I could stop a train with no brakes with Davey Jones in the engine room, I tells ya.
Mere hours after I wrote this, the Penguins and Evgeni Malkin agreed on the same four-year, $24.4 million contract that seemed to be the endgame from jump street, and one that Malkin had apparently decided wasn’t going to be enough to keep him around. And then it was, as both the Pens and Malkin had that moment in a rom-com where they look at each other from down the street, while it’s almost certainly raining, let’s go with “Bittersweet Symphony” starts playing (“Heartbreak A Stranger” if you’re dealing with a director who knows what they’re doing), and they realize all the perceived mistakes and slights that have gone on for the previous two hours don’t matter that much in the end when the only two people that can stand them are themselves. Then they run toward each other at the crescendo of whatever rote song the director picked.
So NHL free agency has certainly kicked off before it’s kicked off, which is today at noon Eastern, as Malkin was immediately replaced at the top of the market by Johnny Gaudreau. The Flames announced that Johnny Hockey will not be returning to the Flames, as he wants to leave for “family reasons” ( i.e. play somewhere on the East Coast or Tri-state area). The Flyers aren’t in much of a position to be reeling in big fish like Gaudreau, but he is from the Philly-half of Jersey and it would be very Flyers to try and cram him in on a team that’s not going to be anywhere near contending for years just for the sake of it. The Devils are another hot rumor, as they’re actually on the rise and have a center Gaudreau could play with (Jack Hughes, though their games are awfully similar) instead of just pretending like the Flyers. There will be no shortage of suitors, as this is a 100-point winger now available to the highest bidder.
It’s a gut punch for the Flames, who only being informed of Gaudreau’s wishes on the eve of free agency now don’t have a lot of time for a Plan B. Had they known before the draft, they could have been in the Alex DeBrincat discussions and at least replaced goals if not the playmaking of Gaudreau. Could they hope to coerce Ondrej Palat north with the money they had allocated for Gaudreau? Or do they try to go for depth and sign two or three players with the $9-10 million they had set aside?
Or is this the end of the Flames’ time, if Matthew Tkachuk indeed tries to force his way out of town as has been whispered? If the Flames conclude they can’t keep Keith Tkachuk’s garbage son and Gaudreau’s gone and they can’t replace him in any fashion, do they have to take a step back and figure out what’s next? Their division is still awful and they can probably still easily make the playoffs, and that’s usually enough for some teams, but it’s also a great way to end up in Nowheresville with nothing but some loose memories of nothing that matters.
That wasn’t the end of an intriguing Free Agency Eve, as Palat took a page from Malkin’s playbook and announced he will be testing the market (we’re assuming it’s multiple-choice, nyuk nyuk nyuk). There was always going to come a day when the Lightning couldn’t keep their Cup-winning depth together, and it may be now. Palat has been the do-it-all forward who pops in the biggest moments, and while his loss won’t be a death blow to the Lightning per se, his removal from Tampa takes them from scary monster to mere contender.
Should be quite the frenzy this afternoon, as NHL free agency rarely waits around. Which makes you wonder about tampering, but that’s for the crusty old crowd to worry about. Gaudreau can definitely shift a few teams’ fortunes, and Palat could be a final piece for teams that think they’re on the cusp (or, y’know, the Rangers). And then we can put hockey back in the bag until training camp, which is always the best part of free agency.
I’ll end this selfishly, as I’m always a sucker for a great team goal. Step up, Austin FC, who string together seven passes here that covers the entire length of the field for their third goal to cap off a 3-1 win over Houston Dynamo last night:
Ask why people like me watch soccer and it’s for stuff like this. I don’t listen to classical music, but this is the point of it as I understand it, several people with different job descriptions blending together to create something as one that dings a tuning fork within you. Yes, I’m Tin Cup. What of it?