Sports

DGB Grab Bag: Free Agency, Contract Announcements, and Draft Busts

Sean takes a look at the opening week of NHL free agency. He doesn't think it was all bad. Only mostly bad.

by Sean McIndoe
Jul 7 2017, 2:38pm

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter. Check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave Lozo as they discuss the events of the week.

Three stars of comedy

The third star: Justin Williams' hair. The winger's legendary salad was in fine form when it came time to sign with the Hurricanes, as former teammate Mike Commodore made sure to point out.

The second star: Jaromir Jagr. I'm still not quite sure what to make of Jagr's social media presence. People seem to like it, even if it sometimes has that whole "Grandpa doesn't totally get the internet, but we're just impressed he figured how to log on" vibe. But this was funny. I think. I'm honestly not sure.

The first star: The Benn brothers. With the Habs and the Stars reportedly going down to wire on bidding for Alexander Radulov, Jamie and Jordie decided to settle things the Canadian way.

Even better, the joke eventually turned into an official announcement of Radulov's signing.

Outrage of the week

The issue: Somebody signed an unrestricted free agent.

The outrage: The contract seems kind of terrible.

Is it justified: Probably, since almost every UFA deal ends up being a huge mistake. But since we've now made it through the first week of the open market, let's take this opportunity to do a quick summary of some of the major moves. (As always with this sort of thing, "good" and "bad" are from the perspective of the team and not the players, because in the end we all turn our backs on the noble working class.)

The Good

This is always the shorter list this time of year, but there were some decent signings to be found.

Kevin Shattenkirk. The Rangers get a bargain and kept the term short enough that there's minimal risk. Shattenkirk gets to play for his hometown team and could still have time for one more nice contract four years down the road. Hard to argue with any of it.

Justin Williams. He got good money, but nothing crazy. And while you can make your jokes about Mr. Game Seven choosing a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in eight years, you'd better get them in now—the Hurricanes are going to be good soon.

Pretty much everyone who signed for less than $1.5 million. Hell, lump in Brian Elliott and Ryan Miller, too. These guys are the bargains, and almost always represent low-risk signings. This year, it was interesting to see so many get done right out of the gate rather than waiting a few weeks for desperation to kick in.

The Bad

In the interest of time, we'll limit this section to five names. It could be a lot more.

Karl Alzner. This is the annual "not as bad as everyone thought it was going to be, but still bad" contract. Or, as I like to call it, the Matt Beleskey Memorial Award.

T.J. Oshie. The cap hit isn't disastrous, but going to maximum eight years might be. The Capitals sure seem to have made a mess of their off-season, and already had to give away Marcus Johansson. Letting decent but aging wingers walk away for nothing is painful, but it's the sort of tough call a smart team has to be willing to make.

Patrick Marleau. Sure, the Leafs have a ton of cap space, so overpaying isn't the end of the world, but they have a two-year window before the cap gets crazy, and they just gave three years to a 37-year-old who plays the one position that's already a team strength. Even assuming they wiggle out of the deal after two years, it's still iffy. If they don't, it could be a disaster when they're a contender facing a cap crunch in 2019 and Marleau is a $6 million 40-year-old coming off a 12-goal season.

Nick Bonino. The good news is that this year's Dave Bolland cost less than the actual Dave Bolland. So… progress?

Dan Girardi. Steve Yzerman burns an entire season trading away useful players while missing the playoffs by one point, all in the name of creating cap room which he then uses on… Dan Girardi. I mean, I know I've spent the last year completely alone on the "maybe Yzerman is merely a good GM and not the all-knowing Jedi we all agreed he was" bandwagon, but I can make room if anyone wants on board.

The Contrarian Hot Take

The one team everyone else is ripping that I'll kind of, sort of defend.

Dmitry Kulikov and Steve Mason. Both are coming off bad seasons and might, in fact, be bad players. And both got over $4 million a season on multi-year deals. But here's the thing: They got them from Winnipeg. Nobody wants to go to Winnipeg. So if the Jets are going to sign free agents, it's going to cost too much money. Call it the Winnipeg Tax.

I'm always piling on the Jets because their GM never makes trades and their owner never fires anyone, and they just seem happy to repeatedly miss the playoffs by ten points while mumbling about the future. I can't exactly turn around now and burn them for at least trying to get a little better. Ideally, they'd be a franchise that uses all the tools in the toolbox, but until that day comes, paying too much for so-so free agents is marginally better than nothing.

Obscure former player of the week

Now that July has arrived, restricted free agents can sign offer sheets. They won't, because this is the NHL and all that talk about doing everything possible to win is for players laying their bodies on the line, not GMs who don't want to mess up their golf schedule by making a colleague angry. But in theory, it could happen.

There's a reasonably long history of NHL offer sheets, most of which were matched. Not many of those players would be considered obscure. After all, why target another team's player if they're not already an established star? You wouldn't… unless you were a vengeful Harry Sinden, which leads us to this week's obscure player: winger Dave Thomlinson.

Thomlinson has two claims to fame: not being Dave Tomlinson (that was another early 90s forward), and being the most obscure RFA offer sheet signing in NHL history.

He was a third-round pick by the Maple Leafs in 1985, a draft that most Toronto fans remember for other things. He never played for the Leafs, signed with the Blues in 1987, and finally made his NHL debut in St. Louis during the 1989-90 season. He played 19 games, scoring once, and followed that up with three games and zero points in 1990-91. He did manage three goals in that year's playoffs, but by the end of the season he was 24 years old and had never played close to a full season. All in all, not much to get excited about.

Then something weird happened. Ron Caron and the Blues went a little crazy targeting other teams' restricted free agents, signing Scott Stevens away from Washington in 1990 and Brendan Shanahan from New Jersey in 1991. In between, they went after Boston's Dave Christian. That didn't sit well with Sinden and the Bruins, who didn't even believe Christian qualified for free agency in the first place. Sinden retaliated by apparently signing any Blues RFAs he could find. That ended up being tough guy Glenn Featherstone, plus Thomlinson.

Under the old NHL system, the two teams were allowed to negotiate a compensation package, and they ended up just agreeing to swap Thomlinson, Featherstone, and draft picks for Christian. Thomlinson played 12 games for the Bruins before heading to the Rangers and later the Kings as a free agent. He ended up playing a total of 42 NHL games, scoring just that one regular-season goal.

Just think: The NHL is a league where nobody will offer sheet Leon Draisaitl, but somebody once went after Dave Thomlinson. Consider it further proof that everything was more fun in the 90s.

Be It Resolved

Connor McDavid signed his new contract this week, and it carried the highest full-season cap hit in NHL history. That's fine, because as we discussed last week, he's more than worth it. Besides, his deal came in at $12.5 million a season, which was slightly lower than the $13 million that had been rumored.

So sure, all of that was fine, but here's the problem: The Oilers just announced the deal with a boring old media event and press release. The Canadiens did the same for Carey Price, as did the Sharks with Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Come on, guys. If you're going to be giving out eight- or nine-figure deals, then let's at least make the announcement interesting.

So be it resolved: From now on, NHL teams signing major extensions are only allowed to announce the length of the deal. Then, when it comes to the cap hit, they have to reveal it the way any important numerical value should always be revealed: by using the little mountain climber guy from Price Is Right.

Just imagine the Oilers having a press conference to announce that McDavid has signed for eight more years, then breaking out the Price Is Right mountain with "$0" at the bottom and "$15 million" at the very top. You're telling me you wouldn't be screaming at your TV once that yodeling started and you had to see how high the little dude with the pickax, lederhosen, and #97 Oilers jersey would get?

You could even have custom price ranges for different players. Jack Eichel's could go from $0 to $10 million. John Tavares could be $0 to $12 million. Dan Giradri's could go from $0 to "literally anything that isn't $0," and the little guy could go shooting off the edge like a skateboarder at the X Games.

Let's make this happen, NHL teams. There's still time before next summer's Auston Matthews contract.

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

In terms of cap hit, the biggest UFA signing so far has been Joe Thornton, who got an $8 million deal to return to the Sharks for one season. That's a big number, but it's fitting for a former first overall pick in the draft.

Of course, Thornton wasn't the only former top pick to hit the open market this week. Nail Yakupov was also available to the highest bidder, and that turned to be the Colorado Avalanche, who gave him, um, not quite $8 million. The Avs will be Yakupov's third team.

Yakupov's already widely considered one of the bigger draft busts in recent memory, so today let's travel back five years to the days leading up to the 2012 draft and see if we can piece together where it all went wrong.

  • It's June 20, 2012, and we're just 48 hours away from the first round of the draft. The NHL has decided to put together a few video packages on the top prospects to get you hyped up, including one for the presumptive No. 1 pick.
  • It goes without saying that the Oilers own the No. 1 overall pick thanks to a lottery win. This would be the third straight year they'd have it, which prompted the NHL to create a new rule to prevent lottery winners from winning the top pick again for a period of several years. The new rule was hailed as "completely fair" and "just common sense" and passed unanimously.
  • Sorry, none of that is true. I just wanted to try to retroactively make Connor McDavid happy for a few seconds.
  • Our clip starts with Yakupov doing that thing where he threateningly points his stick at you like he's Westley from the Princess Bride. Hockey video people love this pose so much. It's their favorite thing, slightly ahead of the "stick over the shoulders" pose, which we also get from Yakupov a few seconds later. Please note that neither of these poses ever actually happen in a hockey game. Do other sports do this? Do NFL draft picks have to pose like they're going to do a Karate Kid crane kick? I feel like this is just hockey.
  • "You want skill? Check. You want hands? Check. You want game-breaking offensive ability? Check." And after you're done checking, you will see that Nail Yakupov does not have any of those things.
  • Wait, is it possible the guy was actually saying "Czech"? Was he trying to tell the Oilers to pick Tomas Hertl instead? He knew! The narrator guy knew!
  • Next up we get the director of NHL Central Scouting, Dan Marr, who tells us that Yakupov is the sort of player who "just jumps at you." He then presumably adds, "You know, assuming 'you' are a defenseman on the other team trying to stop him from going to your net."
  • "I'm not like Bure, or someone like Ovechkin," says Yakupov. Wait, he knew, too! Why didn't the Oilers watch this clip before they made their pick? One two-minute video would have saved them millions of dollars. That's inexcusable. (Unless it had an unskippable 30-second ad at the front, because literally nobody has ever waited until the end of one of those.)
  • All kidding aside, Yakupov was really good in junior. When you're shattering Steven Stamkos records, you've got something. I make fun of him now, but five years ago I was 100 percent sure he was going to score 60 goals in the NHL. I'm still maybe 20 percent convinced it might happen, especially if can turn things around in Colorado and make it back to the NHL someday.
  • Next we meet Yakupov's friend and teammate, Alex Galchenyuk. He's introduced to us with a shot of him making the same face every Montreal fan makes now when they're told that the Habs might have to trade him because mumble mumble they have too much scoring?
  • "Like his Russian idol Pavel Bure, Nail is also a game-breaker." No, see, he just told us he wasn't like Bure. I thought you were cool, narrator guy.
  • We close with Yakupov telling us how much he loves to celebrate goals. That part, at least, turned out to be accurate. Remember when he got a little too excited against the Kings and all the old-school guys lost their minds? That was really Yakupov's first memorable NHL moment. Also, as it turns out, his only one.
  • "Sometimes it's crazy, and it's stupid." Man, he's not even an Oiler yet and he's already memorized the team's front-office slogan.
  • That ends our clip. If you'd like to live more of the Nail Yakupov experience, here's a clip of him being drafted first overall and being showered with can't-miss praise. And here's a far better one of him immediately afterward, as some poor rep from Upper Deck tries to get him to do some post-draft marketing that he has less than zero interest in. Seriously, I can't recommend that clip enough. I don't know what kind of day you're having at work, but I guarantee it's not "guy who has to get Nail Yakupov to look up and make eye contact long enough to open a pack of hockey cards" bad.
  • "When someone shows you who they are, believe them. When someone tells you they are not Pavel Bure or Alex Ovechkin, really really believe them." —Maya Angelou, failed NHL scout.

Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at nhlgrabbag@gmail.com.