The Senators dipped into the unrestricted free agent pool Friday when they signed center David Legwand to a two-year, $6-million deal. There’s no question Legwand will make the Sens better – indeed, after captain Jason Spezza was dealt to Dallas earlier this week, Ottawa needs all the help it can get – but if you’re expecting him to remain in Canada’s capital for the duration of his new contract, you might want to reconsider. Because it may well turn out that, like many veterans changing teams at this time of year, Legwand only sticks around for a season – or less.
Legwand isn’t the player he once was – the quiet-but-effective cornerstone in Nashville for 14-and-a-half of his 15 NHL seasons – but he showed he still had something left in the tank after he was dealt to Detroit at the trade deadline last season (four goals and 11 points in 21 games as a Wing). That said, he’s no Spezza and if he produces at above a .5 points-per-game pace, Sens management will be overjoyed. Not because his contributions are going to turn Ottawa into a playoff team, but because it will make him more attractive as a trade chip either at the next deadline or next summer.
He’s not alone in that regard.
If the Panthers’ latest rebuild goes into the crapper, it’s extremely unlikely veteran blueliner Willie Mitchell will finish his new two-year contract in Florida. New Flames goalie Jonas Hiller and Devils winger Martin Havlat, both of who are on short-term deals and playing for teams with modest expectations, are in similar situations. And even though defenseman Josh Gorges has four years remaining on his contract, when you see the measly price (a second round pick) the Sabres paid to acquire him, you have to think the 29-year-old would be available under the right circumstances.
This isn’t a brand new occurrence: The ink on Jaromir Jagr’s one-year contract with the Stars had barely dried in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign when Dallas dealt him to Boston after just 34 games. Steve Downie signed a two-year deal with Colorado that same year, but was moved to Philadelphia only 11 games into last season. The Oilers signed goalie Devan Dubnyk to a two-year extension in July of 2012 and less than 18 months later was shipped out to Nashville. The Flyers signed Vincent Lecavalier to a mammoth five-year contract they’re currently trying to extricate themselves from via a trade. The list goes on and on.
In the salary-capped NHL, there are only two types of players: (1) young stars, usually in their 20s, who will never be traded even after disappointing seasons (hello, Eric Staal!); and (2) everybody else. That’s why it’s amusing to see fans get worked up over the final years of extravagant free agent deals; they envision their favorite team being weighed down by management’s largesse, never taking into account how unlikely it is that will actually happen. Franchises like the Maple Leafs and Devils have made a habit out of buyouts – that, granted, still affect their salary cap bottom line – but as often as not, GMs are usually able to find new homes for contracts that didn’t work out as planned.
That’s not to say Legwand will be a disaster with the Sens. He’s still just 33 years old and could sign another NHL deal (with Ottawa or another team) after his new one expires. But he no longer has the career cachet to expect he can just stick around any city for the duration of the deal he’s agreed to.
Legwand has entered the twilight of his NHL days – and whether you’re him, Lecavalier, Jagr, the increasingly well-traveled Brad Richards or even the still-seeking-employment Martin Brodeur, you have to come to grips with the fact that, when that happens and regardless of your past accomplishments, you no longer get to set down roots as one of the game’s fading flowers.