There is a seasonal element to NHL player movement that mirrors the ups and downs stock market - and nowhere is that more evident than in the case of Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider, two useful players who are languishing on the unrestricted free-agent list, some 17 days and counting after the doors opened for business in the summer of 2009.
Not so long ago - or in the days and weeks leading up to the NHL trading deadline - Morris and Schneider were in-demand commodities whose value was high. The Montreal Canadiens needed help on the blue line so badly that they gave up a second-round draft choice to rent Schneider for two months from the Atlanta Thrashers. The New York Rangers gave up three players to the Phoenix Coyotes - Dmitri Kalinin, Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes (since moved to the Calgary Flames) - so that Morris could bolster their blue line.
Schneider did his job relatively well, too, stabilizing the Canadiens on the power play. Seventeen points in 23 regular-season games was pretty good production for a 39-year-old playing out his contract (Schneider turned 40 last month). The Rangers thought enough of Morris to play him just under 20 minutes per night in the 18 regular-season games in which he appeared for them, and picked up eight assists along the way.
Alas, neither team accomplished much in the first round of the playoffs - and so, when the decision was made by both Montreal and New York to head in different off-season directions, players that had a fairly significant acquisition cost attached to them not so long ago suddenly have much less value, even though could be had for the cost of their contracts.
That's how the free-agent market has evolved these past couple of years. Values tend to rise nearer to the deadline, after the dollars have clicked off the contract. Values tend to fall in the summer, when every team needs to get its financial house back in order.
Halfway through July, the net result is that some relatively useful players remain available. The market generally slows to a crawl around now and then picks up again towards the end of August, leaving the players on pins and needles for the better part of the summer, not knowing where they might eventually land. And the competition for players from Russia - which was supposed to be a bigger option - becomes less so because their season starts months earlier than the NHL's.
As unsigned players start to get a little desperate and begin to drop their prices, this is alsowhen some of the best free-agent bargains tend to be found.
Five of the players caught up in Montreal's rebuilding process are still out there - Schneider, Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang, Patrice Brisebois and Francois Bouillon. Montreal went into the free-agency period with money to burn, but after dramatically remaking their team, they're effectively spent out with $52.43-million (all currency U.S.) committed to next season with restricted free agents Tomas Plekanec and Matt D'Agostini still to sign.
The Columbus Blue Jackets also have a number of their ex-players still up for grabs - Michael Peca, Manny Malhotra and Jason Williams. Essentially, Columbus went into the market and grabbed the ex-Duck, ex-Hawk Sami Pahlsson to do the job Peca was brought in for a couple of years ago - and anchor the checking line. Peca is still only 35, but the perception is that there's been a lot of wear and tear on his frame, even though he did get into 71 games for the Blue Jackets last season and averaging about 14 minutes per night. Malhotra occasionally played on the top line after an injury ended Derick Brassard's season.
The hope in Columbus is that Brassard and Antoine Vermette will be the team's two top centres with Pahlsson a solid third. Of the three, the versatile Williams is probably the only one of some interest to the team.
The fact that Tanguay remains available is marginally surprising given that Montreal gave up a first-rounder to get him from Calgary only a year before. But Tanguay's reputation - skilled, but soft - and the fact that he's recovering from off-season surgery suggests that any team interested in his services wants him for the short term to start, just to see if he's healthy and a fit with their team.
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