by Jas Faulkner, Nashville correspondent
Free agency has been described by many as “Christmas for hockey fans”. This might be an extreme minority view but frankly, I’ve never felt the love. Being averse to change and invested in my hometown team for the individuals as well as for the sweaters they wear; it’s difficult to get enjoyment out of a time when each day brings news that someone is not coming back next Fall.
Free agency has the feel of a 50s’ vintage war movie. At each turn in the process it seems like the GM is always thisclose to looking back at his remaining roster and coaching staff and asking, “Who did we lose this time?”
People who love this sort of thing always advise that it’s about “cheering the laundry, not the player”. It might be possible in a world where hockey is played on grooved fibreboard surfaces and the players are moved bysprings and levers instead of passion for the game.
In the real world, popular wisdom holds that a trade can be a good business decision. That good business decision can also mean families are uprooted, friendships are disrupted and fan communities’ confidence in the team they have come to know will be shaky for a while. Those corporate moves mean that players who have devoted time, money and their hearts and minds to a community are now starting over.
All of this feels very, very draconian.
It’s also a necessary evil in the name of good hockey.
For those of us who find the shifting and reconfiguring and shifting again to be nerve-wracking, here are a few things to keep in mind:
A change of scene can revitalise a player who has gotten a little stale and stuck in a roster where he doesn’t fit quite as well as he used to. Playing at the fringes of a club has to hurt when you’re used to being situated at the heart. Injuries, waivers and other factors can change a team’s mojo in ways that aren’t obvious. To people watching from the outside, we see the name and the person all of the associations that go with it and can fail to notice subtle changes in the team dynamic that take place out of public view.
Revitalisation on the ice can lead to a popular rebirth.
For the shank end of his time with the Nashville Predators, Ryan Jones languished as a healthy scratch or, more happily, spent time in the wilds of Milwaukee playing for Nashville’s feeder team, the Admirals. Someone in Edmonton had the foresight and a place for the sweet, goofy kid with a tender heart and no small amount of skills on the ice. Once the Oilers community got a good look at him, he was golden. Marcel Goc, who found sweet vindication with his first goal as a Predator in a net minded by someone wearing his former San Jose colours also found a fan base who appreciated his presence on the roster.*
Finally, change is good. Change is what keeps this season from looking like last season or the season before. Change is why we can’t really predict who will get the cup in May (June, July, Labour Day…). It is the counter to most hockey fans’ sense of history and desire for continuity. Change is part of what we pay those GMs and coaches the big bucks to carry out in the off season.
Better them than you or me to do the heavy lifting of figuring out the lineup. Especially me. My Predators roster would have about three hundred players on it. It would also mean that Rich Peverley would have never lifted the cup in Vancouver, Paul Kariya would still be on skates and a number of friends in Philadelphia would not have a reason to tipsily dial me from viewing parties to thank me (again!) for Scotty Hartnell. So I, and you if you suffer from Free Agent Anxiety, will try to be zen about this and just take a deep breath, mutter, “David Poile/Ken Holland/Steve Yzerman/insert your NHL GM here, have you lost your flippin’ mind?” and then remember that they do know what they’re doing. It’s just a matter of waiting until the dust settles and getting to know the new lineup.
This is Jas Faulkner who will try to refrain from poking Mr. Poile on the back of the head and saying “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” I’ll be seeing you at the Plex and the Stone and online at Facebook and Twitter!
*Florida, I hope you know exactly how good you have it now.