Just over two weeks into July, and it’s shaping up to be among the dullest NHL offseasons in some time.
This year’s unrestricted free agent market has been picked clean of talent. The most notable names still available are Martin Brodeur and Daniel Alfredsson and that’s only because the two future Hall-of-Famers are well past their “best-before” dates. Brodeur’s agent said his client is willing to wait until the start of this season to sign with a new club. Fact is, he might not have much choice. As for Alfredsson, he’s expected to decide sometime in August if he’ll return for another season or retire. If he returns it’ll be only with the Detroit Red Wings.
The Chicago Blackhawks re-signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane earlier this month to matching eight-year, $84 million contracts drew a collective gasp among NHL fans, as well as commentaries over how they’ll affect the NHL pay scale. But after a couple of days, the dust settled and things returned to dull.
Arbitration hearings begin on July 21 and run through August 4. Several notable names are scheduled for hearings (P.K. Subban, Ryan O’Reilly, James Reimer, Derick Brassard). If any of them actually go before an arbiter it could shake up an otherwise quiet summer with speculation over how long they’ll actually remain with their clubs under their new contracts.
Most of those scheduled for arbitration will likely re-sign with their respective clubs before their hearings. Of the 23 players scheduled to face an arbiter, five re-signed with their new teams, while one (Vladimir Sobotka) jumped to the KHL.
Arbitration is a process both player and management prefer to avoid. It’s an ego-bruising experience for players, leading to them feeling unappreciated and looking toward departure via unrestricted free agency as soon as they become eligible, unless of course the team trades them first.
For management, they run the risk of alienating and humiliating a player in the arbitration process. They subsequently face the prospect of trading the player to get a decent return or risk losing him for nothing via free agency when his arbiter-awarded contracts expires.
Of those slated for hearings this summer, the only one who seems certain to head to arbitration is O’Reilly, after which speculation over his future with the Avalanche will surely ramp up.
Once the arbitration period ends in early-August, perhaps we’ll see an increase in trades among clubs which struck out via free agency, or those with limited cap space looking to dump salary before the new season begins in October.
Otherwise, the NHL’s offseason news has slowed to a trickle. Nearly each day brings news of contract signings but those signed are usually low-salaried depth players. Over the past week (since July 10) the most notable news was the following:
“Will-he-or-won’t-he” speculation over Sidney Crosby considering minor wrist surgery,
The Nashville Predators losing Mike Fisher for four-to-six months to a ruptured Achilles tendon followed by their shoring up their center depth by signing UFAs Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy,
The Maple Leafs finally hired new assistant coaches,
Jets management once again declining to address the monthly trade speculation about Evander Kane,
The Blue Jackets re-signing Brandon Dubinsky to a six-year deal,
Tyler Ennis getting a new five-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres,
Sobotka jumping to the KHL.
Now I realize it’s the offseason and things are going to quiet down. But when you make your living covering the NHL as a blogger and free-lance writer, especially trade and free agent rumors, quiet is death. Unlike those in the mainstream media who are fully salaried with paid vacations, if I don’t work I don’t get paid. If there’s not a lot to report or comment about, I don’t get paid much.
Most summers under the previous CBA brought some notable trade and free agent news which kept the hockey world buzzing during the offseason. The summer of 2005, of course, saw the end of a season-killing lockout and a rash of signings and trades as teams scrambled to restock their rosters. Over the next several seasons some notable stars still in their respective prime (Chris Pronger, Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle, Ryan Smyth) were moved in July trades.
Dany Heatley and Phil Kessel were the hot topics of trade speculation throughout the summer of 2009 until they were finally eventually traded as training camps opened in September.
The following year was the summer of Ilya Kovalchuk and his eventual decision to sign with the New Jersey Devils, only to have that contract overturned as salary cap circumvention. That left the Devils scrambling to sign him to a new deal the NHL would bless. The Toronto media also spent most of that summer wondering if then-Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle would waive his no-trade clause (he didn’t).
The summer of 2012 was dominated by news of yet another impending lockout. It also saw trade speculation swirl about Rick Nash until he was shipped to the New York Rangers in late-July, as well as the Philadelphia Flyers unsuccessful attempt to pry Shea Weber out of Nashville with an offer sheet.
Last summer saw Kovalchuk’s “retirement” from the NHL to play in the KHL, raising speculation about other notable Russian NHL stars one day following his lead. It was also a period of examining notable intricacies in the latest NHL CBA.
Compared to all that, this summer’s been a dud thus far.
I’m usually not one of those folks who pines for the start of a new NHL season to hurry up and get here. Buddha know a quiet offseason is better than anxiously worrying over the prospect of another lockout. At this rate, however, the 2014-15 season can’t start soon enough for me.
Until then, well, at least there’s plenty of time to plan my unpaid summer vacation at home.