The NHL off-season is usually a time when significant player movement takes place via free agency and trades.
The summer of 2013, however, is different. A woefully shallow free agent pool, a lowered salary cap and lack of notable trade bait have made this summer the dullest in NHL history for player movement.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to join the whiners who can’t enjoy the summer and the down time from the NHL. This isn’t an “Is it October Yet?” pity party. Still, because of the lack of player movement, this summer’s been duller than dishwater.
Heck, even during the summer of 2012 – with the threat of another lockout hanging over everything – there was at least a few notable trades and free agent signings to keep things interesting.
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter – the best players in last year’s UFA pool – kept fans in suspense for a few days before signing with the Minnesota Wild. Martin Brodeur flirted with free agency before re-signing with New Jersey. Alexander Semin eventually inked a one-year deal with Carolina. Shane Doan hummed and hawed for the entire summer before re-signing with the Phoenix Coyotes.
On the trade front, the NY Rangers made headlines by acquiring Rick Nash in late-July from the Columbus Blue Jackets, while the Vancouver Canucks teased trading Roberto Luongo throughout the summer.
The Philadelphia Flyers spiced things up by offering a crazy stupid heavily front-loaded offer sheet to Shea Weber, which was swiftly matched by the Nashville Predators.
The contract negotiations of young restricted free agent stars P.K. Subban, Jamie Benn, Evander Kane, and Ryan O’Reilly also piqued fan interest throughout last summer.
This summer, however, pales in comparison.
Any potential drama regarding the contract statuses of Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang (both with one year remaining on their current deals) ended in late-June when they re-signed lucrative long-term extensions.
The buyouts of Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Briere made headlines in late-June, but they were quickly signed by their new teams (Philadelphia and Montreal respectively) before the official start of the UFA market.
This year’s UFA crop was the shallowest ever. The best of the bunch were ageing stars Daniel Alfredsson and Jarome Iginla, a banged-up Nathan Horton, an under-rated Stephen Weiss and the over-rated David Clarkson. All were snapped up in the opening day of free agency.
The Ottawa Senators acquiring Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks was a notable trade, but that move also occurred on the opening day of free agency, as did the Maple Leafs acquisition of Jonathan Bernier from the LA Kings.
One of the most shocking trades of the summer – Cory Schneider dealt from Vancouver to New Jersey – took place during the NHL Draft. The other – Tyler Seguin sent to Dallas with Loui Eriksson going to Boston in a multi-player deal – occurred the day before the start of free agency.
After a frenzied week of activity between the NHL draft and the opening day of free agency, player movement subsequently slowed to a crawl.
What remained was mainly second-and-third tier UFA signings. A fading Jaromir Jagr signed with the Devils. Derek Roy joined the Blues. Dustin Penner returned to Anaheim.
The notable remaining UFAs are Ilya Bryzgalov, Tim Thomas, Brenden Morrow and Mikhail Grabovski. That Bryzgalov, Thomas and Morrow are still available reflect how far their value in the UFA market has fallen, while Grabovski’s reportedly expensive asking price explains why he’s still on the market.
Oh, sure, Teemu Selanne’s still available, but everyone knows he’ll either re-sign with the Anaheim Ducks or retire from the NHL.
The only re-signings of note since early-July saw the Blues ink Jay Bouwmeester to a five-year extension (effective 2014), the Avalanche re-upped captain Gabriel Landeskog to a seven-year deal and the Sharks signed Joe Pavelski to a five-year deal (also effective 2014)
The biggest trades since July 5 were David Perron dealt to Edmonton with Magnus Paajarvi headed to St. Louis, and Henrik Tallinder returning to Buffalo from New Jersey.
Arbitration offered no intrigue, as every player who filed wound up re-signing with their respective teams without going before an arbiter.
As for current restricted free agents, the reduction of this year’s salary cap means no free-spending, big-market clubs can afford to pitch offer sheets to those players.
The only truly notable RFAs this summer are the Blues Alex Pietrangelo and the Rangers Derek Stepan. Promising stars to be sure, but they currently lack the headline power of Subban, Kane and Benn.
Little wonder, then, it’s been a dull summer for NHL player movement.
But fear not, NHL fans! Next summer, the salary cap will likely rebound up to $70 million again, ensuring the usual free-spending clubs will open their wallets again.
The UFA pool promises to be much deeper. Henrik Lundqvist, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Phil Kessel, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, the Sedin Twins, Marian Gaborik, Paul Stastny, Dion Phaneuf, Matt Moulson, Dan Girardi and Jaroslav Halak are among those eligible next summer.
Sure, most will probably be re-signed by their respective teams by then, but a handful will almost certainly be available come July 1, 2014.
As for restricted free agents, Subban and O’Reilly will be eligible again, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, Semyon Varlamov, Erik Gudbranson, Brayden Schenn, Lars Eller and Jiri Tlusty will be among those joining them.
With the anticipated rise in the salary cap combined with teams being allowed to absorb part of a player’s salary to facilitate a trade, there could be more trade activity next summer.
In the meantime, to alleviate the boredom of the current NHL off-season news, I suggest remembering training camps open on September 11, exhibitions games start on September 13, and the regular season starts on October 1.