First week of moves shows NHL a league transformed
Posted: Sunday August 7, 2005 6:57PM; Updated: Wednesday August 17, 2005 4:58PM
Yes, prized free agent Peter Forsberg is a Flyer, but in the post-CBA NHL, they had to part with Jeremy Roenick to sign him.
It was just a date on the calendar -- August 1. A mere 48 hours after the amateur draft came free agency under the new collective bargaining agreement. Everyone knew that would be a free agent free-for-all, but no one was quite sure how quickly the market would be set with an unprecedented array of marquee names available.
The first day gave a glimpse of how the new CBA would alter the previous balance of power when defenseman Adam Foote left the perennial powerhouse Colorado Avalanche for the yet-to-see the post-season Columbus Blue Jackets. By weeks end, other notables would leave bigger markets to sign with previously unheralded destinations: Bobby Holik joining the Atlanta Thrashers from the N.Y. Rangers and Paul Kariya opting for Opryland and the Nashville Predators after a one-year layover in Denver.
That first day also shed light on another phenomenon of today's NHL when respected veterans, longtime buddies and former Toronto Maple Leaf teammates Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts simultaneously signed with the Florida Panthers. The pair -- along with the rest of their peer group -- have economic security due to the past spending within the league, making it possible to sign 'lifestyle' contracts -- choosing a destination more for personal reasons than max money.
The Bruins capitalized on this mindset by signing prodigal sons Brian Leetch and Shawn McEachern, both of whom left New England years ago as highly touted prospects. They now have the luxury to settle back home at the end of impressive and highly regarded careers that saw both win a Stanley Cup and wear the 'C' as respective team captains.
The Mighty Ducks also mined the lifestyle largesse in signing coveted free agent defenseman Scott Niedermayer away from the N.J. Devils all because Niedermayer had a hankering to play with his brother Rob -- a restricted free agent forward with the Ducks. GM Brian Burke was more than willing to accommodate, signing a pair of Niedermayers for the previous price it would have taken to sign a single Norris Trophy winner.
Then you had the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks aggressively entering the free agent market. The last mention of these two franchises in the same sentence was in 1992 when the Pens beat the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final. That was the dawn of the new expansion era and about the same time longtime Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz decided to go into miser mode by ridding his team of any superstars that carried, in his estimation, ridiculous salaries. With structure and rules in place, Wirtz got out his wallet and reentered the world of icing a competitive NHL team with three substantial signings in goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, defenseman Adrian Aucoin and winger Martin Lapointe.
The Penguins, meanwhile, energized by the early and prodigious economic impact of selecting Sidney Crosby first overall in the draft, boldly bolstered their roster by signing defenseman Sergei Gonchar to a five-year deal and enticing Ziggy Palffy to pack up and head from L.A. to Pittsburgh. This despite the Kings signing Palffy's friend and countryman Pavol Demitra in hopes of enticing Palffy to re-up out west. OK, so the lifestyle contract aspect of the NHL's new world order didn't fit in all cases in Week 1.
What is the case universally -- now and for the balance of the CBA -- is an all-encompassing need for teams to constantly revamp their rosters with the salary cap in mind. An addition of an asset will have an immediate effect on payroll as well as long-term ramifications.
Witness the trades that signal that cap consideration will inevitably lead to a redistribution of resources. The Edmonton Oilers ante up for Chris Pronger, but to do so, they shed three younger players including an already-proven Eric Brewer. Same scenario for the Oilers in acquiring Michael Peca from the Islanders. To get a veteran, they had to shed a younger, yet proven NHL'r in Mike York.
The most obvious example of teams having to pick and choose based on cap limits occurred when the Philadelphia Flyers inked Peter Forsberg to a free agent deal at nearly maximum money. In order to sign the most prominent player available, the Flyers had to deal Jeremy Roenick -- and more accurately his almost $5M dollar price tag -- to the Kings, making J.R. an L.A. kind of guy.
After 14 months without NHL action on the ice, the action off the ice this past week shows that when the teams do hit the ice in October, balance will replace the previous balance of power. The mighty may become middling; the small market team will have its share of marquee players; and the previously perpetual playoff ordering is suddenly a race in which everyone has an eye on from the outset.