It’s a free agent frenzy in name only, almost always.
There have been a few exceptions in every market, where July 1 is actually the most important day of the year for that city’s NHL team – although that’s not a good thing, really, if triumphs on signing day trump anything you’ll do in the playoffs.
But the other reality is, everything that happens on the first day of free agency – or at the draft, or in the final hours before the trade deadline – is like a plate of Panda Express: it fills you up only to make you more hungry. It’s a cup of Tang to a glass of milk, like binge-watching something on Netflix instead of waiting till next week.
‘Good. You’ve signed this player… we all knew you’d sign that player, though. So, who else are you gonna sign? Oh, you got a draft pick back in March? I’d already forgotten about that… so, who else are you gonna sign?‘
The reality of course is that the most important deals are done around these deadlines, which have been created for the sake of broadcasters. And they serve the audience’s delicate relationship with the league and the sport – we have these dates because they’re understandable and straight-forward but, even though you’re not allowed to make a trade too late in the season and even though you’re not allowed to sign somebody between the Cup final and July 1, don’t think the wheels ever stop.
Read: The Top Unrestricted NHL Free Agents, via TSN (July 1, 2015)
Look at yesterday, as Chicago dealt Brandon Saad to Columbus and Vancouver shipped Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim and Calgary locked down Dougie Hamilton, all before Sportsnet could even ready its cameras and pin the mics to their ties. By positioning themselves for free agency, the Canucks and Blackhawks and Flames ended up dropping bigger deals as Canada Day crept up – not after it arrived.
If he was a free agent, Saad might have been the most-desired player on the market, a two-time Cup champion at just age 22, who’s shown – like Versteeg, Ladd, and Byfuglien before him – he can stand out on a team of stand-outs, that he can impress even next to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Bieksa may be old, but the Canucks will miss what he gives them and their city every game and every day, and the Ducks have grabbed a fine veteran in their load-up for another run at the Cup. But the Canucks win this, as well – regardless of who or what they got in return. Vancouver cleared $4.6 million in cap space for next year, perhaps money they can use to re-sign Shawn Matthias or Brad Richardson, if they want.
Or they can spend on Cody Franson, which wouldn’t be too surprising and would be a jab back to Calgary’s haymaker with Hamilton.
Oh, right. Hamilton. There wasn’t a lot of time for the league or the anchors to adequately process his booting from Boston last Friday, with everyone at their drafting tables in Florida. All you heard was the ridiculing of Bruins GM Don Sweeney, whose moves were instantaneously and therefore prematurely declared awful. And so you might be liable to think the Calgary Flames haven’t done much this offseason, volume-wise – they didn’t have a first-rounder at the draft and they might not make a ripple in free agency, nevermind a splash. Just like it seems the Canucks have done dung-all so far this summer, because they had to sell Eddie Lack at a discount and still only picked twice in the first three rounds – but don’t forget, of course, that they’d already picked up Sven Baertschi at the trade deadline in exchange for the 53rd overall pick. And Baertschi, who was a 2011 first-rounder and the best junior hockey player in Canada in 2012, is a developed prospect worthy of a 50th selection… isn’t he?
But this is all so boring, isn’t it? And it’ll be boring today, when the announcements and the headlines come slowly and quickly at the same time – like opening too many presents too fast on Christmas morning, even though you’re trying to wait.
The more you open, the less you have to open.
So don’t believe it when you hear that this year’s free agent crop is below average or weak. It’s not really true – Ribeiro, Franson, Beleskey, Green, Frolik, Sekera, Williams, Vermette, Ehrhoff, both Brad and Mike Richards. There are plenty of good names there and plenty of good names out there elsewhere – and there are more that were apparently available, like Hamilton and Saad and Bieksa. And if you think it’s bland when teams swap players for draft picks in next year‘s first and second rounds, consider the Calgary Flames – they used that 53rd pick they got for Baertschi to swing the deal for Hamilton.
Nothing’s ever as boring or as exciting as we say it is. Because, to borrow from Khaleesi, those players above are just spokes on a wheel.
Are them and their careers actually boring, or are we just finally seeing the ruse for what it is?