Sunday, July 1, 2012

2012 NHL Free Agent Frenzy Arrives

Welcome to this year’s free agent frenzy, which begins on July 1 at 12:00 PM eastern.  And, of course, Happy Canada Day to our neighbo(u)rs in the north.

The NHL free agency crop is a bit lacking this year, but with the cap increasing to $70.2 million, plenty of money will change hands and it will still be sure to be a frenzy.  This is the first free agency period in a few years where the trade market is more actually more interesting than the free agent market.  Forwards Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan are up for possible movement, as well as goaltender Roberto Luongo, who would have to share time with Cory Schneider if he stays in Vancouver.  There is top-end talent in this free agent class with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but a lot of potential free agents have opted to sign with their current clubs before July 1st.  Why?

Teams have more money to spend and free agent contracts have always been about overpaying and giving a long-term deal to players who are anything but a lock to produce and earn that huge contract.  General managers should opt for players who are known commodities in their organization, already having played with the guys on their roster and already having been coached by their staff.  Players usually wait for July 1st to see their paychecks potentially skyrocket, undoubtedly at the urging of their agents.

This year, however, players are uncertain about the looming expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in September and a potential delay in the start of the 2012-13 season.  The result of a new CBA may be a reduced salary cap than what the league is working with today, so players are probably returning to the same security of a known situation with their existing teams. 

What is this, risk management for a time of the year where risk is cast aside?  Welcome to uncertain waters of today’s NHL and the labor issues that are right around the corner.

The trade market could pick up today because of the need to clear out cap space, which is the name of the game.  But, according to CapGeek, 19 teams are under the $54.2 million salary cap floor.  In other words, very little cap space has to be cleared.  Among those 19 teams, historically free-spending teams such as the Rangers, Canadiens, and Red Wings, are under the floor.  They will not have a problem throwing money at holes on their rosters.

Yet another wrinkle in this free agency season is the potential for some of the most sought-after free agents waiting a while before signing because of money issues with their previous clubs.  Shane Doan is waiting to find out about the Phoenix ownership situation, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, which may become clearer on July 9th.  Zach Parise could very possibly wait a bit before deciding to sign somewhere new, as the Devils ownership situation needs a cash infusion and, according to the New York Post, the NHL is waiting a few weeks before stepping in.  But, this may take the better part of six weeks to determine the state of the franchise and Parise, and fellow free agent Martin Brodeur, will definitely sign before then.

At the down of the frenzy, Boston has the smallest amount of cap space ($278K) and their roster is all but set with 23 players under contract.  The Flyers have the fifth-most space in the league at about $10.5 million with 20 players signed, while the three New York-area teams are currently under the cap floor.  The Rangers are closest to the floor with about $50.5 million tied up in 16 players ($19.7 cap space), with the Devils ranking 11th in cap space available (about $25.3 million) and the Islanders figuring in 10th (about $25.5 million).*

The Islanders have improved their 2012-13 on-ice product with a draft day trade for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.  The Devils have the most to lose in free agency with Parise and Brodeur likely to leave, and they have signed some ancillary players such as their entire fourth line (Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta).  The Rangers secured their backup goaltender in coming to an agreement with Martin Biron for $1.3 million per year for two years.  Boston arrived at an important agreement with restricted free agent, Tuukka Rask, on a one-year, $3.5 million deal, made much more important because of Tim Thomas taking a one-year sabbatical.  Philadelphia went the trade route in improving their defense by dealing James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for Luke Schenn.  Philadelphia may lose Matt Carle, who will command a big contract especially in this market.

Stay close to a smartphone, laptop, or TV on July 1st because you will see a few nutty contracts and some surprises.  And, if you have not done so yet, listen to our Free Agent Frenzy preview on Sports With The StatMan (Show #271) for our views on the free agency period and some predictions.

* - All figured courtesy of

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