Most years, the Wings are not major players in the free agent market. Our team has so often been directly against the cap that we simply couldn't afford any of the game-changers that come on opening day of the free agent frenzy. We haven't made a 01 July signing since Marian "October - March" Hossa when Hasek's contract came off the cap.
This year looks to be different, however. The cap has risen to $64m, Rafalski's chunk of change is removed due to his retirement, and we find ourselves with some money to spare. With 17 players under contract, we've got over $16m to play with. Our roster has some needs - a replacement for Brian Rafalski, a backup goaltender, and a top-6 forward. We've also got a few guys who are unrestricted free agents, and Kenny will have to make a decision on who's coming back at what cost.
So, since the most important test of my life is only a month away, I've decided to spend my time analyzing the situation we find ourselves in before Free Agent Frenzy begins this Friday at noon. Let's start with our own unrestricted free agents, shall we? Presenting:
The Winged Wheel's List of Shit to Do with the Dudes We Had But Might Not Have Soon Depending on how Negotiations Progress, Mutual Interest, and Other Available Options On The Open Market That May Serve as Potential Replacements
Catchy, eh? Now, some of these decisions have already been made. Contracts have been offered in some cases, or Kenny's indicated that he'll take a wait and see approach with some guys. That being said - I'm largely going to ignore most of that information and tackle this from a "if I were in charge" perspective. I know that's a terrifying proposition, but bear with me. It's not real and this nightmare will be over soon. I promise. Anyway, lets start with a Winged Wheel favorite, shall we?
- Chris "400 Wins, Bitch" Osgood
Now, I'm not so sure. See, the upside with Ozzie could be outstanding. The last couple years, admittedly, haven't been good to Osgood's numbers between the pipes. However, many wings "fans" are quick to forget how lights-out he was in 08 or during the 09 playoffs. There are all kinds of explanations for that kind of decline we saw during the 09 and 10 regular seasons. One could be that after Todd McClellan bailed, we were stuck with Brad McCrimmon (I'm just now realizing how much the Wings love the micks). Since McCrimmon took the bench, our defense has been decidedly un-Wing-like. Shots on goal went way up, and our PK started shitting the bed on a regular basis. Now, we've got vacancies in those coaching spots, and Babs can hopefully fill them with someone who's not terrible at his job.
Another explanation could be that Ozzie was simply falling apart. Just consider his major groin/abdomen/cahooten-valve surgery this year. The Wizard went under the knife just after reaching the summit of #400. That's at least some evidence that Ozzie was hurt, and the pain was keeping him from playing at his full potential. There's where the upside comes in. If the surgery takes, and Ozzie's play returns to 08 form, he is far and away the best option for this team. Not only is he an outstanding mentor for young Jimmy, but he can likely be had for a near-minimum contract. That's some serious value, if all works out right.
But that's kind of the problem. Everything has to work out right. That's a pretty big risk, and as much as I love Ozzie, I'm not sure I want the Wings to undergo that kind of dice rolling. Jimmy needs a backup that can take some time away from him. 63 starts is far too much. And hell, even if Ozzie turns out perfect, Babcock might just decide to be a stubborn dick about it, per usual, and make Howard play all 82 games.
So... I guess my answer is "shrug." Kenny plans on waiting a bit into free agency to decide if he's going to call Ozzie back, and that sounds like the right move to me. If there aren't any real options, we can always fall back on the tried and true, three-ring, future hall of fame inductee. If someone better can be had cheap - well... I'll be sad to see Ozzie go. On the bright side, hopefully it'll mean all the sooner that he finds himself on the FS-D broadcasts so Murph will finally be out of a damn job.
- Jonny "As Much Wasted Potential As The Floor of an Adult Theater" Ericsson
Yeah - fuck that kid.
Actually, in all honesty, I wouldn't be SUPER pissed if Big E stays. The Braintrust obviously sees some real potential in the kid, and we saw some flashes of what he can actually do during the 09 playoffs. It sure would be annoying to let him walk away, have Brian Burke give him a eighty-billion dollar contract, and suddenly have Ericsson turn his game around. Plus, who knows how much of E's suckitude comes from Brad McCrimmon mindfucking him into mediocrity.
But the fact remains - Ericsson sucks. He sucks long, and he sucks hard. He's been absolutely terrible on our blue line. Replacing him with a sack full of sand would be an upgrade. Often, the biggest obstacle to our success is that he's got a healthy ACL. Every time he's on the ice, Wings fans everywhere hope that he tomahawks an opponent across the mouth just because it's better to be shorthanded for five minutes than to have him on the ice for 30 seconds. I could go on, but I wouldn't want to exaggerate.
So fine, if E wants to stay for a pittance, I say keep him. If we roll with 8 d-men, he can spend a bunch of time looking pretty in the press box. No harm, no foul. Unfortunately, it sounds like E has been offered a multi-year contract, at around $2m per. If that multi-year is several years, and he actually turns his shit around, maybe it'll be worth it. As it is, it just looks like the Wings are overpaying for a guy based purely on potential and not on results. Unless, of course, Ericsson does the funniest thing in the history of time and pulls a Lilja by turning down the millions of dollars he neither deserves nor is worth.
- Ruslan "Graduate of the Marian Hossa School of Playoff Performance" Salei
Well... at least in Salei's case. Salei signed his one year contract, filled a roster space, and didn't suck 65% of the time. He did his job. Unfortunately, 35% of the time he did suck. And, unfortunately, a good part of that sucking came in the playoffs. He did his job, no hard feelings, but there's no way I'd want him back when there are UFA's to be had, and rookies waiting in the wings. Farewell.
- Mike "Haley Joel" Modano
- Kris "Thunder Beard" Draper
Draper's presence does good things for Abby and Helm, staples of our team. His return would likely mean the departure of Eaves, Miller, or both, but that's OK. Neither one of those guys has some huge amount of untapped potential that would make their loss irreplaceable. He's cheap and he's still a damn good role player. Plus, I can't imagine the Wings cup celebration without that beautiful ginger forest of a beard. I say bring him back for #12.
- Patrick "Holy fuck that's a big ass dog" Eaves
I know, the above analysis could also apply to Draper. But, for the reasons described above, I'd rather have old man beard than Mr. Eaves any day. Eaves has more-or-less maxed out his potential, and his ability to mentor young kids like Helm, Abby, or even Mursak or Emmerton, is limited compared to Drapes. Also, loyalty is one of those funny intangibles that helps sell our team to free agents, and Draper's earned it if we can afford it. Plus, it'll be that much more hilarious to all the "ha ha the Wings are old" Lamberts of the world, when we win #12 with Drapes.
So, to me, as good as Eaves has been for us, we'd lose too much by retaining him. I say wait and see. Look on the market, see what's available. If there's a free agent to be had with more offensive upside, sign him. If not, maybe give Patty another go round.
Word is, Eaves has been offered a contract. Hopefully Kenny's got it in his mind to sign him and try and trade him or cut him loose if nothing else shakes out. Sorry Eavesy, we'll miss you and your giant dog.
- Drew "Salt 'N' Peppa" Miller
And those are the free agents. I'll likely blow important things off in the near future to discuss some of the UFAs on the market because, well... why not?
...is it October yet?