Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ten key free agency questions

July 1 has traditionally been a day full of questions for hockey fans. Questions like: “Wait, he got how much?” And, “for how many years?” And, “are you joking right now?” And, “has everyone in this league lost their damn minds?”

Welcome to NHL free agency, which officially begins today at noon ET. In honor of the occasion, here are 10 more important questions to consider as we count down to the opening of the vaults.

1. How much did Thomas Vanek cost himself?

When Vanek signs a deal, which he’ll likely do early on today, he’ll be joining his fourth team in the last calendar year. He started the 2013-14 season with the Buffalo Sabres, and finished it with the Montreal Canadiens.

In between came a four-month stint with the Islanders, who gave up a hefty package to pry him out of Buffalo. They reportedly offered the pending free agent a seven-year, $50 million deal to stay in New York, but were turned down and eventually had to recoup some of their losses by sending Vanek to Montreal. The star winger went on to post a disappointing playoff run that had some questioning his work ethic and suggesting that he’d torpedoed his value.

This week, we’ll find out just how much Vanek cost himself. While it’s hard to imagine that he’ll get anything approaching the Islanders’ offer, he’s still in line for a big payday. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported yesterday that up to 10 teams had made contact with the Vanek camp. One of those teams is Minnesota, which has been widely assumed to be Vanek’s preferred destination all along (he was a member of the Gophers squad that won a national championship in 2003). The Wild reportedly don’t want to offer a long-term deal, but Vanek may be willing to take fewer years for the right fit.

Of course, that could all go out the window if somebody decides to break the bank on a player who, it should be remembered, has been one of the highest-scoring wingers in hockey in recent years. He almost certainly won’t get Islander money, but somebody somewhere will be ready to pay up.

2. Where does Ryan Miller land?

The last time we had a Ryan Miller Watch, it was in an attempt to figure out which team would make a midseason trade for him. That team ended up being the Blues, which pulled off a blockbuster with the Sabres to bring in the former Vezina winner as what they hoped would be the final piece of a Stanley Cup puzzle.

We know how that turned out — after a strong start in St. Louis, Miller struggled down the stretch and the Blues coughed up the division title before going out in the first round against Chicago. That wasn’t all Miller’s fault, of course, but it was enough to convince the Blues to move on.

That leaves Miller as the top name available in today’s goaltending market. But that market is suddenly a very tight one, with few teams actually in need of a starter right now. And that has left Miller with far fewer options than you might have expected considering how much demand there was for his services just a few months ago.

One possibility that makes a lot of sense is Vancouver, and Miller has reportedly been visiting with the Canucks this week. If that deal doesn’t happen, it’s hard to find too many fits elsewhere around the league. The Sharks, Wild, or even the Penguins could be looking to shake things up in goal. The Flames could use help, and the Hurricanes could, too, if they find a taker for Cam Ward (which they won’t). But all of those scenarios come with question marks. And don’t forget that Jonas Hiller, another good goaltender with a strong résumé as a starter, is also available.

The betting here is that Miller works something out with the Canucks, but if those talks fall apart, he could be in for a long week.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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