Thursday, June 28, 2007

The NHL free-agent feeding frenzy


It’s interesting that July 1, for most patriotic Canadians, isn’t about Canada Day. It’s about NHL free agency.

July 1, the day unrestricted free agents are unshackled, signals the beginning of a hockey buffet lasting all summer.

Every team is hungry for help; some dine on top-quality cuisine, some can only afford fast food, while others survive on old, stale scraps they find in the street.

Grab those pants with the elastic wasteband. Let’s chow down on the most noteworthy members of the 2007 NHL unrestricted free agent crop.


These guys are la crème de la crème. They cost a fortune but they’re so damn good you won't want to brush your teeth for three days just to savour the meal. Only the rich can afford them and buyers feel prestigious just being seen with them. Still, teams must be wary of wasting their money on a brutal case of food poisoning. The health inspector should’ve warned Mike Milbury about Alexei “salmonella” Yashin.

Fan reaction: “Whoa, we signed Briere? Sweeet. We’re making a run at the Cup, baby.”

Daniel Briere, C – This pint-sized centre is one of the quickest, most creative players in the game. He can score with Wade Belak and Dick Cheney on his wings, so imagine what he could do playing alongside, say, Henrik Zetterberg? Scary.

Ryan Smyth, left wing – He’s as overrated as he is ugly but he’s still an extremely valuable commodity. He’s gritty, drives to the net as hard as anyone and he’s in his prime. What more could a team want?


Not the perfect meal in everyone’s mind, but pretty damn good. Steakhouse free agents are fairly pricey, but they're usually a worthy investment.

Fan reaction: “We got Gomez! Cool. I hope we didn’t overpay…still, this should make us way better.”

Chris Drury, C – Mr. Clutch will fetch a nice sum this summer, but he comes with some risks. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and was a bust as a Calgary Flame, where he had far less offensive support. Still, he has more intangibles than Jim Abbott and should help whoever signs him.

Scott Gomez, C – Wilmer Valderrama’s Alaskan lookalike is one of this summer's more intriguing buys. He showed great vision even in New Jersey’s uber-defensive regime. Who knows what he could do in a run ‘n’ gun system?

Sheldon Souray, D – Listing Souray’s position as “defence” is an annoying formality. We all know he’s just Bryan McCabe if McCabe drank the Supershredder ooze from Ninja Turtles II – bigger, an even harder one-timer, an even greater defensive liability, and with giant, razor-sharp shoulder pads. A team needing power-play help will splurge on him, though.

Other notables: Paul Kariya, Ladislav Nagy, Teemu Selanne (if he doesn’t retire)


Why can’t healthy food taste good? These free agents are certain to help teams even though they’re blander and more boring than a celery stick.

Fan reaction: “You know what, man? I actually really like this Bates Battaglia signing. Really cheap and he’ll throw his weight around and work his ass off, you know?”

Jason Blake, RW – I hate his orange, freckly face but he’s evolved into quite the two-way hockey player the last few years. Even if his 40-goal season was an anomaly, he’ll at least provide 25 goals and solid penalty killing.

Michael Handzus, C – We still haven’t seen the best of Handzus. When healthy, he’s a hulking centre who’s tough to knock off the puck and can check opponents’ top forwards. He could reap huge rewards for any team willing to gamble on him.

Yanic Perreault, C – Yeah, he’s slow and old, but for two straight years he’s proven he can be a valuable role player (I’m not talking about this year’s brief stint with the Leafs when he was damaged goods). Any team can use a guy who wins more faceoffs than anyone on the planet and holds his own on the power play.

Other notables: Scott Hannan, Bates Battaglia, Ronald Petrovicky, Pascal Dupuis, Todd White, Wayne Primeau, Alyn McCauley


Sure, Mom’s pot roast could use a little salt, but you could do much worse. These guys are safe picks who won’t cost a ton and won’t give you the shits -- but they won’t blow you away, either.

Fan reaction: “Yeah, we signed Zubrus…it’s hard cheering for the Oilers – we can’t go after the big names. But he should gel well with Hemsky.”

Michael Nylander, C – Nylander, like many forwards in this category, can excel in the right situation. He’d be dumb to leave Jaromir Jagr and the New York Rangers as he’s never been one to carry an offensive load on his own.

Mike Comrie, C/RW – A true wild card, Comrie looks like a Denis Savard one night and a Brian Boitano the next. His speed and flashes of offensive brilliance should earn him some nice dough, but will the taker get burned?

Other notables: Roman Hamrlik, Tom Poti, Tom Preissing, Brad Stuart, Slava Kozlov, Josef Stumpel, Petr Sykora (the good one, not the crappy Washington one), Dainius Zubrus, Viktor Kozlov, Kyle Calder, Danny Markov, Jaroslav Modry


Sounds like an oxymoron, but we can’t put Harvey’s and Taco Bell in the same category. High-end fast food free agents offer some nice short-term pleasure but, if you’ve seen Supersize Me, you know any long-term agreement will kill a team.

Fan reaction: “We signed Tkachuk? Woooo! Yeah! Go Leafs go! Tkachuk is, like, a 94 overall in NHL ’97. Wicked.”

Peter Forsberg, C – If you’re an NHL general manager, do you think Forsberg is worth the investment anymore? A guy who gets hurt every season, will command the league maximum salary and is always on the verge of retiring? Sounds disastrous. Yeah, he’s dominant…but wait, do we even know if he still is? We haven’t seen Foppa play a full season in several years.

Alexei Yashin, C – He should fit nicely into the mercenary role this summer. Everyone knows he doesn’t play defence, still has enough in the tank to augment a power play and wants cash perhaps more than a Stanley Cup ring. A contender who doesn’t need a clutch guy and just wants an offensive tune-up will throw money at him. Maybe Detroit.

Other notables: Dominik Hasek, Teppo Numminen, Mathieu Schneider, Todd Bertuzzi, Bill Guerin, Brendan Shanahan, Keith Tkachuk, Anson Carter, Robert Lang, Bryan Berard


You enjoyed them when they were fresh and delicious, but now they’re old, stale and a little mouldy. They’re best suited for dogs and expansion teams.

Fan reaction: “Fuck me. Why the fuck did we just blow three million to bring geriatric Owen Nolan back? Please fire Ferguson now.”

Curtis Joseph, G – You know the theory that life is a circle, that you start as a baby and end up living a baby’s lifestyle as an old person? Cujo’s hockey career is similar. He started as a beer league goalie, became a star, and now belongs in the beer leagues again. Retire, please.

Jeremy Roenick, C – He’s that dog that keeps fetching the ball, wagging his tail and returning to your side over and over, even though he's exhausted and wheezing like he's got emphysema. Jeremy! JE-RE-MY! Here boy! OK, that’s enough. Enough hockey for you, OK? We love you but you have to give it a rest.

Other notables: Michael Peca, Owen Nolan, Sean Hill, Jeff O’Neill (yeah, he’s not that old technically, but he plays like he’s 40), Peter Bondra, Trevor Linden, Alexander Mogilny (assuming he ain’t dead), Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, Darren McCarty, Pierre Turgeon, Patrice Brisebois, Petr Nedved, Darryl Sydor, Eric Lindros


Fan reaction: “Who’d we sign? Corey Sarich? I’ve heard of him, I think. Ugh…we suck. I hate being a Panthers fan.”

This group isn’t quite literally shit, but damn close and probably not as nutritious. Most teams will stay away, aside from poor, pathetic squads looking for a cheap thrill to trick the kids into thinking daddy has a job. “OK kids, happy birthday! We’re going to Arby’s!” is the equivalent of “OK, Philadelphia, we just signed Ed Belfour!”

Basically, just take any name from this list, add “is not the answer” next to it, and you have a headline for whatever team signs that player.

Jocelyn Thibault, G – If your team’s attendance sucks, maybe you sign him. You can promise fans “lots of goals” and fulfill that promise without blowing money on Briere.

Martin Gelinas, left wing – The guy’s a god-damn rabbit’s foot. “Oopsies, another playoff overtime winner! Hooray!” He’s worth a mil for that reason alone. Yet I know if the Leafs signed him it would backfire and he’d become a curse. “Oh…goodness! Own goal! OWN GOAL GELINAS! OWN GOAL GELINAS! LEAFS LOSE! LEAFS LOSE! LEAFS LOOOOOOSE!”

Other notables: Ed Belfour, Corey Sarich, Vladimir Orszagh, Nils Ekman, Sandis Ozolinsh, Kevin Weekes, Mike York, Robert Esche, Radek Bonk, Janne Niinimaa, Greg De Vries, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brent Sopel, Brian Smolinski, Martin Skoula, Brad Ference, Ken Klee, Ric Jackman, Matthew Barnaby, Aaron Miller


Fan reaction: “Kill me.”

You want to vomit when you walk past them, but someone out there actually needs them. Sad.

Mathieu Garon – Just kidding. No way I’m gonna put you through this. I was mainly just looking for a forum to rip Jonas Hoglund, but he’s fled the continent.

-- M. L.


malcolm said...

Gotta be honest, I couldn't disagree more about Bonk. He put up acceptable offensive numbers for the role he played, he hustled hard on defence, and he was the anchor to our highly-ranked PK. Him, Begin and Johnson were the only players on the Habs this year who you could count on not to make a costly mistake. He's essentially the anti-Souray. Anything 2-million or below is totally worthwhile, and I'll be pissed if the Habs don't resign him.

Kevin said...

Agreed about Bonk.. he's taken some flak in the past, but really rounded into shape this year...

As for Yashin... i'm betting he goes somewhere for chump change... He's still getting paid all his $$ from the islanders... they bought him out, remember... so money isn't an issue...

malcolm said...

What a sweet deal getting bought out, eh.

I shoulda signed onto Sports for two years instead of one and gotten Hayes to buy out my volume 101 honoraria before I switched over to Ops.

If you play like shit in the NHL, they pay you to do nothing. In what business other than hockey can you pull that off?