Tomas Vokoun had a $5.7 million cap hit as a member of the Florida Panthers. (Getty Images)
Calling the start of the NHL’s free agency period the league’s “silly season” doesn’t do the process enough justice. Indeed, the July 1 kickoff of player signings is more along the lines of a multi-day, down-and-dirty binge you’d see at Burning Man, Bonnaroo, or any other festival of hedonism and frivolity.
Throughout the next week, the league’s GMs and owners will be raving and waving their own versions of florescent sticks (i.e. stacks of money) to attract new players into their respective folds. And just as there will be thousands of people who leave those festival events with hangovers that couldn’t be cured by a morphine drip, there will be teams who leave the free agency sign-o-rama with deep and lasting regret.
Sometimes that regret doesn’t reveal itself for a couple years (as was the case with Nikolai Khabibulin in Edmonton) and sometimes it reveals itself almost immediately (as was true of the Jason Blake experiment in Toronto). So which pending unrestricted free agents this summer have the potential to turn into multi-million dollar albatrosses? In no particular order, here are the top five UFAs I’d steer clear of:
With Ilya Bryzgalov signing a ludicrous contract (nine years and $51 million), Vokoun is the biggest netminding name on the market. But like Bryzgalov, Vokoun has done nothing in the post-season to deserve a huge and lengthy deal.
As Flames GM Jay Feaster wrote for THN.com nearly two years ago, Vokoun has never carried a team to playoff success. Now, he isn’t the sole reason for that, having played on teams in Nashville and Florida that haven’t had the financial wherewithal to compete with the league’s big-timers.
Nevertheless, we’re talking about a guy who’ll turn 35 years old on July 2; whose last post-season appearance was in 2007 (when he posted a .902 save percentage in five games); and who has had sporadic health concerns over the years. Doesn’t exactly sound like someone for whom you should break the bank, does it?
Listen, I’m not saying there’s not a good deal to be made for Vokoun. But any team that gives him a raise on the $5.7 million cap hit he had on his last contract, or more than three years of contractual term, is asking to deal with the same problems Edmonton now has with Khabibulin.
Seeing Gagne reach UFA status earlier in his career would have turned the GM community into a gaggle of drooling zombies, their arms all extended in the hope of getting their hands on the talented left winger.
Unfortunately, thanks to concussions and a steady stream of other injuries, the 31-year-old is anything but in his prime. He’s missed 43 regular season games over the past two years and failed to reach the 20-goal plateau in both those seasons.
Is it theoretically possible Gagne shakes off the injury bug, avoids further concussions and helps boost a team’s offensive fortunes? Sure it is. But is it also possible he continues to depreciate as an asset and retires before any new contract is completed? Absolutely.
The native Finn, who earned just $700,000 last season, wowed the hockey world in the 2011 playoffs with nine goals and 11 points in 16 games for Tampa Bay. But check out Bergenheim’s career regular season statistics: he’s scored 15 goals or more just once; he’s never had more than 29 points in any of his six NHL seasons; and he’s 27 years old.
Maybe he’s a late-bloomer, but maybe he’s only a one-playoff wonder. Would you want to pay somewhere between $2-3 million a year to find out?
Like Bergenheim, Torres was a playoff hero for his team, scoring three goals (including the winning marker in Game 1 against Boston) and seven points for Vancouver during its march to the Stanley Cup final. He’ll certainly get a raise on the $1 million he made last year (in which he also scored 14 goals and 29 points during the regular season), but there are a number of factors working against him.
Firstly, the 29-year-old left winger hasn’t scored 20 or more goals since he had 27 for Edmonton in 2005-06. As well, the plus-4 rating he had with the Canucks was the first time since ’05-06 he wasn’t a minus player. And with the league aiming to crack down hard on players who engage in over-aggressive play, he could easily find himself suspended at times when his team most needs him.
Anyone who saw Kaberle meander around the rink after being traded from Toronto to Boston knows why I called him Bear Stearns on Twitter; like the now-disgraced Wall St. investment firm, Kaberle lost millions based on his performance with the Bruins. At age 33, he is a shell of what he was during his best days with the Leafs - and his physical play is about as tough as an empty shell.
Of course, as a puck-moving defenseman, Kaberle will receive a number of offers. But remember, whatever he giveth on offense, he taketh away in his own zone. If your GM winds up giving him more than three years and/or $3 million per season, you have every right to question your GM’s judgment and/or sanity.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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