In this blog we'll go back to this time last year and get some hindsight analysis of the UFA signings from last season.
It should be noted that the UFA process is not a way in which GM's look to find bargains or good prices on players. It's an all-out bidding war for the services of players who have earned the right to seek "fair" market value for their work. Many contracts that will be signed in the UFA process will be deemed too heavy, but that's the nature of the beast when it comes to bidding against several other GM's.
In the new salary-capped, post-lockout NHL, Stanley Cup winning teams are not bought. They are a combination of a few superstars, role players, and young players with cheap contracts who fill key roles. I don't ever expect a team that builds from the free agent market to win, because too many "overpaid" players can really handcuff your franchise. That said, the right signing of a free agent player could be the missing link that puts your franchise over the top.
UFA's are going to be overpaid. The key is to overpay the right guy. I know, easier said than done, right?
LOOKING BACK... 2007 REVISITED
Brian Rafalski, New Jersey to Detroit, 5 yr. 30 million
A great addition by the Wings to replace Mathieu Schneider. They got younger and more offensive with the move, making their already lethal break-out, just that much more lethal. Although not a dominating force, he's the coveted "puck-moving" defenseman that so many teams look for.
Roman Hamrlik, Calgary to Montreal, 4 yr. 22 million
I was slightly skeptical of this one. Not that I didn't enjoy Hammer's time in Calgary, but because he got injured easily and when he would return from injury, he was never the same. And 4 years is a lot of term... but Montreal proved to be a great fit for Hammer. He didn't have to go out and sacrifice his body to make big hits and play physical, he just had to play his game. Sure, it's a huge contract, but it was worth it for the Habs for the 07-08 at the very least. Next year, this could be one we're talking about for the opposite reason.
Daniel Briere, Buffalo to Philadelphia, 8 yr. 52 million
Briere can affect hockey games. He can score goals if left open. He racked up 31 goals and 72 points; solid numbers. But let's face it, this is a superstar contract. Is Daniel Briere a superstar? Would you put him up with the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Jarome Iginla or Sidney Crosby? Absolutely not. The reason I never put him in the "Bad" category is because of his offensive production in the regular season and first round of the playoffs... but his disappearing act against the Pens is something that I expect Flyers fans to have to get used to. He's not the guy that will lead you to a Stanley Cup; thankfully for the Flyers, that man may actually have shown himself this season though... Mike Richards. But now that Mike Richards is doing what Briere was brought in to do; his 52 million dollar contract is pretty heavy for a guy who's not even his own team's best player.
Cory Sarich, Tampa Bay to Calgary, 5 yr. 18 million
I really think that Sutter could have gotten Sarich for less and really wish that he would have. He was overrated in Tampa and doesn't bring much else than size to the table. But paired with Robyn Regehr they're one of the best shut-down tandems in the league. Of course, I give a ton of that credit to Regehr who constantly makes his partners better for playing with him. (see Jordan Leopold also).
Scott Hannan, San Jose to Colorado, 4 yr. 18 million
Hannan was coveted by a lot of GMs when he was available and for good reason, he's a very solid stay-at-home defenseman. He had a very off year but I don't expect that to become the norm for Hannan.
Paul Kariya, Nashville to St. Louis, 3 yr. 18 million
It seemed about the right price to pay for Kariya and the term is certainly favourable. His 65 points is a big downgrade from his time in Nashville but is still fairly strong. The only reason this isn't in the "bad" category is because of the team he had around him.
Scott Gomez, New Jersey to New York, 7 yr. 51.5 million
Chris Drury, Buffalo to New York, 5 yr. 35.25 million
Maybe that's what it took to get these guys to the Rangers. But I doubt it. For Gomez, a guy who averages just over 60 points per year, it seemed a little steep. But we'll see what happens when he has Jagr on his right side and Drury playing on the next line... a fearsome one-two punch, right? Wrong. Jagr had his worst season since he was a rookie and Gomez' first half was horrific. Drury is good on faceoffs and is a great penalty killer, but that's not worth 7 mil per to me. With the possibility of Jagr not coming back are we to expect them to "bounce back"? Personally, I think they both performed exactly to expectation, which is why I ask if it's worth the cash? They're both glorified 2nd line centres. Not unlike Daymond Langkow, who is going to sign for 4-5 mil per with a shorter term. Proof of why building from within, whether through trades and drafts, is a much better way to go.
Sheldon Souray, Montreal to Edmonton, 5 yr. 27 million
He spent so much time injured it was hard to get a good guage on Souray. But they paid a lot of money for a slap-shot. 3 goals in a quarter-season and he was well on his way to equalling his -28 total that he accumulated with the Habs the year before. He's a big body who was clearly better suited for Eastern Conference hockey. Although paired with Lubomir Visnovsky on the power-play next season could be a scary situation! Still, Souray would have to play more than 25 games next year for that to be a factor.
Ryan Smyth, Edmonton to Colorado, 5 yr. 31.25 million
I couldn't have been happier to see Smyth leave Edmonton, only to have him stay in the NW. Having scored 30+ goals in his last 3 seasons, the Avs figured to get at least that from Smyth last season. What they found out is that Smyth isn't a natural goal-scorer. At least half of the goals he scores are from standing in the crease and bashing at the puck until it goes over the line. Sure, he and Tomas Holmstrom have been valuable playing that role, but Holmstrom also makes just over 2 million. Smyth got hurt and even when he was in the lineup he wasn't nearly as valuable as a 6 million dollar guy should be, he was only on pace for just over 20 goals.
Jason Blake, NYI to Toronto, 5 yr. 20 million
Blake was lucky enough to have a career season in a contract year. Something that has paid big dividends for a lot of players in every professional sport. Unfortunately, he had to battle some illness, but if you are able to dress for games, clearly you're healthy enough to play... and 15 goals isn't worth 4 mil per. The reality is he was one of the only options on a bad Islander team, and other than his final season on Long Island, he was a 20 goal 55 point guy; and that's probably where expectations should lie for Blake. Lucky for him, he found a GM who happened to have a knack for handing out bad contracts.
Michael Nylander, NYR to Washington, 4 yr. 19.5 million
Was hurt for most of the season and was probably replaced by *Niklas Backstrom as the top centre. The Capitals made their biggest strides with Nylander out of the lineup.
Todd Bertuzzi, Detroit to Anaheim, 2 yr. 8 million
Bought out by Burke, enough said. (although I watched a game at the pond last year in which the Getzlaf/Bertuzzi line was an absolute force all night long. They were scary good)
Michael Handzus, Chicago to Los Angeles, 4 yr. 16 million
Injuries played a big role in this centres 2006 season and he was still given a monster contract that the Kings are going to be stuck with for a while. He'll be a strong candidate for a buy-out after this season. He only scored 7 goals and 21 points last year. For 4 million, he may be the biggest bust of all.
Dustin Penner, Anaheim to Edmonton, 5 yr. 21.5 million and 1st/2nd/3rd which Burke then turned into 4 picks in the first 2 rounds, following several trades... they were... Jake Gardiner, Nicolas Deschamps, Eric O'Dell and Justin Shultz.
All of that for the right to give a 2nd-year pro a huge contract. Penner set a new career high in points with 47 but was given double the playing time and saw 1st line power-play. He scored 23 goals. Time will tell on this one, but Brian Burke sure made the most out of the picks he got from Edmonton. The Oilers could use more production from Penner as well. Kevin Lowe made this deal expecting the Oilers to push for the playoffs and only leave the Ducks with low picks, the Oilers underachieved making their draft picks that much more valuable to the Ducks. The bottom line with making offer sheets to RFA's is that it doesn't make much sense if you are in a rebuilding mode. What you give up in that instance is way too valuable.
I expect much the same out of this years crop. A lot of players are going to take advantage of an open-market bidding war. And if you've visited the new Cap Central on the Hockeybuzz home page, you'll see there are teams with a lot of money to throw around. The problem with that, is the UFA market this year is a step down from last year, and that's not saying much. There's going to be a lot of wasted money and high hopes for teams like Columbus that are hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in their franchises existence.
I am also going to offer my thoughts on some of the big names available this year, but I'll make those in a seperate blog, hopefully I can get it out before tomorrow!