Monday, August 01, 2005

The Free Agent Mayhem Begins

Today, at noon EST, those players whose contracts are expiring who don't have qualifying offers or meet various criteria become unrestricted free agents: and like starved dogs thrown a juicy steak, the 30 NHL GMs will attack the phone lines with vigour in an attempt to land some of these free agents to build a team.

The list of big-named unrestricted free agents is long: Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Scott Niedermayer, Sergei Gonchar, Adam Foote, Miroslav Satan, Brian Rafalski, Glen Murray; that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Almost as interesting as who-ends-up-where is the dramatic change in dynamic of the free-agent market. No longer will it simply be about 'in what city can I get the most money for the longest term'; with all teams on a relatively level financial playing field, the amount of money one team is offering won't be substantially larger than others. Instead, priorities such as team competitiveness, closeness to home, whether the city is good for raising a family and settling-down-in, and -- if you believe rumors about Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund -- perhaps even the ability to play with friends.

Instead of a player taking $9 million per year for 5 years to play in Dallas or New York, you might even see a player take a 3-year, $5 million deal in a competitive, hockey-friendly market over a 4 year, $6 million deal to play in obscurity on a bad team. Because gone is the ability to buy a contender, many of the pricier free agents this year will be relied upon to provide a veteran presence or galvanize a young roster and turn them into a contender.

Also interesting is that there is a fixed amount of cap space to spread amongst all players. Will players hold out to find the most competitive offer? Or will they be eager to jump at the first acceptable deal because as teams and cap budgets fill up, that deal might disappear? Players holding out for the best offer might, instead, find their offers steadily decreasing as teams get closer to the 23-man number and have less and less money to add that last missing piece.

It's an entirely new market, and it's never seen this level of talent before. Who needs a dispersal draft when you've got the next best thing?

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