Starting at the end of this column, I'm on vacation until after the Labor Day weekend. (In my absence, the THN crew will do their darndest to answer your questions.)
Until then, Adios/Arrivederci/Auf Wiedersehen/Aloha/Au Revoir!
Do you think that, with offer sheets becoming more popular, more GMs will decide to take their own restricted free agents to arbitration so they can negotiate with their players without having to worry a rival GM will hand them an offer sheet?
Ryan Boudreau, Chipman, N.B.
There's not a doubt in my caffeine-addled mind GMs will negotiate with their prized RFAs well before they hit the market. It's already happened with Sidney Crosby, and the longer it takes other players (come on down, Alex Ovechkin) to get signed, the louder rumors of those players' dissatisfaction with their current team will get.
However, 99 per cent of the time, arbitration Â– a.k.a. the bane of Brian Burke's existence (with apologies to Kevin Lowe) Â– will have nothing to do with RFA negotiations. Considering some of the questionable, inflated awards handed out this summer, there is little to no benefit for teams to take players through the process. It's basically a last resort for both sides, so I'd expect teams to exhaust all negotiating avenues before the arbitrator steps in.
It's been very interesting to watch the interplay between the NHL and the Russian Super League lately. Whereas the story of last summer was young Russians slipping out on two weeks' notice to head to North America, Russia seems to be striking back this year by calling their veteran NHLers back home.
Russian hockey Â“godÂ” Alexei Yashin is the headliner, but you've got Oleg Saprykin, Oleg Tverdovsky, Stanislav Chistov and Anton Babchuk going with him. Of course, most of those guys are marginal NHLers at this point in their respective careers.
What really interests me, however, is what happens to current unrestricted free agent Danny Markov. I think everyone can agree he would be an asset to any NHL team and probably would have signed by now were it not for the restraints of the salary cap. However, he's still in limbo, and apparently GM Alexei Zhamnov of Vityaz Chekhov is courting Markov hard at this point.
Do you think Markov potentially defecting to Russia over the NHL escalates the personnel war that the two leagues are involved in now? And to take the speculation even further, what does this mean for 2008's big Russian unrestricted free agent, Ilya Bryzgalov? Is he going to see a huge Russian League contract offer hurled his way, and what are the odds he accepts?
Thanks very much for your time, and keep up the spot-on work.
Jeremy Goldmeier, St. Louis
To me, the unfolding Russian marketplace makes for a fascinating study.
I don't know that Markov signing in Russia will add more of a chill to the already frosty relationship between that country's hockey federation and the NHL. But as the NHL's collective bargaining agreement slowly squeezes out its middle-class players, I firmly believe you'll see more of those types Â– regardless of their nationality Â– make the jump to whichever team or league shows them the most scratch.
Bryzgalov is an interesting case, insofar as he's already on Anaheim's trade block. Any team dealing for him definitely will want his name on a contract extension; the evolving twist in his story is that it won't only be other NHL teams vying for his services, but other countries as well.
That said, if the money offered to him in North America is comparable to what he could get in Russia, he'll likely stay in the NHL. The culture is different, but off-ice support systems here far outclass those anywhere else, which may not sound like much if you've never played in another country Â– but those who have know exactly why those support systems are so valuable. (Read more on players returning to the Superleague in the Sept. 4 issue of The Hockey News.)
I've noticed a lot of Canadians and Americans signing overseas to play in the European leagues, especially in Germany and England. Would you give me your opinion on the top eight national leagues?
With salary cap considerations, do you see the European leagues as a potential talent pool for NHL GMs looking for mid-season acquisitions?
Thanks, Brian Mead, Olympia, Wash.
In consultation with THN senior editor Brian Costello, here's a quickie ranking of the best eight Euro leagues:
3. Czech Republic
As for your other question, it would be just about impossible for NHL GMs to raid those leagues for a mid-season talent boost, as most players sign exclusivity deals to keep them overseas for the remainder of the year. I think we in North America sometimes forget those Euro teams have fans (who want to see their teams win championships), too.
I believe you when you say you don't hate the Islanders, because with the loss of Jason Blake and giving up quality first-round picks for a rent-a-player (Ryan Smyth), even the most die-hard Islanders fan has to admit this off-season has been horrendous.
My big question to you is this: do we have a snowball's chance in hell in landing Peter Forsberg? Would he even want to come to the Islanders?
Thanks, Charlie M.
Thanks for being one of the few Isles fans who don't want to rip my head off and pour unmentionable liquids down my throat. It makes it all the harder for me to answer your question about Forsberg and the Isles without hitting random keys on the word processor from laughter.
As I've noted elsewhere, the general belief about Forsberg is (a) he won't be back until much closer to the Christmas season, and (b) he'll return to a city and team with which he's very familiar. Ergo, I believe it'll be Colorado or (retirement-related) bust for the Super Swede this year.
There are still some good free agents available such as Mike Johnson, Andy Sutton, David Tanabe and Janne Niinimaa!
Why haven't they signed yet, is nobody interested in them, or what?
Did you hear anything about these guys and/or which teams are interested in them?
Christopher from Germany
First of all, define Â“good.Â” If you meant Â“serviceable role players,Â” then I agree.
Sutton is now an Islander, but I assume he'll be the only one out of the group you mentioned to get a contract longer than one year. The other three all have entered the Â“journeymanÂ” stage of their careers, and as such, they'll likely sign with an NHL team closer to the start of training camp, or head to Europe to finish up their playing days.
I've been a lifelong Bruins fan, but I must admit that the past 15 years have been very difficult for those of us who bleed Black and Gold.
At the end of the day, is Jeremy Jacobs the single biggest reason why this great Original Six franchise has gone down the tubes?
Could orders from the owner to get rid of the likes of Boyes, Thornton and others, in return for almost nothing (and signing Tim Thomas for millions over three years) be the ultimate reason why they've been a non-factor?
Help me understand my pain.
Kevin W., New Brunswick
As someone who grew up watching the Maple Leafs under Harold Ballard, trust me, I feel your pain.
And yes, I believe that, as is the case in Chicago with the Blackhawks, meddlesome ownership is a major reason for the Bruins' agonizing decline into obscurity. For years, Jacobs has been far more concerned with the team's bottom line than their competitiveness, and Boston fans have been left to reap what he has sown.
Sophomore GM Peter Chiarelli hasn't done an abominable job in his short time with the Bruins, but here's the troubling part of the franchise's future: in a recent interview with NHL.com, Jacobs was asked how involved he is in the team's day-to-day operations:
Â“Â…My approach (is) that you don't want to mess with successÂ…in hockey, those who don't understand hockey should not try to micro-manage these things, stick their noses into or put their hands on areas they shouldn't get involved in,Â” Jacobs said. Â“I defer to my hockey management to make hockey decisions because I feel they know more about the game than I do and that's why I hired them. I like to let them do their job.Â”
In other words, the Bruins' decisions over the years to trade (or not re-sign) Joe Thornton, Brian Rolston, Bill Guerin, Anson Carter, Sergei Samsonov, Michael Nylander and Sergei Gonchar were hockey decisions Â– hockey decisions Jacobs claims he had little to do with.
That's the sort of success that isn't to be messed with? What a load.
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