Examining the college free agent chase

After elimination from the NCAA tournament, undrafted college prospects become free agents. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

This is one way the college hockey free agent chase was described: It’s kind of like going to Las Vegas for a weekend, blacking out, spending a bunch of money you probably shouldn’t on gambles you suspect won’t pay off, making decisions you wouldn’t make in normal life. Then you get home and it’s over. You feel a little dirty, a little hungover. Your spouse isn’t happy with you.

But when the call comes next year, you do it all over again.

The NCAA college hockey tournament begins Friday (here’s the bracket), and as each team is eliminated, that frees up undrafted college prospects to sign with NHL teams. And the competition to land them is high, even if the odds of them becoming impact NHL players isn’t.

In today’s NHL, you need young players constantly coming through the system. You need guys contributing on entry-level deals, so you can spend more under the salary cap on veterans. If you’ve traded draft picks over the last couple of years, signing college free agents is a great way to stock your system for free. Well, free in the sense that it doesn’t cost an asset besides time and money.

There can be a payoff.

Boston’s signing of Michigan State’s Torey Krug in 2012 is a success story. Last year, the Red Wings were able to sign Danny DeKeyser, a smooth-skating defenseman from Western Michigan University who immediately made an impact. And because of the timing of his signing and the late trade deadline, they were able to play him in the postseason as well.

With DeKeyser, there was little doubt he was going to be an NHL contributor. Most saw a potential top-four defenseman, others projected even higher. That’s why teams lined up at the Newport Sports Management office in Mississauga, Ontario, last year to try to convince DeKeyser to sign with them.

This year’s class of college hockey free agents is already thinning out, and according to scouts, it wasn’t particularly deep to begin with.

“It’s not a great year,” said a Western Conference amateur scout.