Ain’t no free about it

Well men and women of Balls…now that we’ve had 24 hours to digest the action, it’s time to name the best, worst, most shocking and most depressing signings of the free agent period so far.

May I just say, by way of introduction, that I really enjoy the now-annual rite of media folks tut-tutting and tsk-tsking at all the “crazy money” being thrown around by NHL GMs. Is the money crazy? Well yeah, some of it is ridiculous. But that is the nature of the market for talent in the NHL. If you’re lucky enough to be among the annual crop of 10 to 20 free agents who garner the most attention every year, then you are going to get overpaid. If not, not. The whole thing makes the owners’ cries of poverty around collective bargaining time seem absolutely ridiculous…but hey, that’s par for the course too.

So, my nominees for the best and the worst:

Best signing: Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks, $56 million over 8 seasons.   Generally I don’t like long-term contracts like this. Right about year three they start to look really sketchy. But there is one kind of player that warrants it: a high-skill defenceman who eats up minutes. Campbell reminds me of
Scott niedermayer, with a little less offense and a little more grit. Campbell will be 37 when this contract expires, and it works out to a little over $7 million a season, which puts him on the second tier of superstars. A reasonable price for a guy who will be a key piece of Chicago’s resurgence with Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Sharp, Keith…and Martin Havlat, if he ever gets healthy again.

Worst signing: No, not Jeff Finger. The Leafs may have overpaid for an unheralded defensive defenceman. But when the New York Rangers gave $39 million over 6 years to Wade Redden, they took the express train straight to crazy town. Redden’s off-ice issues in Ottawa were such that they didn’t even want him back. They tried desperately to trade him at the deadline, but nobody bit because they knew the Sens would let him walk in July and that’s exactly what happened. The Rangers lost out on Campbell and flat-out panicked. Redden is a step backwards, and an expensive one.

Most shocking: I found it surprising, if not exactly shocking that Michael Ryder got $4 million a year out of the Bruins. Ryder is coming off a bad year, nut now he is re-united with Claude Julien, a coach he has lit it up for in the past. Ryder and Carbo never got along. He may be a one trick pony, but Ryder gives Marc Savard somebody to feed the puck to in Beantown, and could come back to haunt the Habs. Clearly though, he has to get back to 30 goals next year, or this signing is a bust.

Random question: Why did the Leafs give Jeff Finger, more than $3 million a year, when Kurt Sauer (also a stay-at-home D-man, who was +17 last year on the same team as Finger) got about half that much (1.75 million) from Phoenix?  Exactly what marketplace are the Leafs looking at when Finger, who is a year older, 3 inches shorter, and has played 94 games to Sauer’s 288, is worth twice as much money? I know Sauer doesn’t score, but 8 goals from Finger is no great achievement either.  The Leafs must be thinking that they can double Finger’s offensive production from the point, but if they can’t they massively overpaid. Next year’s top four d-men: McCabe, Kaberle, Kubina and Finger will be making a combined $18.9 million. By my  rough estimates, that’s about $6 million or 31% more than they’re worth on the open market. If you believe Kaberle is worth Brian Campbell money (and he arguably is) then even at that, the group is $4 million overpaid.