The Replacements: Building a Team of Free Agents

Waiting for a chance (Flickr/slidingsideways)

With only a week until training camps open around the NHL, many players still find themselves searching for employment.  Unlike previous years, this summer’s leftovers feature a wide selection of capable veterans and promising prospects.

A few are beginning to accept training camp invites with the hope of landing an NHL contract, while others may follow the example of Miroslav Satan and wait until roster holes are created due to injuries.

Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Garnet Exelby will be attending New York Rangers camp on a tryout and told Steve Zipay it’s critical to be at training camp and getting in shape no matter where he ends up.

Baseball conducts open camps in the spring for the unemployed such as the Pro Free Agent Showcase for this very reason.  Their mission statement:

This showcase was designed for the elite player. It will give professional players who are trying to continue to play a chance to compete in front of MLB, International and Independent league scouts. This is an opportunity that did not exist in the past.  This will give players maximum exposure to many different clubs all at the same time. Thus, eliminating going camp to camp trying to impress single teams and incurring much higher expenses.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the NHL to start hosting a camp like this in early September instead of individual teams flying Willie Mitchell in to see if he can play?

SBNation just wrapped up their Mock Expansion Draft this week and it made us at THW wonder what an NHL training camp and roster of leftover free agents might look like.  The candidates did not include players on their way to Europe (Richard Park), players ruled out for the season (Paul Kariya), or retirees.  Just NHL-caliber free agents waiting by the phone ready to go.

(Chart via based on 2009-10 Salaries)

A few items stand out from our Replacements roster. The forwards are lacking dynamic scorers, but definitely not leadership and experience.  These have obviously become expendable qualities.  A third line of Tucker, Wellwood and Nolan would compete with many checking lines trotted out by NHL teams this season.  Bill Guerin scored 45 points last season and still should have something left in the tank.  He wants to finish his career with a contender and has singled out Philadelphia as his preference, but it’s hard to see where Guerin would fit on a team like the Flyers with very few openings and little cap space.

On defense, Kim Johnsson is one of the league’s premier puck-movers but concussion issues have put his future in doubt.  Jay McKee did himself no favors when he took a discount to play with the Penguins last season, but the team that signs him will have a poor-man’s Anton Volchenkov for the league minimum salary.  Last season Marc-Andre Bergeron showed can still contribute on the powerplay, but his defensive liabilities and small stature make him difficult to dress on a nightly basis, even on our Replacements roster.

Jose Theodore had zero regulation losses from January 13 through the end of the regular season in Washington last year.  The Capitals had three young goalies waiting in the wings to take his spot, but Theodore is still capable of at least filling a veteran backup role.  With no goalies in the Nashville system possessing NHL experience, Jose Theodore would be a great fit behind Pekka Rinne.

How do you think this team would compete against the bottom-feeders of the NHL?  Would you want to see any of these players brought into your team’s training camp on a tryout or at the league minimum?

  • Christopher Ralph

    Colligan: Pack your bags. You’re headed to Calgary. You’re in; Sutter’s out as Flames GM…

    Wait a minute…sorry Mike, the wife just pinched me & I’m not owner of the Flames! 😉

    Great job all the same!

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  • Karl Selvig

    I’m not gonna lie… I might be inclined to take that roster over what the Panthers might have this season. At least in place of our forward lines 2-4 anyway.

    And at the same time, I’m not sure I’d want any one of them on the team this year. Everyone knows the Panthers are rebuilding. There’s a lot of youth and a lot of potential, but not this year. Bringing in a 30-something year old vet making $2+ mil just doesn’t make sense.

  • MVP

    That is an interesting point, makes me wonder why there’s so many of that skill level left over this year as opposed to the past few years? Are GM’s finally refusing to spend big money on mid level skill players like GM Ray Shero always seems to do in Pittsburgh? Or maybe they’re spending too much money on the star players and now they don’t have enough to fill out their team.

    • Mike Colligan

      I think it’s both MVP. This summer we saw Kovalchuk, Marleau, Plekanec, Hamhuis, and others still make big money. It’s the mid-level players getting squeezed like you said. GM’s can’t sacrifice their stars, but replacing $2-4m veterans with entry-level contracts adds up to quick savings. Would you rather have Patrick Marleau or 2-3 ‘experienced veterans’?

      I think the reason this is happening is because in recent years teams overspent under the assumption the salary cap would always increase $5-10m a year. The thinking was if you overpaid for a star player, you’d be saved by extra cap space next season and the season after that. When the salary cap stopped going up, teams were left with no room to correct mistakes (Campbell, Huet, Drury, Briere, Gomez).

      Chicago had to get Marian Hossa, but lost half their team this summer as a result. Philadelphia needed to trade for Chris Pronger, but how will they sign Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux next summer? New Jersey signed Kovalchuk for life, but now have to shed talented players just to put a team on the ice. It’s irresponsible spending and very short-sighted. Unfortunately as a GM, your job security sometimes depends on what happens next year, not four years from now.