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July 3, 2007
48 Hours in Free Agent Hell
TFP Columnist Greg Wyshynski has kept his keen eyes and rapier wit tuned to the last two days of free-agent madness, and has 48 pithy observations and contemptible jokes to show for it.

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- It is noon on Tuesday, July 3. Exactly 48 hours have passed since the horn sounded, the whistle blew, and every warm body without a contract or the shackles of restricted free agency entered the open market with the self-assured optimism of a gorgeous single blonde in a miniskirt strutting into a sports bar on a Friday evening.

The last two days of NHL free agency reminded me of the sci-fi film "Dark City," in which sinister aliens literally recreate the landscape of a metropolis while the unsuspecting citizenry sleeps.

Sturdy buildings suddenly collapse, tenements are speedily transformed into mansions, and the Flyers become legitimate contenders instead of lottery fodder — you get the picture.

You see, the "Dark City" aliens were all about messing with us humans and our grey matter; on top of the city rezoning, these cats were literally moving memories around in our heads to elicit an emotional response. For example, a Devils fan might hit the pillow one night and then wake up the next morning to discover his No. 1 center will be setting up Jaromir Jagr on the powerplay in Madison Square Garden for the next seven years. This causes said Jersey fan to have what amounts to an existential crisis: Is a Devil who hightails it to the Broadway ATM machine truly ever a Devil to begin with? (See Holik, Robert.)

The last two days have been a rollercoaster ride, albeit one with loops that looked scarier than they felt and with several feet of track missing. Here are, in no particular order, 48 pithy observations and contemptible jokes about the last 48 hours:

1. Can TSN legally bring a collusion case against every general manager in the NHL for withholding all the blockbusters until after its studio special ended? Seriously, for a while there I thought the boys were going to base an entire show around whether Todd White deserved that fourth year with the Thrashers...


2. Viktor Kozlov gives the Washington Capitals something they've been sorely lacking for the last two years: a Russian who can score in the shootout...

3. To all of those Red Wings fans that hated watching other teams block so many of their shots during the Western Conference playoffs, a piece of advice: You may want to avert your eyes when Brian Rafalski has the puck on the power-play point . . . unless the NHL passes a rule that makes every defender's shin worth half a goal.

4. Scott Niedermayer has retired and un-retired so many times in the last two weeks, he was at one point accidentally listed as the No. 1 contender for Wladimir Klitschko's IBF heavyweight belt...

5. Bertuzzi and Pronger on the same team? The last time the Thug-O-Meter had a reading this high in California, Tupac was shooting a video in Compton…

6. Best career advice of the free agent frenzy: Scott Gomez. Whether it was his father or his own conscious, going to a situation where the weight of the world wasn't going to be on his shoulders was very smart. There's a reason why this kid was never considered for the Devils' captaincy. There's a reason why Larry Robinson had to threaten to bench him as a rookie in the 2000 playoffs to light a fire under his ass. And there's a reason why Claude Julien is currently coaching in Boston. All of those reasons no longer matter if there's a Drury, Jagr or Shanahan there to share the spotlight and lead the troops while Scotty concentrates on his fancy pants passing.

7. For all of you fans that are crying about the return of economic disparity in the NHL, even under a salary cap, let me ask you this: Doesn't it feel good, even a little bit, to know that it's time to loathe the Rangers, Flyers and Avalanche with every fiber of your being again?

8. More importantly: Doesn't it feel good to know that there might be a team playing for the Stanley Cup in the near future that isn’t from a balmy U.S. or frigid small-market Canadian city?

9. Rangers PR flack Larry Brooks of the NY Post tried to make the argument on Tuesday that economics were secondary to Chris Drury and Gomez really, really, really wanting to be New York Rangers; that this wasn't a return to the mercenary mindset of the late 1990s. Well, of course not Larry: Mercenaries don't get a total of 12 contract years, and mercenaries don't get a front-loaded, $10 million salary this season (Gomez) or a $5 million signing bonus (Drury). They're not mercenaries; they're soldiers with a fortune. Doesn't change the fact that the Rangers threw money at the problem, like they always have, and always will.

10. Daniel Briere making $52 million isn't the problem. Daniel Briere getting an eight-year deal isn't the problem. But Daniel Briere getting an eight-year deal, making $52 million with a no-movement clause is a problem if, eight years from now, there's still a door with the name "Bobby Clarke" on it somewhere deep inside the Wachovia Center…

11. Pretty much the only way things could get any worse for Buffalo fans is if the Sabres decided to fill the void left by Drury by signing Scott Norwood.

12. That said, here's the Quote of the Week, from Ryan Miller to the Buffalo News: "[Drury and Briere] better hope they didn't teach us too much because they're going to have to contend against us. Leadership is changing hands on our team, but the attitude still will be there. I'm going to make sure to the best of my abilities to keep them in our rear-view mirror." Right on, kid.

13. A little off-subject: Have you ever tried raw oysters with a pint of Guinness? Evidently, it's an accepted pairing, although I only had it for the first time last week. Pretty tasty, even if the two seem to go together as well as "Lou Lamoriello" and "high-profile free agent signing."

14. Full disclosure: I'm a New Jersey boy and a Devils fan. I don't want to say the last 48 hours have been devastating, but the moment I heard Gomez and Rafalski had both bolted, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" cut out and everything suddenly went black...

15. FACT: Tom Preissing has more years on his contract with the Kings (four) than he's played in the National Hockey League (three).

16. As of Tuesday morning, the Minnesota Wild were close to signing free-agent defenseman Sean Hill, who still had to serve 19 games of a 20-game suspension for violating the NHL's performance-enhancing drug policy. Did I miss the news that Doug Risebrough had been replaced by Vince McMahon?

17. I don't want to say the writing's on the wall here, but did you notice that the Nashville Predators signed six players and none of them were for more than two seasons?

18. One of those guys the Preds signed is former Ranger Jed Ortmeyer. I think there should always be someone named Jed on a team in Tennessee, just like there should always be someone named Guillaume Latendresse on the Habs…

19. Robert Lang signing with the Blackhawks is a significant moment for the city: Eddie Curry is now the second-laziest center in Chicago sports history.

20. For all the negative press the Web-based hockey media gets for its allegedly spotty reporting, let it be known that Edmonton's Team 1260 and 630 CHED both reported that Michael Nylander had signed a four-year deal with the Oilers…until blogger Ken Berard of Japers Rink called up Edmonton's VP of communications and discovered no deal had been struck. A few hours later, Nylander had his four-year deal — with the Washington Capitals.

21. Something tells me that Nylander is slightly more dangerous as a powerplay pivot than Kris Beech was.

22. FACT: Tom Preissing will earn $2.75 million a season after having earned just $600,000 with Ottawa. To put this into perspective for NASCAR fans — it's like if Madison Dakota went from earning $7 an hour at Wal-Mart to suddenly making $32 an hour. Imagine how many car flags that would buy!

23. Somehow, I think Paul Kariya's signing with a team named the Blues is a symbolic confession of his emotional condition now that his life-partner Teemu may be retiring.

24. Keith Tkachuk reportedly called Kariya to give him some reasons why he should come to St. Louis. Why do I get the feeling "barbeque" and "buffet" may have been two of them?

25. True story: I had NBC turned on during Sunday afternoon, and they cut in for a sports update during Wimbledon coverage. They had a story about tennis, a story about baseball, another story about that Yankees pitcher who went all Left-Eye Lopes on his equipment, and then the anchor uttered these words: "And finally, today marks the first day of free agency…in the NBA." They flashed a picture of Vince Carter, another of Chauncey Billups and then "join us next hour for another update." Not a breath about the NHL. Guess the suits finally saw those ratings for the Cup Finals…

26. You know, call me Mr. Pessimist Pants, but I don't think Jon Sim is going to be able to replace Ryan Smyth on the Islanders...

27. Smyth said that Joe Sakic called him up and "helped the process along" in getting him to sign with Colorado. Reportedly, the sales pitch went like this: "Dude, you'll be able to help us keep Kevin Lowe's team out of the playoffs, and I promise you'll be at least 500 miles from wherever Alexei Yashin ends up."

28. Colorado snagging Scott Hannan for four years at $18 million is the kind of move championships teams look back on with nostalgic admiration.

29. Regarding the Thrashers signing Ken Klee: I heard they're doing a lot of road work in downtown Atlanta and need all the pylons they can get.

30. Ex-Oiler Joffrey Lupul said the pressure of playing in his hometown was too much for him to handle. Great, another kid who can't deal with the spotlight; he does know he's been traded to Philadelphia, right?

31. For all the noise the Flyers made via free agency in the last week, flipping Joni Pitkanen for Jason Smith in a trade was perhaps their shrewdest and best decision.

32. Of course, for all of this extreme making-over of the Philadelphia roster, it still comes down to one goalie with no NHL playoff experience (Biron) and another with two games of NHL playoff experience (Niittymäki). Different song, same tune, every season…

33. The Vancouver Canucks were quiet, and rightfully so with their current cap situation. Why do I have this image of Dave Nonis rummaging through the dollar bins at Target, digging for a Ruslan Fedotenko?

34. Reports say that ESPN's Dan Patrick could be the next host of "The Price is Right." If so, they picked the wrong guy from the network — everybody knows that Barry Melrose is the perfect man for the job. Each episode would take five hours to finish as The Mullet mentally computes the conversion from Canadian dollars for every showcase showdown. Bu it'd still be better than having Buccigross host: "Plinko is to pricing games as Kevin Dubrow is to Quiet Riot…"

35. Did I read that Bryan Smolinski has a no-trade clause with Montreal? That's insane…I mean, "Smolinski" in Polish literally means "player to be named later."

36. General Manager Garth Snow told NY Newsday that the antiquated Nassau Coliseum is one of the main reasons free agents like Ryan Smyth aren't eager to re-sign with the team. I like this new approach: When in doubt, blame the building. Perhaps it's the building's fault Snow traded two prospects and a first-round pick to Edmonton for a guy who played 18 regular season games, five playoff games and then bolted for the Rocky Mountains. Yeah, the building made him do it … just like in "The Shining."

37. Tom Poti might have finally found a happy home with the Capitals; fans in D.C. are too busy booing the Redskins to worry about jeering him like they did in New York.

38. Four years for Michal Handzus is a little optimistic, don't you think, Los Angeles? That said, if the Kings get their goaltending situation figured out, they could be a good little team this season. And by "figured out," I mean "de-Cloutiered." (An aside: On Dan Cloutier's Wikipedia page, there's a note about his trade to the Kings that reads, "It was known as the most moronic move ever made in the history of the NHL." God, I love the Internet.)

39. A little off-subject: "Live Free or Die Hard" had me until the Harrier jet chasing John McClane's semi-truck decided to forgo blowing him to high heaven with missiles and chased him under an overpass with its machine guns. Here's a military jet that could fire a rocket through Saddam's bathroom window and into his toilet, and he's hovering 10 feet off the ground against a truck. This is why I only watch realistic action movies … like that new one about the alien robots who can make themselves look like Jeeps and tape decks.

40. All of those writers who spread rumors about Robyn Regehr wanting out of Calgary should line up and offer to wash whatever new car he decides to buy with his 5-year, $20 million contract extension.

41. Isn't giving Sheldon Souray's money to Roman Hamrlik a bit like getting turned down for a 2007 Mercedes but still spending the same sticker price on a 2005 Saturn?

42. By the way: Had he been an all-star, I think Rory Fitzpatrick gets that Souray money.

43. In light of recent events, Ken Holland's looking pretty genius for inking Pavel Datsyuk to that seven-year, $46.9 million extension, isn't he?

44. The Bruins believe they've found their No. 1 goalie in Manny Fernandez. I believe they're nuts if they don't put a guy who's started over 44 games in a season just once in his career into a rotation with Tim Thomas or Hannu Toivonen next year.

45. I don't know about you, but Petr Sykora's pretty much a stone-cold lock for my fantasy team after signing with Pittsburgh.

46. From TSN's Darren Dreger, on the long-term contracts players have signed: "A year ago Rick DiPietro and the New York Islanders were skewered when a 15-year, $67.5 million deal was announced. Are we prepared to call Islanders owner Charles Wang a pioneer?" No, I'm pretty sure giving a goaltender a 15-year contract still qualifies him as a crackpot.

47. Quote of the Week, Part Deux — Toronto coach Paul Maurice on Jason Blake: "What I like about Jason is that I really didn't like him." Now that he's signed with the Leafs, I think we can all relate.

48. Finally, I want to take a moment and give due props to TFP guru/editor-in-chief/big effin' stud David Pagnotta for providing some of the best coverage of the free agent frenzy across all hockey media. Even if he did have Scott Gomez's name as "Chris" on the front page of the site for a while. (Sorry Dave…like I said, I'm from Jersey; State Motto: "If you've got stones, we'll bust'em, capisce?")

Greg Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is a columnist for, and the Senior Editor and Washington Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. 
His book, "
Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History" is now on sale.



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