Monday, June 30, 2008

The young UFAs

One of the most important and dramatic changes in the NHL's collective bargaining agreement was the age of unrestricted free agency, which was dropped to 27 for most players — and as low as 25 for some — coming out of the lockout.

Now, the difference between a 27-year-old free agent and a 35-year-old one is incredible: Not only will you get much more use out of a player's peak years, but you'll also avoid the increased risk that involves aged players. Under the CBA, any multi-year contract given to a 35-year-old free agent will count against the cap regardless of whether or not the player plays out the full deal.

In other words, if Brian Rolston signs in Tampa Bay for, let's say, $15-million over three years and retires after next season, there will be a cap hit of $5-million for the Lightning the next two seasons.

Here is a list of this year's 28-and-under unrestricted free agents (sorted by age then 2007-08 cap hit; noteables in blue):


Player Age Team Pos 2007-08
cap hit
1 Emery, Ray 25 OTT G $3.167
2 Voros, Aaron 26 MIN L $0.495
3 Kalinin, Dmitri 27 BUF D $2.000
4 Williams, Jason 27 CHI C $1.600
5 Vrbata, Radim 27 PHX R $1.225
6 Orpik, Brooks 27 PIT D $1.038
7 Miettinen, Antti 27 DAL L $0.885
8 Mezei, Branislav 27 FLA D $0.825
9 Vasicek, Josef 27 NYI C $0.750
10 Hainsey, Ron 27 CLB D $0.738
11 McCarthy, Steve 27 ATL D $0.725
12 Sauer, Kurt 27 COL D $0.719
13 Moore, Dominic 27 TOR C $0.700
14 Auld, Alex 27 BOS G $0.600
15 Hale, David 27 CGY D $0.590
16 Beech, Kris 27 PIT C $0.585
17 Hall, Adam 27 PIT R $0.525
18 Hordichuk, Darcy 27 CAR L $0.517
19 Winchester, Brad 27 DAL C $0.475
20 Weller, Craig 27 PHX R $0.475
21 Stuart, Brad 28 DET D $3.500
22 Mara, Paul 28 NYR D $3.000
23 Ryder, Michael 28 MTL R $2.950
24 Raycroft, Andrew 28 TOR G $2.000
25 Avery, Sean 28 NYR C $1.900
26 Rachunek, Karel 28 NJD D $1.400
27 Commodore, Mike 28 OTT D $1.250
28 Vandermeer, Jim 28 CGY D $1.225
29 Montador, Steve 28 FLA D $0.800
30 Hagman, Niklas 28 DAL L $0.675
31 Walker, Matt 28 STL D $0.600
32 Sanford, Curtis 28 VAN G $0.600
33 Davison, Rob 28 NYI D $0.525
34 Wozniewski, Andy 28 TOR D $0.500
35 Godard, Eric 28 CGY R $0.475
36 Finger, Jeff 28 COL D $0.475
37 Janik, Doug 28 TBL D $0.475

We've heard a ton about how restricted free agents are getting big contracts under the new CBA, but young unrestricted free agents are truly on the open market and will be overpaid even more than an RFA coming off an entry level deal.

Some of these players, like Orpik, Sauer and Avery, are going to be paid based on their potential despite having been in the league for a few years.
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Meet the big buyers

With the cap rising $6.4-million and some teams like the Penguins with as many as 10 unrestricted free agents, there is an incredible amount of cash available to be spent.

Consider the numbers: Ten teams have $20-million or more to spend under the cap. Three — Los Angeles, Columbus and Atlanta — have $30-million or more. The average team, at this point, has 18 players signed and spent $41-million, with approximately $16-million in cap space available.

Including restricted free agents, there are still 150 notable players without a home, meaning as much as 20 per cent of the league will be up for grabs beginning at noon tomorrow.

Here are my predictions as to who will be the biggest buyers:

N.Y. Rangers: Even after inking Scott Gomez and Chris Drury last July 1, New York has plenty of holes to fill and $20-million to do so. GM Glen Sather has yet to re-sign free agents like Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Sean Avery, Brendan Shanahan and Michal Rozsival and needs two more NHL defenders and a whole lot of help for Gomez and Drury up front. If Jagr doesn't return, they're in the market for the big fish — and Mats Sundin's at the top of that list.

Columbus: It isn't going to be easy being GM Scott Howson. With R.J. Umberger and Pascal Leclaire waiting on contracts, the Blue Jackets have a paper thin roster and about $32-million available to spent — although don't expect them to bump right up against the cap. Columbus desperately needs a playoff drive to keep interest alive in central Ohio, and the Jackets have only three NHL defencemen signed and need some big shooters at all positions to help out captain Rick Nash. Because of the team's lack of success, it's possible Howson has to overpay to bring in some help. (That shouldn't be a problem given he needs to spend about $15-million to get to the salary floor.)

Vancouver: Another non-playoff team with a new GM anxious to make his mark, the Canucks also have boatloads of cap space ($20-million) should Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison not return. Mike Gillis has had a tough time making a deal with other GMs to this point and free agency might be the only way he finds a taker for his dollars. Vancouver's holes are all at forward, where they have little beyond the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler.

Pittsburgh: For all the talk of their salary cap crunch, the Penguins still have a ton of cap space available next season: $26-million, with only a contract to Marc-Andre Fleury to come in arbitration. GM Ray Shero may not have any luck given that cash away to Marian Hossa and Brooks Orpik, but he's going to sign someone to fill the holes given Petr Sykora is the team's lone veteran winger. He's got some depth to work with on defence, but expect Pittsburgh to add a blueliner, too.

Minnesota: The Wild have some serious cash to spend after being spurned by veteran Brian Rolston, whose rights were dealt to Tampa Bay, and need considerable help up front through free agency. GM Doug Riseborough will likely spent close to the cap to get a top line centre and some help on the wings, and he'll have nearly $20-million even after getting Pierre-Marc Bouchard's name on a contract.

Chicago: The Blackhawks have $13-million burning a hole in their pocket, and we've heard in the leadup to tomorrow that Brian Campbell's name is on a big hunk of that cash. GM Dale Tallon already has the majority of his roster intact, but with key cogs like Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews on entry-level deals through 2009-10, he can afford to add a top-end defender and another scoring forward to replace Jason Williams.

Montreal: The Canadiens want to make a play for Sundin, but beyond that, there might not be the cash available to buy huge given GM Bob Gainey needs to sign five RFAs in the near future. Even still, the former Maple Leafs captain is going to cost a pretty penny — reportedly $15-million over two years — and they're willing to pay.
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Other teams that could spend: Atlanta, Toronto, N.Y. Islanders, Ottawa

Teams with potential cashflow issues: Philadelphia, Calgary, Anaheim, Dallas
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Here come the contracts

No, I'm not dead — I went to two weddings in two nights, one in Quebec, so it's been a long few days.

Generally, the week leading up to July 1 is a relatively quiet period (the calm before the storm headline gets used a few hundred times), but there was a ton of activity this weekend:
  • The Lightning traded for and then signed pending UFAs Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts. Tampa Bay also hired Malone's father, Greg, as their head pro scout. The term on Malone's contract (seven years) is wild, but I think he could have received a bigger payout as a free agent and a $4.5-million cap hit isn't obscene.

  • Tampa Bay also dealt for Brian Rolston, but I think they'll find him too rich for their salary structure (unless Dan Boyle is moved). The Lightning are already getting close to the cap, with a need for another top four defenceman and another goaltender going potentially unfilled depending on what ownership will spend

  • The Oilers dealt Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene to the Kings for Lubomir Visnovsky, taking on his $5.6-million deal. Lowetide has a well reasoned take: "It's hard to imagine Joni Pitkanen being on the roster for much longer."

    Visnovsky's coming off an awful season, but he's got a ton of talent, and could work wonders on Edmonton's power play. The Kings get younger and give Stoll a chance to regain his game in a rebuild situation.

    Los Angeles has almost a full roster signed and is $30-million under the cap.

  • Buyouts for Todd Bertuzzi, Dennis Gauthier, Alexei Zhitnik and Duvie Westcott, all designed to free up cap space. The Ducks, in particular, were really tight against the limit, and buying out Bertuzzi frees up $2.5-million of his $4-million salary

  • Two deals we already knew about: Calgary re-signed Daymond Langkow and Philadelphia locked up Jeff Carter. The Flames also kept Craig Conroy

  • And the Avalanched re-signed both Adam Foote (two years, $6-million) and John-Michael Liles (four years, $17-million). The Foote deal is a good one, despite his age, and he takes less than he would have gotten on the market to stay in Denver, while the Liles contract comes as a bit of a surprise given (a) he struggled last season and (b) he was rumoured to be dealt all the way up till the deadline.

    I think Colorado looked at their team, and the market for UFA defencemen, and decided Liles was the most economical option
Consider that a lightning round take on what's gone on. I'm going to be incredibly busy going forward: There's a live chat at FanHouse tomorrow at 11 a.m. until free agency opens at noon, after which time I'll be writing like a madman here the entire day.

The signings will be fast and furious.
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Friday, June 27, 2008

Grading the free agents
Goals, assists and points

All right, here are the basics. Potential free agent forwards who had 35 points or more and defencemen who had 20 points or more this past season (RFAs in red):


Name Team GP G A Pts +/-
1 Mats Sundin TOR 74 32 46 78 17
2 Jaromir Jagr NYR 82 25 46 71 8
3
Marian Hossa PIT 72 29 37 66 -14
4
Kristian Huselius CGY 81 25 41 66 10
5
Cory Stillman OTT 79 24 41 65 -15
6
Pierre-Marc Bouchard MIN 81 13 50 63 11
7
Brian Rolston MIN 81 31 28 59 -1
8
Andrew Brunette COL 82 19 40 59 5
9 Radim Vrbata PHO 76 27 29 56 6
10 Markus Naslund VAN 82 25 30 55 -7
11 Pavol Demitra MIN 68 15 39 54 9
12 Corey Perry ANA 70 29 25 54 12
13 Andrei Kostitsyn MON 78 26 27 53 15
14 Antoine Vermette OTT 81 24 29 53 3
15 Patrick O'Sullivan LOS 82 22 31 53 -8
16 Ryan Malone PIT 77 27 24 51 14
17 R.J. Umberger COB 74 13 37 50 0
18 Mark Recchi ATL 72 14 34 48 -18
19 Wojtek Wolski COL 77 18 30 48 10
20 Brendan Shanahan NYR 73 23 23 46 -2
21 Martin Straka NYR 65 14 27 41 5
22 Sergei Fedorov WAS 68 11 30 41 -5
23 Miroslav Satan NYI 80 16 25 41 -11
24 Niklas Hagman DAL 82 27 14 41 4
25 Joe Sakic COL 44 13 27 40 -4
26 Marek Svatos COL 62 26 11 37 13
27 Brooks Laich WAS 82 21 16 37 -3
28 Jason Williams CHI 43 13 23 36 -2
29
Valtteri Filppula DET 78 19 17 36 16
30 Jarret Stoll EDM 81 14 22 36 -23
31 Paul Gaustad BUF 82 10 26 36 -4
32 Daniel Paille BUF 77 19 16 35 9
33 Jan Hlavac NAS 80 12 23 35 -1
34 Josef Vasicek NYI 81 16 19 35 1









Name Team GP G A Pts +/-
1 Mark Streit MON 81 13 49 62 -6
2 Brian Campbell SAN 83 8 54 62 8
3 Mike Green WAS 82 18 38 56 6
4 Michal Rozsival NYR 80 13 25 38 0
5 Wade Redden OTT 80 6 32 38 11
6 Jay Bouwmeester FLA 82 15 22 37 -5
7
Andrej Meszaros OTT 82 9 27 36 5
8
Ron Hainsey COB 78 8 24 32 -7
9
John-Michael Liles COL 81 6 26 32 2
10 Randy Jones PHI 71 5 26 31 8
11 Rob Blake LOS 71 9 22 31 -19
12 Joni Pitkanen EDM 63 8 18 26 -5
13 Brad Stuart DET 72 6 17 23 -10
14 Bryan Berard NYI 54 5 17 22 -17
15 Christian Ehrhoff SAN 77 1 21 22 9

This is what they mean when you hear it's not a strong free agent class: Only two players with more than 66 points last season, and quite a few guys coming off of down years.

Sundin and Rolston are the only 30-goal scorers, and there are only nine UFA defenders with 20 points or more.

The trick, in my mind, when it comes to free agency, is not necessarily getting the big fish. Rather, the players you want to add to your team (presumably one that's already near contention) are the undervalued ones.

Sundin, Jagr, Hossa — huge paydays. Campbell, Streit, Redden — ditto.

But someone like Rolston, who the Wild hard having a heckuva time signing, or Vrbata, who broke out for 27 goals despite big ice time with meagre linemates, could be closer to a home run, dpending on what the interest is like in their service.

On the blueline, Rozsival continues to be underrated, and players like Hainsey and Liles are young enough that you're getting potentially breakout years given the development timeline for defenders.

Note where Ryan Malone is on the list, despite the fact he lined up beside Sid Crosby or Evgeni Malkin all season.
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The NHL constitution

Interesting times in the blogosphere.

Late Wednesday night, I received an email from Dan Tolensky from HockeyBuzz.com, a blogger I chat with once in a while about the hockey topic du jour. Tolensky said he had been leaked a partial copy of the NHL's constitution, and that he'd have a post on it the next day.

"Who'd you sleep with?" was my response back.

The 30-plus page constitution, a set of league rules and bylaws, is not something that's been put out there, not like the collective bargaining agreement, which can be downloaded at NHLPA.com anytime you like. (A surefire insomnia cure, by the way.)

Yesterday just before noon, Tolensky posted a few lengthy sections of the document he'd been leaked, and it all looked rather official. He had some minor analysis of what was there, and the comments were piling up.

A few hours later, the piece was taken offline.

What's up in its place is a bit of an explanation of why the documents were pulled, and in talking to Dan a bit on email last night, it sounds as if he wants to do a bit more digging before putting all of the information out there.

I have no such qualms.

What follows is one portion of what he posted, a section on "Conflicts of Interest." Keep in mind that I have not verified that what's here is actually the league's constitution — for all I know, Dan could have been given anything by anyone willing to mislead him.

Either way, it's worth noting that this is out there and being talked about:
Article XIII – Conflicts of Interest – Ownership

13.1 Purposes. This Article 13 prohibits the acquisition (or holding) of certain direct or indirect ownership interests in, or management rights with respect to, Member Clubs, by Persons having ownership interests in, or management rights with respect to, one or more other Member Clubs. The League and the Commissioner, as the case may be, shall continue to have all of the rights and powers, and all current and prospective Member Clubs and Owners shall have all of the obligations, set forth in the other provisions of the Constitution, By-Laws, rules, resolutions and agreements of the League. Without limiting the generality of the preceding sentence, the League shall continue to have the right to disapprove any proposed transfer of a direct or indirect ownership interest in a Member Club, even if the proposed transaction would otherwise comply with the provisions in this Article 13.

13.3 Restrictions on Controlling Owner

(a) Subject to Article 13.6 below, a Controlling Owner may not at any time:

(i) acquire or hold an Ownership Interest in another Member Club or its franchise, other than pursuant to the Public Company Exception;

(ii) serve, or permit any of its Attributed Persons to serve, as a Director of any other Member Club or any other Controlling Owner unless, in the case of a Controlling Owner that is a Diversified Owner, the Commissioner has given his prior written approval; or

(iii) enter into any business transaction with any Member Club (Other than the Member Club of which it is the Controlling Owner) without the prior written approval of the Commissioner.

(b) If the Commissioner disapproves any proposed transaction submitted pursuant to Article 13.3(a)(iii), the applicable Controlling Owner may appeal such disapproval to the Board of Governors, which may approve the proposed transaction by three-fourths vote.
We've already heard this week that the commissioner was apparently in the dark on some of the recent dealings going on among his crew, and it's certainly not hard to link this document to recent goings on in the NHL.

It makes you wonder why, at this critical juncture, it's coming to the forefront the way it is. A lot of veteran members of the media have never laid eyes on the constitution, for whatever reason.

Now, perhaps, it's out there, such as it is — and this could be only the beginning.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Grading the free agents
Points per minute: defencemen

Following up on Wednesday's post about the top point-per-minute forwards, here's a similar list for blueliners based on 5-on-5 play from last season (restricted free agents in red).

For no particular reason, I kept Mark Streit in this group despite the fact he played all season at even strength as a forward. It's expected he'll want to sign somewhere as a full-time blueliner this summer:


NAME TEAM GP TOI/60 QUAL COMP PTS/60
1 MARKSTREIT MTL 81 11.3 -0.01 1.57
2 BRIANCAMPBELL S.J 83 17.2 -0.03 1.13
3 MIKEGREEN WSH 82 17.8 0.02 1.11
4 JEFFWOYWITKA STL 27 14.1 -0.14 1.10
5 RYANO'BYRNE MTL 33 12.6 -0.02 1.01
6 MAGNUSJOHANSSON FLA 45 11.9 -0.08 1.00
7 ANDREWWOZNIEWSKI TOR 48 11.2 -0.04 1.00
8 RANDYJONES PHI 71 13.6 -0.05 0.99
9 MAREKMALIK NYR 42 15.8 0.06 0.91
10 JAYBOUWMEESTER FLA 82 19.0 0.12 0.89
11 KEVINDALLMAN L.A 34 11.9 -0.09 0.89
12 MIKECOMMODORE OTT 67 14.3 0.01 0.87
13 ROBBLAKE L.A 71 14.8 0.09 0.86
14 KARELRACHUNEK N.J 47 14.8 -0.04 0.86
15 WADEREDDEN OTT 80 16.0 -0.02 0.85
16 JONIPITKANEN EDM 63 16.9 0.03 0.84
17 CHRISCHELIOS DET 69 12.4 -0.09 0.84
18 BRETHEDICAN CAR 66 15.8 0.03 0.81
19 ANDREJMESZAROS OTT 82 15.5 0.00 0.80
20 PETERHARROLD L.A 25 15.1 -0.05 0.80
21 KEITHCARNEY MIN 61 12.4 -0.12 0.79
22 KURTISFOSTER MIN 56 12.7 -0.10 0.76
23 MICHALROZSIVAL NYR 80 16.9 0.05 0.75
24 JEFFFINGER COL 72 16.1 -0.06 0.73
25 CHRISTIANEHRHOFF S.J 77 15.9 0.05 0.73
26 PAULMARA NYR 61 13.5 0.00 0.73
27 JASSENCULLIMORE FLA 65 15.0 -0.04 0.68
28 BRADSTUART DET 72 14.8 -0.04 0.68
29 DENNISWIDEMAN BOS 81 17.6 0.04 0.67
30 ANDREASLILJA DET 79 14.7 -0.01 0.67
31 AARONMILLER VAN 57 14.2 -0.11 0.67
32 ALEXEISEMENOV S.J 22 12.2 -0.04 0.67
33 SANDISOZOLINSH S.J 39 11.6 -0.09 0.66
34 BRUNOGERVAIS NYI 60 14.4 0.02 0.63
35 DENNISSEIDENBERG CAR 47 14.1 0.01 0.63
36 BRYANBERARD NYI 54 12.8 -0.03 0.61
37 VILLEKOISTINEN NSH 48 12.6 -0.07 0.60
38 LUKERICHARDSON OTT 76 11.8 -0.09 0.60
39 JAMESVANDERMEER CGY 75 15.0 -0.05 0.59
40 JOHN-MICHAELLILES COL 81 14.3 -0.08 0.57
41 PETTERINUMMELIN MIN 27 11.9 -0.15 0.56
42 STEVEEMINGER PHI 20 10.7 -0.11 0.56
43 JOSHGORGES MTL 62 14.2 -0.01 0.55
44 BRYCESALVADOR N.J 64 15.6 0.09 0.54
45 DICKTARNSTROM CBJ 48 13.8 -0.05 0.54
46 NOLANPRATT BUF 55 12.2 -0.16 0.54
47 BROOKSORPIK PIT 78 14.9 -0.04 0.52
48 SEANHILL MIN 35 13.5 -0.12 0.51
49 ANDREIZYUZIN CHI 32 11.2 -0.08 0.50
50 JASONSMITH PHI 77 14.5 -0.03 0.48
51 DMITRIKALININ BUF 46 13.6 -0.11 0.48
52 STEVEMCCARTHY ATL 55 13.9 -0.10 0.47
53 ADAMFOOTE COL 75 17.3 0.15 0.46
54 KURTSAUER COL 54 15.0 0.12 0.44
55 JORDANHENDRY CHI 40 14.3 0.01 0.42
56 PATRICEBRISEBOIS MTL 43 13.2 -0.03 0.42
57 BRANISLAVMEZEI FLA 57 12.6 -0.03 0.42
58 RONHAINSEY CBJ 78 15.5 0.00 0.35
59 MARKEATON PIT 36 14.6 0.02 0.34
60 SHAONEMORRISONN WSH 76 16.1 0.03 0.29
61 MARKPOPOVIC ATL 33 13.8 -0.08 0.26
62 JAROSLAVMODRY PHI 80 15.2 0.01 0.25
63 MATTJONES PHX 45 12.8 -0.10 0.21
64 AARONJOHNSON NYI 30 11.2 -0.04 0.18
65 DAVIDHALE CGY 58 12.7 -0.07 0.16
66 ROBDAVISON NYI 34 12.0 -0.02 0.15
67 MATTWALKER STL 43 13.3 -0.02 0.10
68 JASONSTRUDWICK NYR 52 11.8 -0.05 0.10
69 MIKEWEAVER VAN 55 12.2 -0.05 0.09

Not as great of a list given (a) defencemen don't score the majority of their points at even strength and (b) some of the more valuable members of the free agent blueliners club are far down the list.

Still, this gives you an idea of why guys like Campbell and Green are highly coveted.
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