Talking Hockey: Free-agency frenzy was freaky

Three regular guys. Some would even go so far as to call them friends. Tim Boughton, from Bowling Green, Ohio; Paul Grant, from Toronto; and David Walton, from St. Louis. Mix in some hockey and you've got a lively and often contentious debate. This week, they talk about the crazy free-agent frenzy.

PAUL GRANT: OK, regular guys, let’s talk free agency. First of all, Dave, what’s the deal with the Minnesota Wild? What do you think of their out-of-the-blue signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter? And on Independence Day, no less?

DAVID WALTON: Nothing says freedom like signing away the next 13 years of your life to a team that hardly makes the playoffs.

I will especially enjoy watching buyer's remorse kick in. I give it about three years. If you don't believe me, just ask the other teams that gave out deals like this. Think Vancouver (Roberto Luongo) or Tampa (Vincent Lecavalier) or the Islanders (Rick DiPietro) are happy? And only one of those teams has won the Cup in the last eight years. Ugh.

But at least this hasn't affected the market on the midlevel guys ... Oh, wait. I forgot about Jiri Hudler, Olli Jokinen and Dennis Wideman.

There's a common denominator with all three of those guys ... but I can't quite place it.

Tim, can you help?

TIM BOUGHTON: Well, the Wild's moves seemed like an obvious thing to do to sell tickets: invest in the top two guys on the market and tell the season-ticket holders, "Look, we tried." But if the Hunger Games has taught us anything -- other than the fact that it was a terrible movie -- it's that on the first day, you don’t go the stage where the obvious, easy-to-grab weapons are; it’s a blood bath, everyone is out to get you, you root around in the woods for a few days and pick up the little things you need to get by and win. OK, maybe there will not be a romantic subplot in the NHL this season, but I think the Wild are gonna take way more heat for going big than putting together a bunch of lower-level guys.

As far as Vinnie and Roberto go, I can’t fault a franchise for re-signing their marquee player who looks like he is still on the outer edges of his prime. Not offering these guys decent FA contracts would have been as offensive as openly eating a giant burrito during church service. Locking up a big name shouldn’t force the expectation of a championship; the only reason the Miami Heat of the NBA had that kind of pressure is because they had a freakin’ TV special promoting it (and then gloated about how great they were on it). Until Parise and Suter start guaranteeing championships, the pressure nationally will be low. The NHL just isn’t as visible as the NBA.

Dave, as for the common denominator between Hudler, Jokinen and Wideman: They would all pick you last at Wednesday night hockey. They also seem like they are all washed up. I might be confusing guys here, but Jokinen did win the hardest shot competition one year at the All-Star Game, and I think Wideman had a long streak of shootout goals, but I can say with confidence that Jiri Hudler has scored a goal in the NHL. But if that is the only thing I can remember about these guys, they are probably washed up.

PG: Well, it’s all kind of ridiculous, considering the NHL owners are saying how they can’t afford the big numbers, Phoenix and New Jersey are in a state of suspended animation, St. Louis can’t keep an owner for longer than six years, and around the league we go. But, truly, madly, deeply, isn’t this what the 2004 lockout was all about? Back in the day, it would have been the Rangers or the Maple Leafs signing these guys to bazillion-dollar deals, and everyone would have been crying about how small-market teams couldn’t compete against the big, established teams. This is the equivalent to the Kansas City Royals signing A-Rod for $500 million. Am I right, people?

Dave, I now give this soft pass to you, but unlike our days of playing hockey together, I know you won’t fan on the one-timer.

DW: I think we can all agree that one-timers were not my strong suit. I think we can also agree that I was not very good at skating or backchecking. Falling down, however, well, I could give Scott Hartnell a run for his money there.

Speaking of Hartnell and now the Flyers, what are they going to do? Chris Pronger is most likely not coming back. Matt Carle left to join Vinny and the Bolts. I guess they can take solace in knowing that the Rangers and Penguins didn't get any better. But they have some holes to fill on defense -- more than Luke Schenn can fill. And way more than Ilya Bryzgalov can cover up. Having said all that, I would take Peter Laviolette to coach my team any day.

Does anyone else think that James van Riemsdyk is going to be a great player? He's been good, but can he be great? If so, can it be in the fishbowl that has become Toronto Maple Leaf hockey? And who is going to be their opening night goalie? Luongo? Jonathan Bernier? Someone else?

Speaking of the Maple Leafs, it raises the question: Which gets raised to the Air Canada Centre rafters first, Sundin's No. 13 or another Stanley Cup banner? The answer is irrelevant because Brendan Shanahan should been voted in to the Hockey Hall of Fame before Mats was.

I do know that Tim does not care because none of these guys went to Bowling Green.

TB: Yeah, you are probably right, Paul, about the whole A-Rod comparison, but in reality how many NHL teams can afford to play over the salary cap? According to Capgeek.com, no one was over it last season. I’m actually shocked that none of the big-market teams have traded for Tim Thomas, since essentially that is trading for cap space, which might be an indication that everyone is broke. Paul, what you mentioned earlier about the financial struggles of a couple teams, I can’t believe for a minute that the Panthers, Blue Jackets and Islanders are solvent. There is never anyone at their games, but then again if you average 10,000 fans at 50 bucks a ticket for 41 games -- what is that, like, $10 billion?

Wow, Dave, already hating on Bowling Green? I’m shocked, not shocked enough to note that Orel Hershiser also went there. As well as current Canuck Kevin Bieksa, future HHOFer Rob Blake and Dave Walton hater Nelson Emerson (unconfirmed, but you’ve got to think it is true).

What is the word on Pronger, is he done forever? Does an injury count against the salary cap -- it must be similar to a retirement, you pay but it doesn’t count against the salary cap -- because Pronger is making like 4.5 million for the next three years. The Flyers are way overspent on defense and they need new blood. Is Carl Racki available? Although he would probably be about 50 by now.

As for Brendan Shanahan, if he is now the Suspension Czar, does that mean he has to go back and suspend himself about 240 games, leaving him technically unretired? The whole thing about Mats Sundin getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame over Shanahan is because he played in Toronto, and I had a coworker comment that Sundin was almost a household name in the U.S. -- he did do a lot of Nike commercials, the “will goaltend for food” ones.

I think Toronto goes after Luongo -- I still think he could be a dominant goaltender in the league, just because I thought what made him great was positioning rather than ridiculous acrobatics. I’m not exactly a talent scout but, hey.

PG: The Flyers must be squirming this summer, as opposed to previous offseasons. They are stuck with Bryzgalov, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are on the Stanley Cup tour, and they are down Pronger and Carle. Maybe they know something about the pending CBA negotiations that we don't -- like salary amnesty? As in, sign a dumb deal and get to wipe it off your books years later, when you realize how dumb it is? Just like the cap, the owners are seeking something else to save themselves from themselves, and amnesty is it.

I should leave it there, given it brings us to a tidy full circle, but I just can't leave that dangling fruit about Luongo hang out there. While he's a great goalie, Luongo wouldn't be able to handle Toronto; Tim Thomas is a better fit there because he just doesn't care what the media thinks about him and would say so. Problem is, if the Leafs win the Stanley Cup (ha-ha, I know, I know, just bear with me for a second), then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a noted puckhead, would really take Thomas' absence personally. Luongo's going to Florida. Heck, he's already dreaming out loud about dining with his family and not being pestered by autograph or accountability seekers.

Anyway. Until next week, keep your heads up, regular guys.