Tomorrow is a big day in the NHL. It marks the start of the new year on the hockey calendar, meaning a boat load of players will see their contracts expire and officially become free agents. That means Friday will likely be the busiest day of the year in terms of transactions, as teams scramble to sign players available to the highest bidder.
It’s going to be a long day. To help you prepare, let’s walk through some of the key questions and answers heading into the annual free agent frenzy.
So free agency is a big deal in the NHL?
Well … sort of. It used to be, back in the 90s and early 2000s. Back then, lots of teams were struggling financially, but a handful were swimming in money and could throw around huge contracts. Rules around free agency were tighter then, and most of the players who reached the market were over 30. But given all the small-budget teams struggling to hold onto talent, that still led to plenty of big names making it to free agency most years.
Fast forward to 2005, and everything changed. The new collective bargaining agreement brought a salary cap to the league, leveling the playing field between haves and have-nots. But it also significantly loosened free agency rules, lowering the age limit to as low as 25. We all assumed this meant the market would be flooded with young stars in their prime. Instead, teams made it a priority to lock up their best talent to long-term deals. Star players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and pretty much anyone else you’ve ever heard of have never been unrestricted free agents.
The modern-day market is packed with an assortment of castoffs, has-beens, declining veterans and – every once in a while – reasonably talented players who aren’t really stars but are close enough to get a ton of money thrown at them.
Nobody good every makes it to free agency. Got it. Who’s the best of the options this year?
Well, until Wednesday it was Steven Stamkos. He’s one of the best players in the league, and at 26 is still in his prime.
But you just said…
I know. It’s weird.