Free agency again?

July 1st is right around the corner and that means the start of the NHL free agent frenzy is almost upon us. Players have met with their agents to lay out a game plan so they are prepared to make the big decision. Then they just have to sit back and wait for the phone to ring.

When it comes to free agency I don’t think there is a player who knows more about the process then I do. I played seventeen years of pro hockey and my last ten were on one year contracts! I went to bed ten June 30th’s in a row wondering what July 1st would bring. It is kind of like Christmas except you don’t always know what you are going to get (if anything)!

After my last season with the Canucks, president and general manager Brian Burke called to tell me that I wasn’t going to be qualified by the team. Ouch! Not a phone call that most hockey players want to get. The good news was that he did want to re-sign me at a lower salary. He told me to explore free agency with the knowledge that I had a good deal in my pocket available from the Canucks.

So off I went into free agency. My agent Donnie Meehan and I had a meeting in Toronto. He went through what to expect during the process. We found comparables in the NHL market so we would be prepared to negotiate with teams that called. We identified my priorities for choosing a team. My wish list included being able to stay in the western conference and getting on a team that didn’t have a player like me already so I would get a chance to play. I left Toronto with a plan in place.

After leaving Toronto I felt prepared for what was to come but when I got home I became nervous. Would anyone call? How would I choose if there was more then one choice that made sense for me? How long would it take to sign a deal? Should I just take the Canucks offer now? I liked it there and was nicely settled into a condo in Vancouver, but I didn’t get to play much.

No, I wouldn’t sign it yet. I went to bed on June 30th and waited for an NHL G.M. dressed like Santa to hand me a gift wrapped contract the next morning!

Good news, teams called! Within a few days I had five teams that were very interested and had offered contracts. Now I had to decide where I would get the best chance to play. Chicago and Washington quickly became the top two choices. I would get opportunities to play on both teams but I liked that Chicago was in the western conference. To be honest I also loved Chicago as a city. Before playing there it was one of my favorites to spend time in.

I signed with the Blackhawks and was pumped. Getting the opportunity to play in an awesome city that was the home to an original six team was very cool.

This first time was nerve racking and stressful. It is a process which requires patience and maturity. Making a snap decision can affect your career in a big way. I went through it nine more times after that. It got much easier in some ways but after a while I wish I could have just signed a two year deal! Maybe it kept me hungry every minute of every game each year because I had no safety net in place.

This Sunday a whole bunch of players are hitting the open market. Players like Zach Parise know that a huge windfall awaits them but most will be filled with anxiety over what lies ahead for them. All I know is that for the first time in ten years I am going to have peaceful sleep on June 30th!

Good luck boys!!!

Previously by Jason Strudwick

  • I would like to be the FIST to welcome J Schultz to Edmonton. It will be an exciting time, and our top end talent on the front end will help you to pump up the points and your value for the 2nd contract.

    Here is hoping we have an internal race for the Calder. Yak VS Schultz. Ether way Edmonton wins and is that much closer to the cup!

  • John Chambers

    Havent been on oilnation in a long time. Nice to see your keeping busy Strudwick! I’ll have to check in more often now that i know your wrighting!! FIRST!!

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    That’s quite a story, Struds…

    year after year… huh. you sound like a sessional instructor!

    Glad you are settled where you are.

    Any insight into how free agency works in Europe? Are your colleagues waiting by the phone too?

  • vetinari

    Thanks for sharing Struds… it’s an interesting process from a fan’s perspective and we all want to believe that it should be simply enough if our favorite team starts calling free agents on July 1st– after all, don’t they all want to become Oilers?

    However, the reality is that most players have geographic and team preferences to consider for them and their families, role preferences that dictate opportunities and ice time, and money preferences which can give long term security– not an easy choice in most cases.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    Wow. What a good article JS. You definitely bring a point of view that’s unique as a blogger here at ON. As good as the other writers are, they can’t pump this stuff out!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    We probably all envision the Oiler offices looking like some recent refugee camp, somewhere few would be willing put down some roots. With no stability in coaching or management, i don’t think they’re at the top of any players looking for a fresh start this summer.

    To not have your ducks in a row at this time of year will surely impress the hell out of Justin Schultz and the rest of that UFA crop.

    • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

      Thats what I’ve been thinking as well. Cluster f*cking the whole coaching situation isn’t something that players want to see when they are looking around. If that the way you handle the guy who is supposed to be looking after the team how are you going to treat the players. I would be very impressed if Schultz signs in Edm.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Mr. Strudwick, just a terrific post today. It makes me wonder a few more things about the summer business from the player’s side. There seem to be only a handful of agents handling dozens of free agents every 1 July. When the offers start flying in at noon, I wonder how it is handled. Did your agent have an assistant handle you and another for Ryan Smyth, and another for the next guy? Is it an email frenzy?

    I also wonder how much the coaching staffs entered into your decision making when you had multiple offers. Do you think it is critical for the Oilers to have their head coach in place before 1 July? Thanks

  • I went to bed on June 30th and waited for an NHL G.M. dressed like Santa to hand me a gift wrapped contract the next morning!

    Sooo, pretty much what Steve Tambellini does every June 30th?*


  • John Chambers

    Interesting… most times fans can’t get close to inside stuff like this. You had 10 nervous sleeps but at least you came back. I am sure there were many many players that didnt get that next offer.

    Not to be personal, whats in the future:?
    1. Media
    2. Coaching
    3. Gardening.

    • I think there are 4 players that the Oil should seriously consider looking at. Cal O’Reilly, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Eric Fehr, Peter Mueller. especially the last two. They would add size to the line up. I’d be interested to see what either of them could do with some of the wonder kids especially Mueller. Fehr was on a team that had a hard time getting the puck in the net and I think his numbers would be better with the oil with a little spot work every now and then in the top six. I don’t see Fehr or Mueller being as worse than what we already have in the bottom six anyway.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Not everyone would even think of saving the actual phone from those phone calls Jason.

    Cool story bro……was your phone number 7 or 8 back then, does it still work?