For months writers, hockey insiders and fans had talked about the thin free agent market for 2012. Apparently all of that was forgotten during one of the slowest openings to free agency in recent memory.
There were 59 total signings yesterday with a number of players working out a deal to stay with their former team. None of the big names inked their name to a contract, even the second-tier UFAs held off on making a decision. There were a few theories tossed around as to why players like Parise, Suter, Semin, Jokinen and others held off on signing. Some blame the expected trades of Bobby Ryan and Rick Nash, some point to others waiting for the dam to finally break. Some just blame the thin market.
The reason for the dull showing yesterday probably lies in a number of different areas. The most obvious is that the top free agents are now waiting to make their final decision until they have heard and weighed every offer. NHL free agency is becoming less of a one day free-for-all and more of a two-three day process of discussion, offers and decision making. The Ryan and Nash trades likely have something to do with some of the waiting, but I suspect the shallow pool and the pending decisions for Parise and Suter likely have a lot to do with why next to nothing happened yesterday.
Looking down the list of transactions there isn’t one true winner. The Canucks got the biggest name, so far; the Senators made a trade and Anaheim tried to sign every defenseman on the market. Nothing of any profound impact occurred and I am of the belief that Parise and Suter will indeed set the firestorm for the rest of the league.
Those teams losing out on Suter will be screwed because Matt Carle is the only arguable top four defenseman left. Those teams hoping for Parise will either turn to Alex Semin or scramble for footing in the Nash and Ryan sweepstakes. Either way, there will be more action once today’s signings occur.
As for the decision by Darcy Regier to hold out and only make one marginal signing, I like it. Regier wasn’t quick to the trigger on overpaying for marginal talent, I’m certain he put out offers to those he wished to pursue and I think it is a safe bet that Uncle Terry pushed for a serious pitch to the Parise Camp.
The only position that saw some turnover yesterday was defense. The Sabres aren’t in need of a free agent defenseman, thus they didn’t need to be in the running for the hottest ticket. There was action on the market for role players and there were plenty who saw a sizeable increase to their paycheck. Based on their current cap situation, lessons learned from last year and the assumed mission, there is no reason for the Sabres to chase and overpay for a third or fourth line player.
The Sabres do need to find some additional depth for their bottom six. They certainly found a large piece (literally) piece with John Scott. They missed out on the more popular names (Prust, Konopka, McClement) but they were either too expensive (Prust), weren’t pursued or chose a more attractive situation. I would be surprised if the Sabres didn’t give Konopka a serious offer, I am surprised that at $925K they weren’t able to lure him to Buffalo.
There is truly no pleasing most Buffalo sports fans. A vast majority are under-informed, of the most popular opinion of the week and entitled for no good reason. Because of that, most will be enraged that Regier didn’t do anything drastic. These are the same people who bitch and moan that Ville Leino was the worst signing of all time. At the end of the day, fans should be happy that Buffalo’s cap space hasn’t been allocated to an unworthy location.
The best example is Brandon Prust. If it were up to me, I would have three Brandon Prusts on my team. However, I wouldn’t pay a single one $2M. Prust made $800K during the 11-12 season, he played fourth line minutes and was capable of contributing to the game. That is not worth an extra $1.2M each season. The same goes for Paul Gaustad, PA Parenteau and, yes, Ville Leino.
If the Sabres lose out to the Penguins for Zach Parise it will really suck. However, Sidney Crosby > Drew Stafford and when the money is basically going to be the same, those intangibles are hard to match.
The summer of 2012 is not the season to be up in arms about the decisions being made within First Niagara Center. The summer of 2013 might be justifiable. However, there are over three months until the season is scheduled to begin. If September comes and the only changes to the Sabres roster are John Scott and the absence of Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht, then it is time to round up the pitchfork mob.
Until then, take it easy, understand that the most talented free agents remain unsigned and that a trade could happen any day.