Who would you rather have in your forward corps right this minute, Mike Comrie or Ryan Bayda?
Both players are still on the free agent market right now (though Bayda will be attending St. Louis’ camp on a tryout basis) and, yes, if you were strictly going on name recognition, Comrie is probably the quick answer.
But let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
Bayda will cost a team no more than $500,000 per season, delivering solid forechecking and good skating ability from the fourth line.
Comrie, on the other hand, commanded $4 million last season, split between the Islanders and Ottawa. Best slotted as a second-line center, Comrie delivered 27 points in 63 games, with a minus-15 rating on two teams that, well, weren’t so hot.
Both players are 28 and come in at roughly the same size (185 pounds, with Bayda an inch taller at 5-foot-11) and though Bayda is a fourth-liner, I’m more unsure of Comrie’s future in the NHL.
This, of course, goes out the window if Comrie recalibrates his salary demands and puts himself on the market for say, $1 million a season, but let’s ask the question anyway: In today’s capped-out world, is there any team out there interested in a multi-million dollar second-liner who isn’t particularly physical and doesn’t kill in the faceoff circle (41 percent last year)?
Good teams want more production, while bad teams don’t want the salary, unless they’re trying to get up to the cap floor.
There is talk of a return to Edmonton for Comrie, whose last venture in the copper and blue was a little contentious to say the least. But on a team whose forward corps is already stacked with not-so-big, not-so-dazzling players, adding another at this point would seem rather redundant.
Even two years ago, Comrie was a guy signed by the second week of July. But with the intricacies of the salary cap revealing themselves and GMs not really sure what the future will hold, it seems to me teams are becoming very rigidly structured.
To wit, a team in need of a fourth-liner making minimum salary could easily slide Bayda onto their depth chart. There he is; bottom left-hand corner of the square. Boom, we’re done.
But teams aren’t just stacking their rosters with names for the sake of names anymore, which hurts Comrie. Last summer, the Tampa Bay Lightning was pilloried for playing “fantasy hockey” and seemingly loading up on as many name forwards they could get their hands on. Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi…it’s a long list.
Considering the team already had a first line in Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St-Louis and Vinny Prospal, plus a hot-shot rookie in Steven Stamkos coming in, you wonder how many players the Bolts braintrust thought there were in a “top six.”
In rectifying some of those mistakes as the 2008-09 campaign wore on, the Lightning conducted this summer’s business a lot more astutely and now, thanks to a smart-looking ‘D’ and much more rational forwards corps, look primed for a run at a playoff spot.
These days, you need your two scoring lines, a shutdown line and a muck/grind/fight line. It may not be creative, but it keeps order in the dressing room when everyone knows their role and hopefully eliminates painful salary cap mistakes in the process.
Mike Comrie may already have millions of dollars and Hilary Duff cheering him on, but at least Ryan Bayda has a tryout with an NHL team right now.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column – The Straight Edge – on Fridays, and his prospect feature – The Hot List – on Tuesdays.
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