NHL Free Agency: ‘Don’t Count on Me to Save Your Team’

Boston Bruins right wing Michael Ryder #73 is able to beat Minnesota Wild defenseman Brent Burns #8 to the loose puck during the Bruins game against the Wild at TD Bank Garden in Boston, MA

The Minnesota Wild are in an interesting position with defenseman Brent Burns.

The career Wild defenseman’s contract expires after next season.

Jim Souhan writes that Burns might command around $6 million per season on his next contract, meaning the Wild might need to choose between re-signing the streaky Burns and signing a new goal-scoring forward.

It’s a good plan, but there’s one wrinkle: In the cap-driven NHL very few pure goal-scorers make it to free agency.

You have guys like Ilya Kovalchuk, but we all know how that worked out.

Marian Hossa bounced around free agency a few times, but even he eventually settled into a long-term contract.

But for the most part, unless a team has no salary flexibility, which has yet to happen so far, if a player hits the open market, it’s because there are some serious question marks attached to the player and his ability to perform.

So while Burns might not be ideal, there’s no guarantee the Wild will be able to do better. Teams don’t just let goal-scoring talent walk away without getting something back. Souhan should know. The Wild didn’t want to make an expensive, long-term committment to Marian Gaborik, so they let him leave in free agency. Given his struggles this season, it doesn’t seem like a crazy move to not make.

The Hockey News had a list of upcoming unrestricted free agent defenseman who’ll probably get huge raises.

I would be shocked if any of those players made it to free agency, though. I’m pretty sure the Bruins will want to hold onto Tomas Kaberle and I can’t see Montreal allowing James Wisniewski to leave.

That’s a huge part of the new NHL. Most of the time, the only free agents available have some kind of fatal flaw. A good GM has to assess if the flaw is something they can work around.

Souhan has dreams of the Wild landing Minnesota native Zach Parise, who’ll be a free agent at the end of this season. But even a team as ridiculously capped out as the Devils will probably figure out a way to re-sign Parise. And if they can’t, I’m sure they’ll trade away his rights to a team that will lock him in. Maybe the Wild are that team, which will be fine for them. But it’s not something the Wild can bank on.

Brent Burns is streaky and inconsistent but I’m not sure the Wild can guarantee they’ll find a better way to spend his salary.

In the modern NHL, you’re almost always better off retaining talent because there are very few easy ways to immediately replace it anymore.