Boston Bruins: Buyers Market In Free Agency

When the final salary cap was announced earlier in the year, it gave a lot of NHL teams reasons to groan. The cap only went up $2.4 million over last season ($69 to $71.4 million US), an increase of only 3.4 percent. That’s the smallest percentage increase in the salary cap in the history of the cap. (Courtesy of Gary Bettman and the 2004-05 lockout.)

There’s no doubt that the sagging Canadian dollar definitely hurt several NHL teams. Poor cap control hurt several more. The Boston Bruins had to refit their squad, taking on several cheaper, less known players while signing away supposedly franchise players like Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton.

This season is seeing one of the worst unemployment gaps for NHL players in recent memory. There are five dozen NHL players who made at least one million dollars last season that are currently without a NHL contract. Former Boston Bruins Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley, and Michael Ryder (all members of the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship team) are on that list. While it’s unlikely, I hope the Boston Bruins invite Paille to training camp next month.

Steve Bartlett is an NHL agent who has been representing hockey talent since 1985.  In his thirty years of being a sports agent, he hasn’t seen an offseason quite this bad. “In my experience,” said Bartlett. “This has been one of the more difficult markets.” Bartlett estimates that the current free agency market has a glut of veteran players that is 200%-300% higher than usual.

Cody Franson is still the big name on the list of NHL veterans with no deal. With all the new players signing cap-friendly deals, these veterans are going to have to lower their salary expectations. Several of them will also have to hope to get invited to teams’ training camps in order to get themselves a deal.

Every year, the league gets new players who come into the league. Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be taking people’s jobs when they step on to the ice. NHL teams will pay an awful lot to keep their best players, but will expect many members of their squad to accept less pay. It’s part of the reason why the Boston Bruins scooped up Matt Irwin and Zac Rinaldo cheap. It’s also how they were able to get a good deal on Matt Beleskey.

It’s a buyers market, and a lot of players are competing for smaller paychecks. “What they are doing is putting pressure on the middle class to accept less than they traditionally do just to say in the league,” said Bartlett of the current environment.

Where does this leave a player like Daniel Paille? Paille still has excellent speed. If given just a spoonful of puck luck, he can have multi-point games. Right now, his best chance is to go to someone’s training camp and wait for something to happen.

“As painful as this is for guys sitting on the sidelines,” said Bartlett of NHL players still hoping for a contract. “We will get into training camp and get into the first week of the season, and some teams are going to go, ‘Oops’.  They are going to say, ‘I don’t think we are as good as we thought we were, or that kid isn’t as good as we thought, or that kid blew out his knee.’ So there will be movement. Guys will continue to be stressed for a few weeks, but jobs will open up. They always do.”