The NHL’s free-agent market opened and teams immediately started spending money like mad.
The most interesting part? None of it went to the big names. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr each fielded numerous offers Sunday and ended up deciding to sleep on their decisions.
It was abundantly clear the top players wielded a considerable amount of power this July 1.
“It’s a pretty unique process, but I’ll know tomorrow,” a patient Parise told reporters outside of his agent’s office in suburban Toronto. “I’ll just go back to the hotel, think about it, talk to my fiancee a little bit and go from there. … We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
He wouldn’t even rule out re-signing with the New Jersey Devils. There were all kinds of different scenarios to consider, including major power plays from Minnesota, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which were among the teams believed to be trying to ink both Parise and Suter to long-term contracts.
With the two biggest fishes still swimming freely, teams were left in a holding pattern while awaiting their decisions. Take David Poile, for example. The Nashville Predators GM has been extremely patient this off-season with Suter, but by the end of Sunday he was left encouraging the defenceman to “speed up the process.”
“It’s a tough situation that we’re in,” Poile said in Nashville. “Ryan controls all the cards right now and if he comes back and signs with us, that’s terrific, and we’ll live happily ever after. But we need to move this forward because there’s a couple of other directions that we may want to go.”
Outside of centre Jordan Staal, who signed a US$60-million, 10-year extension with Carolina, the biggest winners on the opening day of free agency were role players and veterans:
Jason Garrison landed with his hometown Vancouver Canucks for six years at $27.6 million; P.A. Parenteau cashed in on a career season by signing a $16-million, four-year deal with Colorado; Brandon Prust inked a $10-million, four-year contract with Montreal; Dallas gave 40-year-old winger Ray Whitney $9 million over two years; and veteran defenceman Filip Kuba got a raise from Florida with an $8-million, two-year deal.
This was hardly the kind of year a team could count on finding a difference-maker on the open market.
In fact, some of the best additions could still come by trade, with Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo and Bobby Ryan among the players being shopped. Like some of the secondary free agents, they likely won’t be moved until Parise and Suter make up their minds—decisions that are expected to trigger a domino effect.
One team that ruled itself out of the running for Nash was the Ottawa Senators. They’ve been in hot pursuit of the Blue Jackets captain, but after trading for defenceman Marc Methot and signing forward Guillaume Latendresse on Sunday, Senators GM Bryan Murray conceded Nash wasn’t willing to waive his no-trade clause for them.
“I would say we’re out of the talks—yes,” said Murray. “Basically, we weren’t on the list. I’ll put it that way. As far as I know, it never changed, so there was no sense in chasing. We just didn’t feel that was necessary.”
Beyond the big names, a handful of intriguing free agents remained. Defencemen Matt Carle and Bryce Salvador were both waiting patiently while longtime Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan was free to field offers from other teams for the first time in his career.
Most of the deals signed Sunday came from teams hoping to find a bargain.
Jonas Gustavsson became the new backup goalie in Detroit on a $3-million, two-year deal, Anaheim opened some eyes by signing defenceman Sheldon Souray for three years at $11 million, veteran Sami Salo landed in Tampa on a $7.5-million, two-year contract and Phoenix brought in David Moss for two years at $2.1 million annually.
And Dallas added some veteran leadership in the form of Whitney.
He scoffed at the notion he was too old to sign a multi-year deal. The native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., is coming off a 77-point season in Phoenix that culminated with him being named to the NHL’s second all-star team.
“Just because you’re at an age, doesn’t mean you’re supposed to decline or you’re supposed to all of a sudden not be able to play the game,” said Whitney. “It’s been frustrating for me. For most of my career, I was too short to play the game and I battled that for 18 years and (now) people question the age.
“There’s nothing saying that you can’t play into your 40’s.”