The July 1 opening of the free agent market had reporters and fans alike struggling to keep up with the bevy of signings. Our own Jake Becker had a chance to slow things down with the New York Times’Allan Kreda, who covers the area’s local teams.
This interview took place over the phone and email from July 2-3.
Q: What are your some of your takeaways from the free agent frenzy so far?
Overall you got your typical frenzy-meets-July 1st-meets teams going a little crazy.
You have to look at what Washington did breaking the bank for Niskanen and Orpik – strange contracts for basically slightly above average defensemen. But this kind of thing always seems to happen – teams go a little nuts when they have a chance to do something bold. The Caps have struggled getting to the postseason, so what better way to change the karma than to raid one of your big rivals, especially on the blue line.
Same thing with Benoit Pouliot in Edmonton, who got five years as basically a journeyman scorer who showed signs with the Rangers. But 15 goals doesn’t really translate to that kind of contract.
You have to wonder: is it desperation? Is it pressure to win? Is it teams seeing things in July that don’t manifest in November and December? It’s probably a little bit of all that. Kind of your typical nutty July 1st stuff, but I look at these big contracts and shake my head every year.
Q: Money-wise these contracts are still large, but the length has come down on most of them since the most recent lockout. Do you think teams are willing to throw more money if it means fewer years?
Certainly it makes more sense to have less years than we’ve seen in past years. No one expected Brad Richards to play through his nine-year contract. We’ve seen even existing ones with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter at 13 years – it’s ridiculous. No player is going 13 years when they’re in their late 20s or early 30s. It makes so much more sense to go five years or less.
You can see the logic in spending more and hoping lightning strikes, but definitely the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) seems to helping with that. But even with that, you get numbers that are sort of outlandish. Edmonton is going to regret that Pouliot deal. Same with Deryk Engelland in Calgary – what are they thinking giving him $9M for three years; he’s an average defenseman at best.
At least the length is down, but of course the teams don’t have the advantage of a compliance buyout. All these labor agreements are designed to theoretically protect the owners against themselves because these guys are reckless in spending come July. We’ve seen it over and over again.
Q: With guys like Pouliot and Brooks Orpik, do you think those were two cases where Edmonton and Washington respectively outbid themselves?
You knew the Rangers weren’t offering anywhere near that [for Pouliot]. Edmonton is in a desperation situation; they haven’t even been in the playoffs since the Finals in ’06. They went for size, and I would have to believe they outbid themselves. They wanted to make sure they got him, but I’m sure they could have had him for less. Same thing with Orpik and Niskanen.
Q: What do you make of the Rangers’ moves to open the summer?
The Rangers had to let some guys go; they just couldn’t fit in Pouliot obviously and Stralman, who we know they wanted to keep but just could not budget that kind of contract Tampa Bay gave him.
Same thing for Brian Boyle. I think they’re going to regret not finding a way to keep those guys, although Dan Boyle should give them something new on the power play from the point, but I question $4.5M for a 38-year-old defenseman. He’s got a lot of mileage on him. He’s another good guy, a winner; he won the Cup with Tampa Bay with Marty St. Louis. It’s another way for the Rangers to replace Brad Richards with another veteran teammate of Marty’s when they won the Cup.
But the Rangers were victims of their own success. They just couldn’t keep guys that had good playoffs, and they have to keep the restricted free agents on their list – Brassard, Zuccarello and Kreider – they basically have no choice here. They did fine, but I’m sure they’re disappointed they couldn’t keep most of the group intact from the Cup run.
Q: Will Alain Vigneault put Dan Boyle on the power play to start the season?
I’m sure that’s the plan. He’s right up there with points on the power play with any defenseman in the last seven or ten years. I’m sure he’ll be right there with Ryan McDonagh on the point. Richards had his moments, but Boyle will be a better fit for that setup; he’s an offensive-minded defenseman. Sure, that was a Rangers achilles heel – they never seemed to find themselves on the power play.
It’s an improvement, but I question the money for a veteran. There’s a bigger reason why they had to have him. I’m sure with Marty staying for at least another year, maybe longer, having one of his buddies there is helpful. And you never know, Brad Richards only signed a one-year deal [in Chicago], so he could always come back next summer. He could be more of a discount at that point. No one has ever been bought out, signed a one-year deal and come back to the buyout, but I guess anything is possible.
Q: Why couldn’t the Rangers have re-signed Stralman to a deal comparable to what he got with Tampa at four years, $22.5M?
It doesn’t really make sense because he’s a younger guy and he’s been so good for them. Why not commit to him for four or five years? That’s the kind of player you want going forward. They’re so obsessed with the future salary cap figures, even though it will rise. You can see them absorbing that kind of salary for a stalwart defenseman.
I suspect they wanted a veteran for shorter term to give them the freedom to do other things. They do have to re-sign Marc Staal… But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you look at the age gap and how excellent he was for them. [The Rangers] play hardball in the weirdest ways; they pick funny times to play hardball. They’ve always done that.
Q: Could the Rangers have afforded the three-year, $6M contract Brian Boyle got from Tampa Bay?
Probably, but I suppose it came down to request for a larger role, whatever that means. I’m sure the Rangers could have budgeted that in. I also question why you wouldn’t keep him considering how valuable he proves to be in the playoffs. I just think they’re so jittery about making sure they keep all their restricted free agents and Marc Staal, and having a little bit of flexibility going forward. They always seem to feel like they can replace the fourth-liners, but at least they kept Dom Moore and weren’t foolish enough to make him leave. He was the glue of that whole unit, and then he moved up to the first and second line; he did everything.
Q: How do you reconcile the Glass signing with the one-year moves Sather made last year with guys like Pouliot and Dom Moore?
It doesn’t quite fit, does it? He did play for Vigneault in Vancouver. That must’ve been a coach’s recommendation. But he’s got the second-longest contract among all of their forwards right now. They committed a lot to him and they could’ve gone cheaper if they just signed Dan Carcillo.
I don’t quite get why the Rangers are constantly changing their fourth line. I think [Glass] will be OK. I just question these contracts for tough guys that Sather seems to obsess over every summer. It’s another one of those questionable things the Rangers keep doing year after year. They complain about budgets and they waste it on guys like Donald Brashear and the tragic Derek Boogaard, and they wouldn’t give Brandon Prust the money, who was probably their best tough guy. Dom Moore leaving would have been a big mistake.
Q: Moving on to the Islanders – or perhaps that’s a misnomer here – but why do you think Thomas Vanek and Dan Boyle turned down Garth Snow’s offers to stay on Long Island?
I think Vanek wanted to be in Minnesota no matter what. He actually turned down seven years, $50M dollars to be home, but I guess you can’t blame him. It seemed like a long song and dance when it could have been acknowledged much sooner. Clearly he wanted to go to Minnesota all along. I don’t believe the ten teams thing at all.
As far as Dan Boyle, his agent made it clear clear that he wanted to be in New York. I’m not surprised – anytime you hear a player say he wants to be in a place as badly as apparently Dan Boyle wanted to be in New York, you can understand them taking slightly less. He’s not making peanuts, but he probably could’ve gotten three years, $15M somewhere else. If he’s as successful as he has been with the Rangers, his career will go beyond those two years with them.
Q: How do you think the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn next year has impacted – and will impact – present and future free agents?
That’s the whole idea that they’re going to be competitive because they’re changing venues and that’ll bring more opportunities for more free agents. It’s almost like the Rangers. It definitely has to factor in, we just haven’t seen it yet, but it’s close. That has to be part of the sales pitch.
Q: How do you like the Islanders’ new tandem of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin?
I think it's a great move bringing both former Leafs as a package deal. It immediately improves their offense with quality veterans and also helps with the eye towards Brooklyn and its large Russian population.
Also shows the Islanders are willing to spend money. And opens up the chance they can deal for a veteran defenseman with their surplus of forwards.
Q: Are you disappointed that the Matt Moulson return to the Islanders was for naught?
I wasn’t surprised. There were damaged feelings at the end the way the trade happened. If he had played out the option and not signed, it would have been a whole different scenario than being traded when they said they wouldn’t trade him. The bad feelings I think were too deep there. I didn’t give them any chance when they told him they weren’t give him the money in the first place.
I’m sure John Tavares is a little disappointed because he doesn’t really have a left wing for this season. Brock Nelson’s probably the frontrunner at the moment, but probably someone that’s not on the team right now. They definitely need a veteran, maybe someone like Dany Heatley. I could see how that would be possible.
But with the Islanders, picking up the backup goalie, Chad Johnson, was also a wise move.
Q: Shifting now to the Devils: How did they fare on July 1?
The Devils did very well. Mike Cammalleri is a perfect Devil kind of player – a hard-worker, makes everyone around him better, a linchpin guy, good locker-room guy. If you’re going to spend over five years a reasonable amount, that makes total sense.
And Martin Havlat: a one-year risk there is sort of minimal. Lou Lamoriello always seems to budget things wisely, even though he’s spoken out about how some contracts are outlandish, but he hasn’t quite fallen into them lately.
Q: Are you surprised Martin Brodeur is still out on the market?
Not really. There’s still time. I thought there was a chance he’d come back to the Devils, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. I think he’s looking for the right backup role – I can’t imagine he’s going to start. I think he wanted to let the dust settle.
Q: Where do you think Marty will end up?
Could be Toronto, if he wants to deal with that media situation. Could be Minnesota. Ottawa is possible. Sharks, maybe.
Q: Do you think he’d be willing to go out West?
Maybe, but it depends more on the role. It’s one of those mysteries.
Q: What are your top three steals from the July 1 frenzy?
1. A two-way tie between F Martin Havlat (one year, $1.5M with New Jersey) – could qualify as the best signing of the day; and G Jonas Hiller (two years, $9M with Calagary) – a workhorse, Cup-winning goalie.
2. D Christian Ehrhoff (one year, $4M with Pittsburgh) – a major bargain coming off a buyout in Buffalo.
3. Jarome Iginla (three years, $16M with Colorado) — I don’t know if it’s a bargain, but certainly a great addition to the team. Age-wise or not, it’s a quality guy in every way. I don’t think the money is really a factor because you’re adding a Hall of Fame player.