Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Reflections on Day One of Free Agent Frenzy. . .

So after spending all possible hours yesterday listening to sports radio online (courtesy of our Northern neighbors – Happy Belated Canada Day) – and including bringing my blackberry with updates into a giant company meeting to get up to the minute updates on Free Agent Frenzy Day - I took a break. I went to a play, turned off my phone, stowed my blackberry. And it wasn’t until intermission that I heard the news:

Wade Redden signs with the New York Rangers for 6 years at $6.5 million a year.

I honestly almost vomited over the balcony. I guess the excitement that built up yesterday (who doesn’t love the …breaking news…trade and signing updates cutting into your broadcast) eventually gave way to that nausea again. It was just a matter of time.

Before yesterday, I’d been silent in saying who I wanted (and who I didn’t want) the Rangers to sign. But, since what happened yesterday happened, I’ll tell you. I would have liked Brian Campbell. I would have liked Mark Streit even more, because he’d come cheaper and I saw how he complemented Montreal’s scoring. I did not want Wade Redden. I watched enough hockey this past season to know that while everyone in Ottawa struggled, Redden looked to be among the worst, and the unhappiest. The “great” Wade Redden – if he could be called great – looked like a shadow of himself. His plus/minus average might have still been good, but his numbers dwindled. He was, while not entirely responsible for, nonetheless party to, one of the biggest collapses I’ve seen in my time watching hockey. Ottawa soared to start the season, and then crashed in a fiery heap back down to Earth by the end. And not that I really think that has anything directly to do with Redden. He might very well be a steady defenseman for the Rangers – at some point in the next six years. Maybe he’ll be the savior on D that they’ve been looking for.

But what I have a serious problem with is the term and the salary. Am I crazy or did I think that it made more sense in the post-lockout world to pay either big money short term or lesser money long term? That players should expect one but not both unless they were super special players that were all but guaranteed to deliver the goods and the goals (or the stops if they happened to be a goalie!) I am most likely completely wrong in this human and short-sided thought process. If the signing went through at 4 years at $4 million per, I’d be elated. A decent amount of time, but not too long. And a salary more indicative of the player Redden has become and not the player he once was. Even if it were $4.5 or $5 if you want to argue with me that he’s more than a $4 million dollar a year player. Fine. But 6.5! Exactly .6 less than Brian Campbell got in Chicago. All for a guy that might not work out at all. Ever. I know some people change teams to get a fresh perspective and it ends up making the world of difference. But what do you think the ratio is of players that come to NY and succeed versus those that come here and fail? I’ll tell you what – NY is tough. Some great players succeed here. The rare and special ones become legends. But so many get spit right back out. Is this where you’d want to go to get your career back on track?

In the other big Rangers signing…Michael Rozsival for 4 years at $5 million. I like Rozie just fine, but I think that’s overpaid. But apparently that was what he was asking and that’s what they were paying. And that’s how the game is played. At least if you aren’t Sean Avery.

Best news of the day and the only news that got me to sleep last night: Rangers resigning Steve Valiquette as the backup. Guy was steady. Played very well against the Flyers and the Leafs. And, honestly, if this season goes downhill quickly (ever a more growing possibility), I want this guy around to do post game interviews. Funny, and eloquent, to no end. He’s a keeper. And thankfully not a bad goalie, you know, in case Hank Lundqvist’s headaches come back or those knees act up, which I obviously pray they do not.

I reserve the right to see what Wade Redden brings to the table and how he fits in. I hope - I HOPE – that my original inclinations are wrong and that he has a long and successful career in New York. Honestly, for my sanity I do. But, we won’t know. And for a guy who was supposedly going to be taking less money (because of the bad year he admitted he had) to be given $6.5 million a year – he better step up. He better come to play. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt when he puts on the jersey this fall, but even though he isn’t replacing anyone specifically (Rangers defense has been lacking a big name or a big talent for as long as Brian Leetch has been gone) – he still has big shoes to fill.

And it’s not even like we have any clearer idea of who is going to be scoring goals for this team either! The big free agents (Marian Hossa and Mats Sundin) as well as all of the rest of the Rangers UFAs remain dangling for another day.

In other news around the league, around 3pm I’ll admit it, I kind of lost track of the goalies entirely. Seriously, how many goalies found new homes? I was kind of taken aback. Now granted, a few are backup type guys like Ty Conklin in Detroit. But honestly, I spent years still thinking Dominik Hasek was still a Sabre, even when he had already moved onto Ottawa and Detroit. Give me at least until December to realize that Andrew Raycroft is in Colorado and that Alex Auld is in Buffalo. As if that matters. At least I’ll never forget Curtis Joseph is a Leaf. Ain’t nothin’ gonna break their stride, Woah-oh, Cu-Jo, Maple Leafs gonna keep on moving. (Confused? Yeah, well changing Matthew Wilder’s lyrics one bored day made more sense back in the 2001 playoffs).

Anyway, Chicago looks like they are poised to have an exciting season. Their young rookies. A steady D-man locked up to big money for a long 8-year period. And Cristobal Huet? I swear, wasn’t it just Monday I was mentioning good old Nikolai Kha-ha-ha-ha-ha-bibulin? He never really made the big difference in Chicago that everyone thought he would. Does this mean he heading out of town? And an even bigger and more important question. It was Hu-ay in Montreal. HueT in Washington. So, Cristobal, what do you want us to call you in Chi-town?

I never, never thought Bobby Holik was going back to New Jersey. I really didn’t. The guy, upset by arbitration negotiations, crossed the river to New York. His way of playing didn’t mesh with the Rangers consistent lack of a game plan and plethora of overpriced talent. $9 million dollars of wasted time. I never appreciated Bobby Holik when he was a Devil and his sometimes calling out his teammates used to bug me when he was a Ranger. But he was and still remains a good guy. A polite guy. And a good American citizen. (I love my Czechs. So many of them appreciate what they came from and where they are now.) For this, I admire him and I wish him well in NJ. Except for the 8 times a year they play the Rangers. As for Brian Rolston – I know many teams would have loved to have him. I would have liked him on my team. But…he returns to where it all began. Good for him. Hey Jon Bon Jovi, who says you can’t go home?

And so the first day of Free Agent Frenzy came to an end. I experienced excitement, nail biting, nausea, and yet somehow, I got a contented night of sleep. Heck, I have 3 months and change before the season truly starts, and years and years and years and years and years and years (that was six years in case you missed it!) to get over the potential damage that this day may have caused.

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