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.
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
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
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...
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
45. I don't know about you, but Petr Sykora's pretty
much a stone-cold lock for my fantasy team after signing with
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
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?")
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, 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
is now on sale.