July 1, and a young man's heart turns to thoughts of . . . lots and lots of cash.
2 hours and 13 minutes until the annual feeding frenzy known as free agency formally begins, but indications are that this will be a much leaner meal than in years past. Economic conditions, the prospect of a drastically reduced salary cap next year, and several teams with substantial cap difficulties all point to a measured and muted free agency season.
Need confirmation? First, the NBA Free Agent season started at midnight, and you can hear the crickets chirping in the silence. Second, Calgary successfully inked a deal with Jay Bouwmeester for 5 years, $33.4 million. While not chump change, this was not the stratospheric number that many were expecting/fearing. Compare it to Brian Campbell's 8 year, $56.8 million deal with Chicago, and it seems downright reasonable. He is signing for just about what Wayne Redden signed for with the Rangers last year (and ask NY fans how that turned out . . . ) While you can debate (with some justification) whether the talent for Jay Bo equals the hype, he was the #2 overall draft choice behind our own Rick Nash, and has the perception of being a premier player. When it comes to contracts, perception is reality. The fact that this one came in within the bounds of reason is a sign that the dollars will not be flowing large come Noon.
This climate is perfect for our own Scott Howson, who is the epitome of patience. Make no mistake, this free agent season will be frustrating for the fans, as we may not see much early action. However, the opportunities abound for some bargains from the teams that have overspent. When all is said and done, either via free agency or trade, I expect that we will see five new faces in the lineup come the start of the season -- 2 defenseman, 1 center, 1 winger and a new backup goalie. My gut tells me that Manny is gone, as the perception gap is just too great, and another club will be enticed by his faceoff record. I have a hunch that Jason Williams might find his way back into the fold, however. He is a good shooter (which we need), and his stock is not sufficiently high, compared to the other forwards available, to attract a huge dollar deal. I think we may see two existing faces move on via trade, but I am now way out on a limb. Expect a backup goalie early in the process.
The Nash Watch -- Contrary to the aspirations of every Toronto Maple Leafs fan, the early indications are that Rick will be staying put. Howson was in Toronto yesterday, doing a big presentation for Nash and his agent on the direction of the club and his role going forward. Everyone is saying all of the right things, and the Jay Boumeester deal did not launch the price out of the ballpark. Nash likely has two offers sitting on his table right now, one shorter term (3 -5 year) one long term (10 year or so). Howson seems willing to pony up the cash, and Rick loves being the big fish in the relatively small pond. Nash is not a glitzy, grab the limelight guy, and the microscope of Toronto has little lure for him. Besides, the organization in Toronto is a train wreck right now. Not the situation you want to dive into. Number 61 stays.
Phoenix Phollies -- Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of both the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, has put up a $148 million offer to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and keep them in Glendale. Gary Bettman and the NHL are backing this play, and are falling all over themselves in praising Reinsdorf and his ability to turn the franchise around. Not so fast . . . First, Reinsdorf is banking on Glendale renegotiating the lease -- something they have refused to do thus far, even after the NHL put big pressure on them. Secondly, and most importantly, Jerry's offer is $64.5 million short of the Balsillie offer. Keep in mind that whatever the NHL likes, this is a bankruptcy court proceeding, and Judge Baum's primary duty is to look after the best interests of the creditors. Sure, the City of Glendale is a prime creditor, but the Reinsdorf offer is taking a lot of cash off the table. Expect pressure to up the ante significantly to get court approval.
Draft Overview -- Scott Howson showed his acument and flexibility during this one, ultimately gaining a defenseman that nobody figured would be available to the CBJ without them trading up substantially from their original slot at number 16. Who knows how things will ultimately turn out, but the crop he brought in looks solid. The pundits give him full marks for the draft, and I have no reason to disagree.
The Draft Party at Nationwide was well attended and fun. Great job in having Umberger, Boll and Mason around and so accessible. The formal autograph lines were massive, but that is to be expected. Mike Todd did a nice job keeping things flowing, and the locker room tours, etc. were a nice touch. A few irritations to note for future events: 1) Put in at least one more food area on the floor, or open up a couple of the concession stands. Lines were ridiculous until late in the game, and many folks left early for that reason. 2) The broadcast coordination was reallly poor. The broadcasters did a great job, but the cutting back and forth to the live feed from Montreal was awful, and folks missed some key moments. 3)Why did we show the first period of Game 4 vs. Detroit on the big screen over and over? It looped back at least twice. Why not show the third period, which was the most exciting period in Blue Jackets history?
USA Hockey -- Thumbs down for snubbing R.J. Umberger, who has shown that he is a big game player over the past two years. He may yet get invited, as injury or lack of interest dwindle the ranks, but this was a bad miss for USA Hockey.
Stay tuned, more to come.