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!!!