There are increasingly fewer big-name free agents remaining
The early days of the NHL's "Free Agent Frenzy" marketing campaign have been replaced with the latter days of free-agent freeze.
In the first 12-plus hours of free agency, dozens of players many fans are familiar with changed teams. In the last week, most fans would recognize only a few players that did so.
Not only has the action slowed, but the options are diminished. Most of the best players have already been moved, limiting the ability of teams with ever-narrowing cap room to change their course dramatically.
That makes it the perfect moment when one can take the time to step back and analyze what has gone down. Next June, the following six teams will look back at these early days and realize the choices they made did not work out for them.
The Nashville Predators have already lost elite defenceman Ryan Suter via free agency. Now two-year Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber has received an offer sheet for over $7 million per year from the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Preds may be two years straight making it out of the first round, but they are still the Preds. This franchise has had to spend to the floor in recent years and is competing against teams trying to stay under the cap.
They gave it everything they had last season but were out quickly in the second round. They lost draft picks and prospects they need to replenish.
If they spend the money, they leave themselves too little in the budget for a supporting cast and walk away from the Flyers next four first-round picks. If they do not spend the money, they lose two of the top-10 players at one position in a single month.
Adam Pardy, Steve Ott, Mike Ribiero and possibly Brenden Morrow gone from the team that was within a whisper of a playoff berth the last two years.
Pardy was the only one that did not give fit to their rival and top dog in the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks. Still, the new direction can be justified by four straight playoffs without any of them.
But when you are a team near bankruptcy and you are want to go in a new direction, your roster should usually get younger. Instead, the Stars replaced four players between the ages of 28 and 33 with two players over 40.
Jaromir Jagr had a great season in his return to the NHL from Russia, but he will turn 41 before next year's trade deadline. It is hard to imagine him maintaining a level of play for an entire season that would warrant a contract of over $4.5 million.
Ray Whitney had a great season, with 77 points in 82 games. He was the 26th-best player and 14th-best forward in goals versus threshold, which measures a player's impact over a typical minor-league replacement. (Goalies occupied 11 of the top 25 spots.)
This season was almost an exact replica of his 2008-09 campaign (24 goals, 53 assists in 82 games), but better because this time plus-26 rather than plus-2.
However, as a player even approaches 40, the mileage racks up and injuries become more prevalent. This can cause missed action or dropped production. In the two years between his 77-point seasons, Whitney had fewer than 60 points. By the time the playoffs roll around, his 41st birthday looming suggests he is likely to be a weak link on the second line.
Matt Carle was the second-biggest free-agent signing on the blue line this summer. He returned to the Tampa Bay Lightning for $33.5 million over six seasons.
That is No. 1 defenceman money, but everything suggests he is a No. 2 defenceman.
He scored almost a point per two games but was just 41st in average ice time. He was 15th in blocked shots (164) but had just 55 hits and 18 takeaways.
He ranked just 172nd overall and 38th on the blue line in GVT. Brent Burns has a comparable contract and ranked 86th and 13th, respectively.
Carle will play well, but not up to this contract. He is pretty much the player he will ever be, so as other contracts catch up to him, so will other players.
The Minnesota Wild made the biggest splash in NHL free agency, landing both the top forward and top defenceman.
They will be better in 2012-13 than they were in 2011-12. If they start the way they did last season, it will not be as much of a surprise and they should be able to maintain that success.
But because they were the best available, demand for them pushed them into elite-level compensation. The reality is there might be a dozen defenceman better than Ryan Suter and twice as many forwards better than Parise.
Now Minnesota has three players making at least $7.5 million locked up long-term—too many eggs in one basket. One injury and they are paying someone to be in street clothes with too little talent to fill the void.
This is why teams like Suter's old Nashville Predators compete on a budget—it is far more cost-effective to get two good players than one great one.
The San Jose Sharks are heading in the wrong direction, falling in the standings every year since winning the President's Trophy in 2009.
They fell most precipitously last year by not making the playoffs until the final day of the season and were ousted in the fewest games in franchise history. This was after sacrificing forward talent to improve the blue line.
Eight players have been dropped from the roster that they went to battle with in last April's playoffs. Two have been added to replace them.
So what have they done so far? Lost forward talent (the players they have lost were expendable, however) and bolstered their blue line.
While they have remained focused on a trade for Rick Nash, NHL free agency has nearly passed them by. They have finally turned their attention to the best remaining fit for them on the market, but Shane Doan also has them waiting.
They will still be a better team because they brought in someone who can actually coach the penalty kill. But when they fail to land Doan, their only remaining option to upgrade will be Nash, forcing them to accept a higher price for him than they want or stick with a roster that has proven to be inadequate.
Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson has held to his ridiculously high price for his only star. He asked his most likely trading partner, the San Jose Sharks, for Logan Couture—a player four years younger who ranked 62 spots higher in GVT but is paid a third as much.
It is one thing to overvalue your assets. It is completely another to do so when your previous words made it absolutely necessary you trade Nash.
He cannot don that uniform again after all that has come to light. When other teams know you have to sell, they not only will not pay more than market value, but will insist on a bargain. How much more when you are also restricted by Nash in which teams you can even send him to?
With his asking price, Howson will not get any takers until all reasonable free-agent alternatives have signed. That should happen a month before training camp opens, but teams that wait six weeks will not be too impatient to wait another four.
Once Nash is scheduled to report to the team, things will be too awkward and Howson will get less than he might have months earlier when the trade was first requested.