2010 NHL Free Agency: Five Players That May Be Teamless in October
If you're anything like me, there was once a time when July 1st was a day you marked on your calendar to remind yourself to call in sick from work.
The first day of NHL free-agency, the NHL's answer to the NFL Draft, was the most exciting non-game event of the year for hockey fans. In a single day an entire team could be remade, reinforced, or reinvigorated with just one strategic free-agent signing.
But free-agency only made waiting for the new NHL season even more unbearable than it had been before. It was bad enough looking at the calendar knowing you still had three months to go to see your team play again. Now you'd have to have to wait to see them play with so-and-so on the team!
Waiting was never so painful.
Now that the NHL is operating under a salary cap, what was something akin to Christmas morning now more closely resembles Labor Day—it's still a holiday, but not nearly as longed for.
Thanks to the cap, every NHL team is forced to think long and hard about how to spend their money. So much so, in fact, that the supply of free-agent players now significantly outpaces demand.
Consequently, there are many players that wait long after July 1st to find a new NHL home. There are even those who may see the puck drop on opening night the way so many of the rest of us do—from their couch.
There's no way to know for sure, but if I had to guess, the following five players may find themselves in just such a position once the season starts in October.
And these aren't exactly scrub players either. These are players, who just a season ago, were significant members of their respective teams.
Regardless of their histories, these five players may indeed be casualties of a terribly competitive and restrictive market. One that will bar them from entering the 2010-11 NHL season as a player under contract.
Willie Mitchell: Defense
While there is no shortage of teams that would love a 6'3", veteran, shutdown defense-man to anchor their defensive corps, adding one still recovering from a debilitating concussion isn't high on their respective wish lists.
Willie Mitchell suffered a devastating hit by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin in January 2010 and hasn't laced up his skates since. The hit wasn't only injurious, but controversial as well. Mitchell was unprepared when it came from behind as he was facing the boards.
Regardless of the legality of Malkin's actions, Mitchell is still working to recover from his head injury. Unfortunately, that's not all this 10 year NHL veteran is worried about. As of this year, he may never play in the NHL again.
Additionally, Mitchell has a history of various injuries that have limited his play throughout his career. He has only once completed an entire 82-game regular season (2008-09).
Though Mitchell remains dedicated to his recovery, and may find himself in perfect health at some point, he's not likely to have many teams come calling for his services once he is.
Getting a contract before the season begins is likely a long-shot and, if and when he does join a new NHL team, it will be for significantly less than the $3.5 million he brought home last season.
Paul Kariya: Forward
Alexander Frolov: Forward
Winston Churchill once called the former Soviet Union "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."
The USSR no longer exists, but the same description could be aptly applied to many hockey players hailing from Mother Russia.
Alexander Frolov is no exception.
Blessed with great size, outstanding skill and remarkable scoring ability, there's no reason the 28-year-old left wing couldn't be one of the premier offensive players in the NHL.
Nevertheless, an eight year career playing with Kings allows for only word to adequately summarize his performance: inconsistent.
There are times when Frolov can utterly dominate a game and others when it appears he'd rather watch grass grow than play hockey.
His work ethic and emotional engagement have come under fire over the past few seasons. He's been benched, talked to behind closed doors, and publicly called-out by management.
If Frolov's potential weren't as immense as it truly is, the Kings likely would not have bothered with attempts to motivate the Russian winger. At the very least, they certainly wouldn't have signed him as a restricted free-agent back in 2005.
Frolov had his best offensive season to date after that particular signing. He scored 35 goals among 71 points in 2006. The Kings improved dramatically in the proceeding seasons with the additions of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, and Ryan Smyth, but Frolov seemed to get worse.
His point totals since 2006-07 have declined with each season since. How a highly skilled player gets worse as the talent around him gets better is hard to comprehend, but therein lies the mystery that is Alexander Frolov.
The chances of the Kings retaining Frolov (with or without Ilya Kovalchuk on the roster) are next to nil, and considering that he's seeking a raise over the $4 million he made last season means that other teams aren't going to be ringing his phone off the hook either.
Jose Theodore: Goalie
Marty Turco: Goalie