The NHL calendar is broken into three chunks: the regular season, the post-season and, the portion beginning tomorrow, the silly season.
July 1 marks the day a good number of quality players become unrestricted free agents, clear to sign their services over to any one of the 30 teams.
It’s also the day when grown, otherwise rational, responsible men transform into a gaggle of seagulls feverishly quarrelling over scraps of food on the ground. Sometimes the fight is worthwhile, but often the squabbling results in an overzealous GM feeling sick to his stomach when the player he signed for too much money doesn’t live up to expectations.
In fairness to all the GMs out there, luring UFAs is a dicey business. It’s not easy offering up enough dollars to out-bid a handful of other teams while still staying within the constraints of a sane salary structure. You’ve got to speak to players in the bottom-line language of dollars and cents, yet still never take your eye off the big-picture notion that every dollar you devote one place is limiting your ability to improve your team elsewhere.
Sometimes swinging and missing on a free agent can be the best thing to happen to a team. The Montreal Canadiens went hard after Daniel Briere last year before the small center decided to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers instead. Briere was paid $10 million by the Flyers this year to score 31 goals and 72 points. He was also minus-22
Having missed out on the Briere sweepstakes, the Canadiens were forced to give a small center of their own, Tomas Plekanec, a bigger role. He responded with 29 goals and 69 points – just three less than Briere – while playing a solid two-way game that resulted in a plus-15 rating.
The cost for Plekanec’s productivity? About $1.4 million.
Is that to say you’d rather have Plekanec on your team than Briere long term? Not necessarily, but there’s no questioning Montreal got far, far more bang for its puck out of Plekanec than Philly got from Briere.
The moral of the story is: No matter how the chips fall for your team in the off-season, don’t start counting the chickens just yet.
Ryan Dixon 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 blognormally appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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