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Despite thin free agent class, we're in for a hectic summer

Ken Campbell
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Jeff Skinner (Gerry Thomas/NHL via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

News

Despite thin free agent class, we're in for a hectic summer

Ken Campbell
By:

Don’t let the flurry of deals at the draft fool you. With four days to go before July 1, GMs are keeping their powder dry and being patient. They’ve realized that with so many teams up against the salary cap, they have a good chance of getting a player at a reasonable price.

SUNRISE, Fla. – Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was asked whether he’d ever expected to come out of this draft having selected only four players and not having made a single trade. Rutherford is big on the making deals, as you know. But he rubbed his chin, thought for a second and said, “Yeah, actually I thought that’s what we were doing.”

Don’t let the flurry of deals at the draft fool you. With four days to go before July 1, GMs are keeping their powder dry and being patient. They’ve realized that with so many teams up against the salary cap, the more patience they display, the better chance they have of getting a player at a reasonable price.

Case in point was the trade the Edmonton Oilers made for goalie Cam Talbot. When Talbot’s name was first floated out there, it seemed the New York Rangers wanted far more for him than they received. Instead of jumping on a deal, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli waited for the price to come down and ended up getting Talbot for the 57th, 79th and 184th overall picks.

What GMs are realizing is the longer they wait through the summer on the big names such as Phil Kessel, Patrick Sharp and Jeff Skinner, the lower the price is going to be for them. And as teams get closer to the season with salary cap or budget problems, the more likely they’re going to be to unload them. Most people expected Sharp to be dealt this weekend, but the Blackhawks are going to have to come down on their price. The same goes with Kessel in Toronto and Skinner, a young player the Carolina Hurricanes basically offered to every team in the league and one who will probably be dealt at some point in the off-season.

With the unrestricted free agent market not exactly being a stunning one this summer, there doesn’t seem to be the sense of urgency to go out and get players that there has been in the past. Yes, July 1 will be busy as it usually is, but the lack of depth will likely make it a short burst. “What you’re finding now is the big free agency frenzy lasts until about 3 o’clock on July 1,” said Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving, “and then it’s crickets until about Aug. 15.”

After July 1 is when the real machinations will take place. Some teams will be looking to find a player they might have missed in free agency, which should open up a secondary trade market that will pick up as the summer goes on. Other teams will see where they stand with respect to the salary cap and decide to start moving players to make room for the ones they signed or those to whom they offered extensions. “If I want Player ‘X’ and he’s gone, how am I going to fill that void?” Treliving said. “A number of years ago, you’d have the draft and that was the focus, and then you got into the free agency market. Now people are trying to move money or make acquisitions or deletions at this time of the year that directly has the impact on what their needs might be July 1.”

Conventional wisdom suggests you’re supposed to leave the draft a better team than you were when you got there. The Ottawa Senators traded three roster players in Robin Lehner, David Legwand and Eric Gryba for picks and a prospect, but GM Bryan Murray said the organization succeeded in that goal. “I think we’re a better team,” Murray said. “I think by elimination we’re a better team.”

Think about that for a moment. The Senators are unlikely to be active July 1 and there’s a pretty good chance they’ll go into the season with the same core players as last season, minus the three they dealt, yet Murray thinks they’ll be better. By making the trades he did, Murray has opened a spot for a prospect such as Matt Puempel and by dealing Gryba, gives Jared Cowen the chance to move into a role with more responsibility. He clearly expects Cowen and Colin Greening to make some progress over the summer.

On Cowen he said, “You have to accept the role you’re given. And I think if Jared comes to camp this year understanding that, ‘I am what I am and that’s a big, strong guy with some mobility, that can play defense, then he’ll benefit from it and we’ll definitely benefit from it.” On Greening, he said, “He’s one of the fastest guys on our team, he’s one of the biggest guys on our team. We just want him to play that way, so let’s get him to play that way.”

There are still clearly a lot of moving parts as July 1 approaches and there will be after. One of the things that has changed the landscape the most is the dichotomy has changed. The laws of supply and demand, which have always favored the players, seem to be shifting. “There’s probably more players in the market than there are chairs available,” Rutherford said.

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Despite thin free agent class, we're in for a hectic summer