Tue Jul 08 03:00pm EDT
Take a good, long look down the list of the NHL's highest-scoring defenseman last season. Scan down past names like Coburn and Wideman and Seabrook. Keep going past Spacek and Keith, until you end up on this name: Ron Hainsey, then of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Despite being the team's primary offensive defenseman, Hainsey had 32 points last season, which is one point better than such explosive players as Paul Ranger and Randy Jones. Despite that, Hainsey is going to earn $4.5 million every season until 2013. Because no one else wanted to play for the Atlanta Thrashers.
The conversation over the last two weeks has focused as much on where free agents didn't want to go as much as it analyzed where they eventually went. Larry Brooks of the NY Post wrote recently that "the Islanders, Atlanta and Edmonton simply cannot get players to sign unless absurd money is thrown at them." For those franchises, and others, not even a Scrooge McDuck money bin is going to land a blue-chip UFA. Here's a look at what might be the 10 least desirable destinations for free-agent players, as of this summer:
10. Los Angeles Kings: They make this list due to the fact that the Kings had no significant free-agent signings this off-season (yet), despite having roughly eleventy-seventy gajillion dollars in cap space. That said, they were attractive enough last year to lure Tom Preissing, Brad Stuart, Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy and Kyle Calder to Hollywood. A reversal of fortune in the standings, and the maturation of some of their young stars, will get the Kings off this list faster than a puck through Cloutier's five-hole.
9. St. Louis Blues: Again, recent history shows that the Blues have been an attractive option for a high-profile free agent. But it's hard to drum up much excitement on the open market when President John Davidson publicly closes the wallet and declares the Blues are building from within. Like the Kings, maturation and success will get St. Louis back on UFA shopping lists.
8. Edmonton Oilers: GM Kevin Lowe had a dynamic off-season from a personnel -- if not from a professional -- standpoint, but his key acquisitions came through trades. Brooks wrote that the Oilers are in a "free-agent no-man's land" where $90 million can't land Marian Hossa. But if Edmonton is willing to throw Dustin Penner money around, as they did when Brooks praised Lowe last summer, then the Oilers will find welcoming free agents. They even overpaid for Sheldon Souray when they were one of his only options left. Money talks, free agents listen, and many will swallow their personal preferences to play in Lauren Pronger's favorite city.
7. Nashville Predators: The Predators made some small moves last season, but ultimately lost more than they gained. Getting players like JP Dumont and Dan Ellis to remain with the team is one thing; getting free agents to come from another team is another. Bottom line is that GM Dave Poile is more concerned with re-signing his own prospects this summer, and that the Predators' ownership situation probably isn't the best selling point either.
6. Minnesota Wild: This is an interesting one, because there seems to be some agreement between the blogosphere and the MSM. Over on 18,568 Reasons Why, Elise notes that the Wild lost out on Marian Hossa, Markus Naslund, and Kristian Huselius. On Wild View from Section 216, the free-agent rejections are creating an inferiority complex. Then there's Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse, who absolutely destroyed GM Doug Risebrough's inability to get a big move done this off-season. Money? City? System? Something is keeping players away.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Huselius was a coup, but the Jackets' signing of Mike Commodore (5 years, $18.75 million) was the kind of massive overpayment that symbolizes how hard it is to get a player to come to Columbus. When Brendan Morrison rejects a reported $8 million over three years to center Rick Nash, what does that tell you? Like some of the other cities on the list, their best addition came via a trade: R.J. Umberger, a RFA.
4. Buffalo Sabres: While Buffalo fans typically treat Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason like a napkin at a wing-eating contest, he had a piece this week on the Sabres' inability to recruit new talent that had some bitter truth to it. "The Sabres have a poor reputation among players. It has become increasingly evident that the only way to get quality veterans into Buffalo is to force them here through trades. It's an unpleasant way to survive." Indeed.
3. New York Islanders: There's no need to rehash the ownership thing or the management thing or the arena thing or the playing in the shadow of the Rangers thing. This is a franchise that will always be able to get someone like Doug Weight at this point in his career, but it would take a boat-load of money to land a blue-chipper on the open market. And by that I mean Yashin money, of course.
2. Florida Panthers: Cory Stillman for 3 years and $10.6 million tells you all you need to know. Well, besides Jay Bouwmeester opting for arbitration, which should hasten his escape from Jacques Martin's folly next summer. Again, maybe this turns around if the Panthers make the postseason for the first time since 2000. Or maybe there's a reason Florida is always on lists like these.
1. Atlanta Thrashers: How did the Thrashers end up No. 1 on this list? Dan Boyle put them there. When the threat of ending up in Atlanta through waivers is enough to drop your no-trade clause, uproot your family and accept a trade to San Jose, Blueland is obviously Blech!-land for potential players. Recommended reading: The Falconer's "Why Nobody Wants to Come to Atlanta." Just put on some polka music or something upbeat to help take the edge off of the dire, unrelenting depression that defines the current state of the franchise.
Look, these rankings are as temporary as a face-tattoo at a FanFest. And Lord knows an argument could be made for other teams being here, or these teams moving around the Top 10. Well, save for Atlanta. They're a stone-cold lock No. 1, like an "American Idol finale.
Things change quickly. Check out the Washington Capitals, who for years couldn't lure a free-agent with AOL money and D.C. call girls. Last summer they landed a handful of big names, and they managed to replace Cristobal Huet this summer with Jose Theodore, like, within the hour.
So many factors play into these decisions -- geography, prestige, past relationships with teammates and coaches -- but in the end it comes down to a chance for success. Atlanta offered Brian Campbell everything but the deed to the CNN building to play for the Thrashers. He chose the Blackhawks. Now why do you think that is?