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Rand Simon's Blog: Free agent supply and demand

Phil Kessel is the top Group 2 free agent still on an entry level contract. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Phil Kessel is the top Group 2 free agent still on an entry level contract. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images)

Much has been written lately regarding the impact the current economic crisis will have on revenues in the National Hockey League, and the effect it will have on the upper salary cap limit going forward.

In terms of how the 2009 free agency season will play out, the demand (dollars available to the teams to spend vis-à-vis the upper limit) is only half the equation. And while the upper limit is not expected to rise as much next season as it has during the first few years of this Collective Bargaining Agreement, the supply side of the equation is slightly more favorable to the players who will become free agents on July 1, 2009.

As of this writing, there are 432 players on NHL rosters who are signed already for the 2009-10 season. That compares to 408 players a year ago at this time that had contracts for the 2008-09 season. So while there may not be as much demand for free agents if the upper limit stays where it is now or rises only slightly, there will also likely be less supply available.

One striking difference from last season is the much smaller number of elite Group 2 free agents who do not have salary arbitration rights compared to a year ago at this time. Since these players cannot be taken to arbitration by their clubs, they are potentially open to receive an offer sheet all summer. Group 2 players with arbitration rights lose the ability to receive an offer sheet in the first week of July if either they file, or the team takes them to arbitration.

With the recent extensions signed by Colorado’s Paul Stastny and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar, one could make the argument that the only elite potential Group 2 unsigned free agent on an entry level contract is Phil Kessel of the Boston Bruins.

Kessel is the only player in that category with more than seven goals (he has 13) and one of two players with 20 points (Kris Versteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks is the other). The only other forwards with more than 15 points who are potential Group 2 free agents without salary arbitration rights are Kessel’s teammate David Krejci and the Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky.

The pickings are very slim on defense for any team looking to submit an offer sheet to a Group 2 player without arbitration rights. The top three blueliners in this category – Vancouver’s Alex Edler, Atlanta’s Tobias Enstrom and San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic – have all recently signed extensions.

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This is a far cry from the same time last season when several young stars were unsigned and headed for Group 2 free agency. In fact, Anaheim’s Corey Perry, Nashville’s Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter, Los Angeles’ Patrick O’Sullivan and Washington’s Mike Green were all unsigned until after the conclusion of the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs.

ROUGH SURFING
Nice to see some of the improvements made this season at NHL.com, but there are still bugs in the system. I tried printing out a player’s game log in Internet Explorer and got two blank pages. So, I tried Google’s Chrome browser and all that got me was nine horribly formatted pages. Finally, I tried Firefox and got the same format as Chrome but this time, with 12 pages!

Unfortunately, we have to rely more on NHL.com than we did last year as The Hockey Cube has not been updated since last April and HockeyReference.com does not include ice time for this season.

NO. 1 WITH A BULLET?
Why exactly do home teams so frequently choose to go first in the shootout? Wouldn’t that be like the home team in baseball deciding to bat first in each inning? Maybe there is method to the madness – does anyone have the stats showing how teams fare when they shoot first at home compared to when they shoot second (with quality of competition factored in)? It always strikes me as an odd thing to do.

ROCK THE VOTE
Speaking of baseball, did you see the recent National League Rookie of the Year voting? While we often criticize hockey writers for their award choices, at least they know who’s a rookie and who isn’t. Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Edison Volquez received three second- place votes for the award even though he wasn’t eligible. While the writers who made the selections are at fault, whoever reviews the completed ballots from the Baseball Writers Association of America is equally to blame.

Rand Simon is an NHLPA certified agent. He has spent the past 15 years with Newport Sports Management Inc.

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