A bizarre new trend seems to be sweeping across the NHL.
More and more players seem to be taking an extended offseason and rejoining the NHL ranks at their own pace, rather than joining their team like average players do in the fall training camps.
So far this year some notable examples of players pulling a “Roger Clemens” are Scott Niedermayer and Curtis Joseph.
Niedermayer rejoined the Anaheim Ducks; a team he helped led to their first the Stanley Cup Championship last spring. CuJo re-signed with the Calgary Flames.
The rumor mills are abuzz with whether Teemu Selanne is considering a return to the Ducks and free agent Peter Forsberg considering a return to the NHL.
Sure there are some pretty valid reasons for these players taking time off—Selanne and his wife just had their first child.
Forsberg has had debilitating ankle problems for a while. Most notably, he is not even under contract with a team, making him just your average free agent who “retired” with health problems.
But what about Niedermayer or Joseph? What were their excuses?
Niedermayer, as much of a talented and gracious athlete that he is, seemingly has had no good reason for taking half the season off and returning to the Ducks lineup at his leisure—long after GM Brian Burke had calculated him out of salary cap equation.
Joseph too seems to be taking the easy route to his long desired Stanley Cup ring by sitting out the start of the season, only to return to a contender with half the season out of the way.
Maybe this isn’t really a big deal, but it ultimately leads one to question whether or not this kind of behavior is good for the team, and more importantly, good for the NHL.
Niedermayer, widely regarded as one of the premier defenseman in the league, normally, would be a welcome addition any team, but in the case of the Ducks, they were right up against the salary cap.
Anahiem needed another top defenseman after Niedermayer was non-committal about returning this season. So, Burke goes out and signs Mathieu Schneider to take his place.
Niedermayer then decides to make his return though, forcing Burke to make room under the cap, which was manifested in the Ducks trading away All-Star caliber centre Andy McDonald.
Joseph is a bit different example. He was retired for all intensive purposes, but then makes a comeback bid with Team Canada at the Spengler Cup. Calgary then decides to sign him after his stellar performance to back-up their struggling net-minder Miikka Kiprusoff.
Keep in mind that Joseph has never won a Stanley Cup, which is something that typically justifies any great player’s career. Should his role with the Flames lead him to his first ring, one will ultimately question just how valid it really is since he missed out on the first half of the season.
The last thing the NHL needs is more players, who are supposedly out of the picture, jumping back into the game and riding the fastest horse to victory.
Imagine Eric Lindros coming out of retirement to try and win a cup with the Red Wings right now.
In the end, the player coming back has to be pretty good otherwise the team will just say no; so, that should at least rule the Lindros type hopefuls out.
Still though, NHL GM’s need to be a bit wary of the precedents they are setting. Allowing Niedermayer back into the fold gives star players the indication that they can come and go as they please regardless of contractual obligations.
The signing of Joseph gives all the recently washed up players with lingering Cup dreams the idea that they can come back in the NHL and make a difference, neither of which are things the NHL needs.