The Month That Was: July

A couple of weeks ago, July changed to August and a new month began. In most people’s minds, the change in date symbolized the impending stoppage of warm weather, family barbeques, and vacation time. To hockey fans, it meant that it was a day closer to the (scheduled) start of the 2012-13 NHL season.  In just a couple of months the new season will hopefully begin, bringing excitement, heartbreak, and successes to each fan-base in the league. Every hour of every day something newsworthy in the world of hockey will take place: A trade announced, an injury revealed, a coach fired, or even a lineup adjustment.

The same cannot be said for the month of July, as every year follows the same pattern. The first few days of July are hectic to keep track of as dozens of players find new teams. The most notable ones garner the attention of the media and fans alike, while avid hockey followers examine the depth signings. Not much happens afterwards, aside from a few trades and out-of-the-blue announcements. The 2012 offseason followed suit. The biggest fish of the free agent market, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, signed with the Minnesota Wild on Independence Day shocking many. The Philadelphia Flyers signed Shea Weber to an enormous offer sheet which was ultimately matched by the Nashville Predators, sparking a debate about the use of front-loaded contracts and offer sheet etiquette. And after many months, Rick Nash was traded to the Rangers for a seemingly miniscule package, versus what the rumoured asking price really was. Now, NHL fans turn their attention to Shane Doan, the CBA negotiations, Roberto Luongo, and the unsigned restricted free agents to fill the news in the long month of August.

Aside from what was mentioned above, very little actually happened over the 31 days in July. What did occur was meticulously analyzed by everybody covering the game. However, there were patterns between the signings that were not observed by many, and certainly not by the casual fan. In the past month, we have seen RFAs avoiding court, UFAs heading to the bottom, and players under contract solidify their positions. Here is the month that was for July:


A failure to arbitrate

Every offseason, several restricted free agents and their teams fail to agree on a contract extension. The result is often filing for arbitration, where a third party determines the salary of the player in question factoring in their past success, age, injury issues, and role on the team. The 2012 offseason saw 17 players file for arbitration, all of which varied in position, age, or career statistics. Every year, some players will sign prior to their hearings, while the others let the third party handle their fate. That was not the case this year.

This offseason, all 17 players agreed to contracts prior to the set dates. The list of contracts were all over the map. Stars’ Goaltender Richard Bachman, Canucks’ enforcer Dale Weise, and Senators forward Kaspars Daugavins signed 1 year deals in the 6 digit price range, typical numbers for young players of their caliber. This differed from Leafs’ forward and Oilers’ forward Kulemin and Gagner, both of which signed short-term deals with smaller cap hits in an attempt to prove that they are worth a long-term contract. The most notable re-signings were Versteeg, Perron, and Oshie, all of which signed for 4 years or more with the highest salaries of the bunch. It’s not often to see every player agree prior to hearing, considering that arbitration can sometimes be seen as an insult. It’s basically a hearing where the team devalues their own player. However, with the uncertainty of the CBA, it appears that all of the players in question preferred to get the dirty work done early. It’s very unlikely that the arbitrators minded.

Opting For Potential

On July 1st, Canadians get the day off to celebrate the birthday of their country. The hockey fans living south of the border also get the day off for their “24-hour illnesses” so they can take part in free agent frenzy. Starting at noon, all expiring contracts finish and several players become unrestricted free agents. Of the masses, there are always a handful that are more watched than the rest. They have the most talent, the most prestige, and the most promise. Often they have the pick of the lot and choose a contending team that has a successful recent track record of making the playoffs. Somebody must have forgotten to inform the stars that they can sign with teams that made the playoffs last season, because many uncharacteristically opted not to.

Semin at Verizon Center (Kelly J. Stoner/Flickr)

The most notable unrestricted free agents, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, signed with the Minnesota Wild. Alexander Semin chose to play with the Carolina Hurricanes. Veterans Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney headed to Dallas. P.A. Parenteau moved west to the Colorado Avalanche. Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen went to Anaheim. Prized prospect Justin Schultz decided to choose the Edmonton Oilers as his team. Jiri Hudler to Calgary, Olli Jokinen to Winnipeg, Brandon Prust to Montreal, Brad Boyes to the Isalnders, Sami Salo and Matt Carle to Tampa. The list goes on and on. All of these teams have potential to be great franchises and make the big dance this (scheduled) season, but it’s very odd to see the biggest names on the market to do so.

Avoiding the Rush

There’s arguably no more stressful position for any general manager than the time between their team’s elimination from the season and July 1st. That is, of course, they have an unsigned superstar heading to unrestricted free agency. The large money contracts and huge overpayments at the trade deadline implant a seed of promise in upcoming UFAs’ minds, with the potential of a bidding war occurring. As seen this offseason, it is very unlikely the notable unrestricted free agents re-sign with their old teams between the draft and start of free agency. Teams must’ve taken notice of this, as many 2013 free agents (both UFAs and RFAs) were locked up quick.

Most notably, Sidney Crosby was handed a “for-life” extension the day he was eligible and others followed suit, including Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick and Norris Trophy nominee Shea Weber. Younger upcoming free agents were also signed to beat the rush. Max Pacioretty, Wayne Simmonds, and Jeff Skinner all saw 6 year contracts come their way. The list didn’t stop there, with Teddy Purcell and Tobias Enstrom earning new contracts quickly after July 1st, a couple of many that also saw similar fate.