When I was a kid, July 1 was called Dominion Day, a confusing name for a child whose primary frame of reference for “Dominion” was the national grocery store chain. Yes, they had good meat and produce, but a statutory holiday? Besides, Loblaws was way cooler because they distributed the hockey booklet and stickers that made going shopping with mom halfway appealing.
Eventually, the federal government wised up – or maybe the rights deal with Dominion expired – and changed the name, fittingly, to Canada Day. It is, after all, one of the most exciting days on the calendar of our national passion.
I prefer the lunacy of the opening of unrestricted free agency to the trade deadline for a few reasons. For starters, all 30 teams are buyers, to varying degrees; hope floats in virtually every market.
Secondly, we know big-name players, stars and superstars who can make a difference, will change teams of their own volition. Trade deadline is usually more about fine-tuning and tinkering.
The player with the most cache entering this free agency season is Marian Hossa. He’s a supreme talent who The Hockey News rated the best UFA forward on the market.
I can’t disagree. He helped his cause with a stellar playoffs, especially in Rounds 3 and 4 when he led all scorers. His 12 post-season goals nearly doubled his career playoff output, bumping him to 25. It’s projected he’ll get in the neighborhood of $7.5-$8 million per season.
Bully for him. He’ll be a good fit somewhere and he will make a difference.
But we doubt he’ll be anyone’s savior.
And there’s the rub. Any team tendering an offer to the big winger has to enter with a mindset he’s not going to be The Franchise. He may mesh well in Boston on a line with Marc Savard, for example, and be part of a strong core, but not the integral component.
Having played nine full seasons in the NHL, and approaching his 30th birthday, Hossa has never won a major individual award and has never been named to a post-season first or second all-star team (though he was named to the all-rookie team in 1999). He’s typically a point-a-game player who has once hit the 100 mark, two years ago with a Thrashers club that got swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Perhaps the 2008 post-season was a turning point for him in terms of being “The Guy,” but it was a relatively small sampling. Basing your future on that six-week span is fraught with peril.
Of course, every free agent comes attached with risk, but in the salary cap world you need to be as sure about the big-ticket players as you are about getting married. Divorces in the NHL are no longer easy or cheap and the bigger the price tag, the longer it will impact a franchise’s future.
If you’re a GM, it kind of makes you pine for the simpler Dominion Day era, doesn’t it?
Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog normally appears every weekend.
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