According to Jim Matheson, unrestricted free agent defenceman (and former Oiler) Tom Gilbert might end up signing in Switzerland for this coming season. It’s an odd move in a summer of oddities.
minny sources say tom gilbert might wind up playing in Switzerland
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) September 6, 2013
Gilbert was a controversial player in his time with Edmonton, with some people (raises hand) seeing his ability to move the puck and play his position in the defensive zone as a major positive, and others (looks at the comments section expectantly) believing Gilbert was a Downy-soft turnover machine. Regardless, it’s hard to believe that he’s fallen so far in such a short time that he isn’t even seen as a useful third-pairing guy by all 30 NHL teams.
Gilbert isn’t the only guy on the outside looking in. Peter Mueller, the 6’2” scoring winger (over his NHL career, he’s averaged 44 points per 82 games played) went from a contract just shy of $2.0 million per season last year to a new deal in Switzerland. Ron Hainsey played 22:51 per night in Winnipeg last year; he’s still without a contract. Mason Raymond, a competent auxiliary scorer who can also kill penalties, is also still looking for a home. Damien Brunner and Brendan Morrow and Ian White and Dan Cleary and Ilya Bryzgalov and Brad Boyes and others round out a list of unrestricted free agents that’s still surprisingly rich at the start of September.
What’s Up, Doc?
It’s hard not to look at a team like Nashville that might start the year with three rookies in its top seven and think, ‘you know, they could use a Gilbert or Hainsey or White.’ It’s hard not to look at a team like Phoenix and say, ‘Damien Brunner might be a nice fit on the wing’ (though the Coyotes have taken advantage of a tough summer to invite Guillaume Latendresse and Gilbert Brule to training camp). There are teams with needs, and free agents who could help, but it’s seemingly taking a long time for the two groups to find each other.
Some of it has to do with the warts of individual players. For a guy like Hainsey or White, militancy during the lockout could be costly. Teams will be turned off by Bryzgalov’s off-ice persona. Some of it probably has to do with price tag, which is probably why Brunner is still on the market.
It’s also easy to spot a trend, at least with the forwards – aside from the older warhorses, there are a lot of second-tier scoring wingers still on the market, guys who don’t contribute enough for a first line job and might be ill-suited to a line with heavy defensive responsibilities (most of them are also under-sized). So on the one hand it’s easy to say ‘Player X is better than [generic fourth-line forward]’ and it’s true, but there are definitely teams out there that aren’t interested in installing a Brad Boyes-type player on their fourth line.
The biggest factor, though, is probably the crashing salary cap. For many years, teams have signed contracts and structured their payroll based on the implicit assumption that the cap was going to keep rising. This year it fell, and sharply; the resultant cap crunch meant that rich teams had no money to spend and poorer teams had lots of options available to them. Some guys falling through the cracks was likely inevitable.
Recently around the Nation Network
Betting service Bovada released it’s lines for the season earlier this week, but they’ve had to change one – Toronto’s. At Lwafs Nation, Cam Charron explains:
Today, those lines have been shifted, presumably from a sharp amount of activity in the first day the lines were published. As of Friday morning, no other team saw its line moved, but the Leafs have dropped to 94.5, and are now just +135 to miss the playoffs:
Click the link above for more details or check out some of my recent work: