By Brian LeBlanc
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
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July 1 is always either the equivalent of hockey Christmas or a significant disappointment. The past few years, the glacial pace of signings on July 1 has led to such profound and lengthy discussions on the TSN panel as what the signing of Niklas Hagman will mean to the Toronto Maple Leafs (note: this actually happened, for inordinate amounts of time, in 2008).
And then this year happened, and it's a shocker Twitter didn't have a few dozen Fail Whales pop up through the day with all the action going on.
Approximately three seconds after the clock struck noon, the New York Rangers fired the first shot of free agency, signing goaltender Martin Biron from the crosstown Islanders for a pittance, one of the more reasoned signings of the day. And by the end of the day, we lived in a world where Derek Boogaard had earned a four-year deal (incidentally, the same stretch of time the heavyweight has gone without a goal) to suck up six million of Cablevision's dollars, where Manny Malhotra went from an afterthought signing last year to one of the higher-paid third line centers in hockey, and -- dear Lord, help us -- where Darryl Sutter completely lost his mind.
With a focus on players relevant to the Canes, let's review, shall we?
Obviously the biggest news of the day from a Canes fan's perspective was Ray Whitney signing with the Phoenix Coyotes. The man who nixed a deal to Los Angeles a few months ago, saying he wanted a three-year contract to go west, just joined the Kings' division on...wait for it...a two-year deal. As usual on Canada Day, minds change rather quickly. Whitney receives $3 million per year for the next two years, plus a no-movement clause, a small pay cut from what he made with the Canes but not at all out of line given the salaries being thrown around. (Case in point: in what parallel universe do Ray Whitney and Colby Armstrong make the same amount of money?)
The writing was on the wall as early as a month ago that the Canes' salary structure for next season wasn't going to be enough to keep Whitney, and indeed it wasn't. Whitney joins a Coyotes team that made a surprising run to a 100+ point season last year, and could have used his scoring in the playoffs against Detroit. He's a great fit in Phoenix, but Caniacs won't be able to see him at the RBC next year -- the Canes' only game against the Coyotes is in Phoenix on October 23, their last game of the post-Finland State Fair road trip.
Erstwhile Cane Matt Cullen, meanwhile, made good on a bundle of rumors and headed to his hometown (well, home state, anyway) Minnesota Wild on a three-year deal that will pay him $10.5 million. Given the Wild's offensive struggles, Cullen will provide a shot in the arm, but Wild captain Mikko Koivu is the only person standing between Cullen and first-line minutes. Cullen's a good secondary scorer, and will help the Wild's special teams, but for his sake I hope that Todd Richards and the Wild braintrust don't over-extend Cullen and expect regular 70-point seasons out of him given what he's being paid. Unless you plan to fly to Helsinki in October, you won't see Cullen next year; the Wild's two games against the Canes open the season in Finland.
Whitney was the only free agent the Canes lost on Thursday, although beyond him it's fair to say there isn't much there. Brian Pothier is the next biggest name on the list, and it would be surprising for Pothier to sign in the next week or so; he may well get to training camp without a contract. Joe Corvo is also still on the market, and his agent did talk to Jim Rutherford earlier today, but with so many defensemen coming off the market today (the free agent run for about three hours, from 2-5 pm, was almost exclusively defensemen) Corvo could take advantage of some team's desperation and sign an overpriced contract. That will certainly price him out of the Canes' budget; if they weren't willing to give $3 million to Whitney, there's no way they consider giving that much to Corvo.
As for everywhere else, the day was summed up when Olli Jokinen, he of the burned bridges on his way out of Calgary in February, somehow re-signed with the Flames in a deal that had every TSN talking head completely speechless. (I told a Rangers fan in my office about this development and he couldn't stop laughing. That's a fair assessment of the rest of the NHL's reaction. Flames fans, obviously, excluded.) Meanwhile, Ilya Kovalchuk, the undisputed alpha dog of this year's free agent crop, remained on the market Thursday night, with the Kings and Devils in hot pursuit. (So much for my theory that Whitney would have to wait for Kovalchuk to set the market before signing.)
So, let's recap: Jokinen's back with the Flames, Kovalchuk is still unemployed, Derek Boogaard makes nearly as much as Alex Tanguay. Yep...July 1 always brings surprises. July 2 should bring some as well.