Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Coyotes gamble on Owen Nolan

922 days.

That's a long time. Two years, six months and eight days, to be precise.

And when the Phoenix Coyotes open the 2006-07 season on Oct. 5, it will also the length of time since Owen Nolan last played in an NHL game.

Salary figures haven't yet been released, but Nolan had reportedly been after a $2-million deal. Given the Desert Dogs and GM Mike Barnett's history, my guess is that's about what he got.

Now, in his prime — a good six-plus years ago — Nolan was an excellent NHL player. Not a leader, not a guy who necessarily came up big in big games, but a power forward who produced a ton of gritty goals — 44 of which came in his career year of 1999-2000 with the San Jose Sharks.

Since then, mediocrity has been the order of the day. Injuries and lacklustre play, as well as what was reportedly a cancerous attitude, led to a horribly lopsided trade late in the 2002-03 campaign that saw Nolan dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Alyn McAuley, Brad Boyes and a 1st-round pick (that was used, incidentally, by the Sharks to select Steve Bernier).

In all, Nolan had 26 goals and 62 points in 86 games in Toronto. And despite the fact he was just 31 years old when he came to Hogtown, the miles on his body had obviously added up.

He was slower, less effective, and eventually went down with a knee injury that devolved into an ugly dispute over cash with the Leafs that wasn't settled until yesterday.

Sounds like a player any non-playoff team would want to get them over the hump, no?

The thing is, even if I thought the Nolan signing was a good one (I don't), I wouldn't have made it if I was Barnett. It comes down to something I wrote recently for a fantasy hockey piece soon to hit newstands: weigh the risk against the rewards.

As with a fantasy junkie, a GM can certainly take risks in building his team. The problem comes, however, in taking too many of these longshot gambles — which is exactly what Phoenix has done this off-season. The team's improvement from being the fourth-worst team in the Western Conference last season is banked on the likes of 36-year-old Jeremy Roenick, the perpetually injured Ed Jovanovski and a 39-year-old starting netminder who doesn't even have an NHL calibre backup.

It's a huge, ugly house of cards, and Phoenix is going to have a heck of a time once it starts to fall down.

Nolan will fit right in.


At 9:57 a.m., August 16, 2006, Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Phoenix is such a mish mash of players and have been for years.

It makes no sense.

At 11:41 a.m., August 16, 2006, Blogger MetroGnome said...

The Island of Misfit Toys adds another member.

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