Interesting free agency, draft

July 20, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

In my last column, I discussed the 2016-17 National Hockey League (NHL) season, how entertaining and memorable it was.

This time I want to discuss this season’s draft and free agency, although it wasn’t as memorable or crazy as last year’s, but certainly had some highlights.

First, there was the announcement of a new expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Seems a bit weird, what would a city whose main attraction is gambling want with an NHL team? Perhaps hockey continues to reach those far-away corners that aren’t so far away anymore.

It seems silly having a team in Vegas, but its entertainment attraction is sure enough to keep the team alive, provided they have some star players, which we’ll get to in a moment. It seemed strange having teams in Florida, the Panthers and Lightning, along with three Californian-based teams (the Sharks, Kings, Ducks). However, a majority of them have won the Stanley Cup, and have shown consistent success and entertainment for the league.

As an expansion team, the Golden Knights participated in the NHL expansion draft, selecting one player from each of the 30 other teams. Some big names they grabbed included Marc-Andre Fleury, the star goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who helped the team win three Stanley Cups during his tenure. They also got James Neal, a power-scoring forward during his time with both the Penguins and Nashville Predators.

However, all these big names are for naught if the team doesn’t have the chemistry, and it’s not like they have a bunch of rookies. Several of the guys are veterans, so we’ll just have to wait and see how their first season plays out in October. Of course, the Golden Knights also got to select players in the NHL Entry Draft, picking Canadian forward Cody Glass sixth overall as their first-ever draft pick. Hopefully, it’s the first of many to come, and Glass can provide some offensive entertainment.

This year’s NHL draft wasn’t as exciting as last year’s, with not many big names coming into the league. Understandable though; it seems to happen after a big draft year that the following year seems lackluster. However, these newbies aren’t that, like the top draft picks, Nico Hischier for the New Jersey Devils (first Swede drafted first overall), and Nolan Patrick for the Philadelphia Flyers have provided some incredible scoring numbers.

The NHL free agency has definitely had some moments, both in players signed and not signed. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Sharks forward Patrick Marleau to a three-year, $6.25 million annual contract. Marleau, 37, is a bit old now, and though it’s a lot of money for someone his age, he’s proven to have the offensive capabilities. Hopefully he lives up to his contract.

Long-time Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, who was one of the players in the penguins winning three Stanley Cups (including back-to-back) signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Lightning, Whether this shacks things up for either times we’ll just wait and see.

Perhaps what’s more interesting about this year’s free agency is the number of free agents, specifically some star players.

The top of the list is easily Jaromir Jagr. The 45-year-old consistently puts up impressive numbers despite his age, and has the second highest points (only behind the Great One), and is the third highest scorer in league history. Hopefully a team will sign him, especially because if he plays one more season, he’ll most likely surpass Gordie Howe’s record of 1,767 NHL games played. Jagr is at 1711, a difference of 56 games,and has consistently played no fewer than 70 games.

Jerome Iginla is another surprise. Like Jagr, he’s “old,” is a top scorer and point collector, the only difference between the two being that Iginla hasn’t hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup, and is looking like he’ll join a group of elite players who never did.

Shane Doan is another surprise, but again, his age (40) keeps him off teams’ radars. He’s played his entire career with the Arizona Coyotes (including when the team was the original Winnipeg Jets). He’s the last active player from that original team. He’s also the Coyotes’ all-time leader in goals, points, and games played, captaining the team for 14 years, from 2003 to 2017. Any team with Doan will be guaranteed to have a leader to inspire younger players.

Certainly if any or all three of these players decide to retire, it will leave a vacuum in the league, though it will quickly be filled by these new arrivals.

Now we just have to wait and see the rest of the free agency season play out, and what that will mean for the upcoming season.

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