Yet the first day of free agency still couldn't shake the feeling of being colossally underwhelming.
There was activity, sure, but none of the marquee names are on the move, yet. That may be largely because there aren't many marquee names on the market to begin with.
After forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, there really aren't a lot of guys out there that will have a dramatic impact. With no competition on the market at their respective positions, Parise and Suter have no reason to rush into any decision.
They can sit back and let their many suitors vie for their attention, driving up their price tags even further. Suter went into free agency letting it be known that he would probably wait until sometime later in the coming week to make his decision, while Parise now appears to be showing similar patience.
"There's less high-end guys, so they can take their time," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said on Sunday afternoon. "And by all accounts they're doing that. The medium-level players, I've seen a lot of those players today."
Many of those 50 players who signed early on Sunday will make key contributions to their new teams. But after years of huge money being thrown around in the opening hours of free agency, it's hard to get excited about those "medium-level players."
Ray Whitney signed the biggest deal of the day in terms of cap hits, with a two-year contract worth $4.5 million a season, while P-A Parenteau's four-year, $16 million deal was the biggest in terms of total money committed.
Whitney is nice secondary scorer. He's put up over 1,000 points in his career and showed last year he still has something left in the tank with a 24-53-77 campaign in Phoenix. But he is 40 and isn't suddenly going to turn Dallas into a contender. Likewise, Parenteau was one of the better scorers available after an 18-49-67 season with the Islanders, but the 29-year-old has played just 188 games in the NHL in nine pro seasons, not establishing himself in the league until the past two seasons. He also doesn't quite seem like a true difference-maker for a Colorado team that's missed the playoffs three of the last four years.
Even the trade market was disappointing on Sunday. Rick Nash refused to waive his no-trade clause for what would have been a blockbuster deal with Ottawa. Instead, the Senators had to settle for a minor deal with Columbus, sending forward Nick Foligno to the Blue Jackets for defenseman Marc Methot.
So how can the NHL get some excitement back into what has become a virtual hockey holiday, and not just because it happens to fall on Canada Day?
One idea is to allow teams to contact prospective free agents before the start of the free agency period. If marquee stars like Parise and Suter could hear the pitches of their prospective new employers and spend a few days weighing their options before July 1, that opening day is more likely to feature some big-name movement. Chiarelli would be open to such a setup.
"That is something that's been discussed among managers and that would be ideal," Chiarelli said. "What this system does is it sorts out the market quickly and you just have to be prepared. But to answer your question, yes, that would be ideal, but I'm OK with the way it is now."
The way it is now has limited the excitement of this annual shopping spree. If that meant it was also eliminating the crazy contracts floating around the league that might not be a bad thing. But that hasn't been the case. Instead, teams have simply started tossing around money a little earlier.
The Flames acquired the rights to Dennis Wideman last week and promptly handed the defensively-challenged defenseman a five-year, $26 million deal. Other teams throw caution to the wind to retain their own players, such as Nashville giving Paul Gaustad a huge raise with a four-year, $13 million deal after he scored a career-low seven goals.
Other deals are more understandable, though certainly risky. The Penguins locked up Sidney Crosby for another 12 years with a $104 million extension, while the Kings made sure Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick was happy with a 10-year, $58 million deal and Carolina extended recently acquired Jordan Staal for 10 years and $60 million.
Those kinds of proactive moves keeps players off the market and limits the appeal of the opening of free agency, but such long commitments may become less common if changes are made in the league's next collective bargaining agreement.
"It might be a little different this year," Chiarelli said. "I know we just saw Crosby and Staal and some of these guys getting locked up to longer term deals, but I think there's going to be an element of caution in that regard. At least I'm going to try to exercise caution and I would expect for the most part some other GMs would too. So that may not have been there so much before, because we're all awaiting what the new system's going to be."
That prudence might be best for the game, but it won't bring back any excitement to one of the few days hockey can take center stage in the summer.
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