devils. It wouldn’t break their hearts if they could snag Parise out from under New Jersey this time around.
SCHENN AND SCHENN?: Now that the Michael Cammalleri-for-Rene Bourque deal is in the books, signifying the unofficial countdown to the NHL trading deadline, you wonder if the Philadelphia Flyers can do what the Toronto Maple Leafs could not a couple of years back and get the two Schenn boys, Luke and Brayden, in the same lineup. Rumour mongering aside, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. The Leafs did what they could to draft Brayden back in 2009, but the Kings wouldn’t swap places with them - fifth for seventh - to make it happen. The Kings steadfastly resolutely refused to trade Brayden Schenn’s rights until the Flyers made them an offer they couldn’t refuse last June at the draft - Mike Richards, who has been a nice upgrade to their still thin collection of top-six forwards.
Now, with Chris Pronger’s career in jeopardy and the Flyers trolling around for a young top-four defenceman, surprise, it is the Maple Leafs that boast a rare surplus at that position. And if the price to land a player of James Van Riemsdyk’s quality happens to be Luke Schenn, well, it is not unreasonable to think there could be a fit there. Philadelphia is learning that without Pronger, their A-list defence corps has a distinct B-minus feel to it, and is exacerbated by Ilya Bryzgalov’s struggles in goal. Playing the way he is at the moment, Luke Schenn is no saviour - and no Pronger either - but the Flyers have seemingly taken a half-step backward in order to some day soon move a couple of steps forward, which would give both the Schenn boys time to grow and mature together on an intriguing, ever-changing Flyers’ roster.
AND SPEAKING OF BRYZGALOV: For some, HBO’s 24/7 series illustrated what a quirky, complex individual Bryzgalov really is. It’s understandable if not every fan knew that ahead of the TV series, which probed deeply into his private life. However, it is inexcusable if the Flyers didn’t understand what they were getting when they invested $50-million plus into Bryzgalov, last year’s key off-season free-agent acquisition and the player who was - once and for all - supposed to solve their goaltending issues. All those years playing in Phoenix, Bryzgalov was one of the Coyotes’ most marketable players, and he was front and centre whenever they were trying to drum up interest in the team. A couple of years ago, just before their first-round playoff series against Detroit, Bryzgalov made the rounds of the local TV stations, doing the talk shows and memorably on one occasion, parodied the Ron Burgundy character from Anchorman. Last spring, he made headlines in Winnipeg by telling reporters that under no circumstances did he want to move there, if the franchise were forced to relocate. Remember the Olympics? Bryzgalov’s comment, after Russia’s loss to Canada: “They came at us like gorillas out of the cage.”