A few days into the feeding frenzy of this year's free agency period and the Caps have made exactly one move, trading for RW Chris Clark. Clark is coming off a career year in which he set single season bests in goals, assists and +/-. Unfortunately, the numbers that correspond to those marks are 10, 15 and -3, respectively. Even more unfortunate, only three players on the Caps roster at the end of last season (Jeff Halpern, Kip Miller and Dainius Zubrus) had more than those 25 points. Yikes.
But George McPhee has a plan. "We've been involved and we've made offers that made sense to us for the present and the future, but this market is really overpriced," McPhee told the Washington Times. "It's like jumping into the stock market at its peak -- it's the wrong time to do it."
McPhee added, "We're one week into the new CBA, and we already have some teams in [salary] cap trouble. We've had teams calling and offering us players, but we think the market will continue to get better."
Exactly what is GM GM talking about? Here's an example: The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim currently have 12 players under contract at just over $32 million. A little quick math tells us that in order to field a 23-man roster for opening night, they have just over $625,000 to spend per player on the remaining 11 spots. What does $625,000 buy you in today's market? Not an Andre Roy (averaging one point every six games for his career; signed with Pittsburgh for $1,000,000 for 2005-06). Not a Darren McCarty (45 points in his last three NHL seasons; signed with Calgary for $800,000). Not even a Kurt Sauer (nine points in 149 career games; re-signed with Colorado for $718,200). It gets you a rookie or, maybe if you're lucky, an Andrei Nazarov (23 points over his last four seasons; signed with Minnesota for $625,000).
The Ducks, then, are somewhat hamstrung. In all likelihood, once they realize it they'll look to unload some salary. A guy like Petr Sykora ($3.116m) would seem to be a likely candidate to be traded for the proverbial bucket of pucks in order to free up some cap room.
Similarly, teams that have already spent in the market before re-signing their own restricted free agents leave themselves incredibly vulnerable to losing those players because they will be unable to match even modest offers. Players like Simon Gagne and Kim Johnsson in Philly come to mind.
The free-spending and the long-term deals that are being signed (with no idea of what the salary cap will be next year) in the first few days of the free agency period are surprising, and a "wait and see" approach makes perfect sense, especially for a team that is more than a player or two away from contending. The market will come to be favorable to those teams who are patient, and when it does, those teams will be better positioned in both the short- and long-run because with a salary cap, balance is the name of the game. Oh, and I'm not sure that $625,000 would even get you a Chris Clark.