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Free agent "courting period" valuable for players and teams

Ken Campbell
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Author: The Hockey News

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Free agent "courting period" valuable for players and teams

Ken Campbell
By:

Potential free agents such as Paul Stastny now have the opportunity to be "courted" by teams that might be interested in signing him July 1. The one-week period allows players to gather valuable intel that could make a split-second decision easier.

According to Sperling’s Best Places (www.bestplaces.net), you’d have to make in excess of $23 million to play for the Los Angeles Kings in order to earn the equivalent of $5 million with the St. Louis Blues. So if I’m Blues GM Doug Armstrong and I’m chasing free agents, this is very valuable information starting today.

Apparently Hazelwood, Mo., where many of the Blues players live, is more than four times cheaper to live than Manhattan Beach, Calif., where many of the Kings players live. That same $5 million in suburban St. Louis equates to $9.9 million in Tarrytown, N.Y., and $9.8 million in Wilmington, Mass.

This is actually one thing that gives smaller markets such as Buffalo, Nashville, Pittsburgh and St. Louis a huge advantage over their big-market competitors. Sure, the Rangers and Leafs and Bruins have a lot more money to throw around, but just check out the cost of a house and private schools because you’re going to need it.

It’s that kind of information that GMs will be able to sit down and share with prospective free agents beginning today. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams and players now have from June 25 to July 1 as a “courting period” in which they can discuss generalities as long as there are no negotiations taking place. So Predators GM David Poile might not be able to offer a player the kind of money he can make in a bigger market, but he can tell the player that Tennessee is one of only nine states in the union that has no state income tax and that it is one of the cheapest NHL cities in which to live.

Knowledge is power, they say, and the courting period allows players and teams to gain all sorts of knowledge in advance of the free agent frenzy that they could never get before. Teams have the option of letting players know things about the franchise and market that they might not have considered if they had to make a split-second decision on July 1. Players, on the other hand, can gain valuable intel on prospective employers that could narrow, or increase, the field and cut down on the dog-and-pony shows.

It should also do a lot to spice up the day on July 1, a day the NHL markets as one of the most anticipated of the year in terms of player movement after trade deadline day. Two years ago, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the two biggest fish in the free agent pool, waited until three days after free agency opened to sign their monster deals with the Minnesota Wild, in large part that they were being bombarded by teams and needed some time to think about it. They both ended up choosing Minnesota for family reasons – Parise is from Minnesota and Suter’s wife is originally from there – and the decision might have been much more clear to them on July 1 if they had been equipped with more information.

The way it worked before was the team would call a player on July 1 and present him an offer, giving him 30 minutes to consider it before moving on to the next player on its wish list. That doesn’t exactly give the guy much time to investigate off-ice issues such as schooling, quality of life or how his family would feel about living there. And the team can might not bother making that 30-minutes-or-bust offer to the player in the first place under this system because they might pick up from interviewing him that he has no interest in signing there.

And of course, it creates another source of buzz with the NHL coming off the Stanley Cup and its awards leading up to the draft. For the next week, people will be speculating about which players have spoken to which teams and will be concocting all sorts of scenarios and possibilities. If readers of this website are any indication, there is nothing that turns hockey fans on more than the possibility of player movement.

It’s part of what makes the free agent frenzy so much fun. The fans get to involve themselves in it for a week prior and the players and teams can exchange valuable information before leaping into a long-term commitment with one another. It’s a good situation for everybody.

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Free agent "courting period" valuable for players and teams