New schedule coming soon; Koivu a great free-agent pick-up for Ducks

July, 9, 2009
In case you've been wondering, the league will release its 2009-10 regular season schedule sometime next week, most likely Wednesday. The highlight will be the official announcement of the third annual Winter Classic, a match expected to be between the Flyers and Bruins at historic Fenway Park.

I suspect the league will have a press event in Fenway on Wednesday or Thursday (after MLB's All-Star Game on Tuesday) as a way to kick off its plans for the New Year's Day event.

This time, the league is expected to make more use of the outdoor rink, keeping it open for local hockey and open skating sessions. That's smart. There has been a rumor of a game between an NCAA rivals Boston College and Boston University, as well as tilt between Division I college women's teams. That would be pretty smart, too. I would imagine those plans would be discussed during the Fenway media announcement. As the most interesting analyst in the room might say, 'stay tuned, my friends.'

Turning 35
Chris Pronger's new contract extension (seven years, $34.45 million), which kicks in for the 2010-11 season, looks like it will be a bone of contention between the Flyers and the league. Provisions in the current collective-bargaining agreement lay out particular salary-cap stipulations for players 35 years or older who sign multiyear contracts. The two sides have different interpretations of that language in the CBA.

In New Jersey, Devils fans still remember how post-lockout, multiyear deals for Alexander Mogilny and Vladimir Malakhov, who both had reached their 35th birthdays when the contracts took effect, pushed the club into salary-cap hell.

However, before we jump to any conclusions in this matter, we all should consider that the current CBA is scheduled to expire after the 2010-11 season. At that point, Pronger will have six seasons remaining on his deal. A new CBA could contain different rules in regard to these types of situations. So, while it's interesting fodder for chit-chat among us puckheads, a new CBA could change the discussion.

A perfect Duck
For my money, there haven't been many good free-agent signings in the post-lockout NHL. For a number of reasons, however, I believe the Ducks' decision to sign longtime Habs captain Saku Koivu to a one-year, $3.25 million contract is a terrific free-agent acquisition.

First, the money and terms give both sides flexibility. On a Tuesday afternoon conference call, Koivu talked about wanting to see how things unfold for him and his family on the West Coast. He anticipates a smooth transition, but he'll have an out if he doesn't mesh in Anaheim. If things do go as planned, Koivu said he'd be eager to pursue another deal with the Ducks. (Of course, he will have turned 35 before his next deal -- see above.) If they do mesh, the team will certainly be interested in keeping him in Orange County.

Second, the one-year deal -- at that dollar amount -- is cap friendly for the Ducks, who've decided they won't be a club that spends to the upper limit of the cap.

Before the draft, Anaheim GM Bob Murray told me he wanted to upgrade his secondary scoring, and admitted the club hadn't been the same since they were forced to deal shifty center Andy McDonald because of dramatic cap problems in December 2007. The addition of Koivu, and the re-acquisition of Joffrey Lupul, definitely addresses the scoring issue.

At this point of his career, Koivu seems best slotted as a second center behind a strong No. 1 pivot. That's exactly where he'll be working behind budding superstar Ryan Getzlaf. He figures to be used on a line alongside goal-scoring Finnish countryman Teemu Selanne.

Koivu should be a perfect fit for another reason: his competitive nature. The Ducks have established themselves as a physically-aggressive team. Koivu should enjoy being part of that environment.

There's no guarantee that any free-agent signing will work out. In this case, though, there are no long-term implications for either side. It's a win-win situation.

Finally, Murray has done an amazing job since replacing Brian Burke on Nov. 12. He inherited a team hamstrung by continuing salary-cap issues. Murray, who previously held the GM chair in Chicago, hasn't shied away from several tough decisions in retooling the Ducks on the fly. Through his moves, the Ducks have gotten their budget in line while remaining a legit Cup contender in the West. That isn't easy.

What if?
On the day Joe Sakic officially announced his retirement, I can't help but wonder how things might have been different for the future Hall of Famer if the Avalanche weren't able to match the front-loaded, restricted free-agent offer sheet he signed with the Rangers during the summer of 1997. I guess we'll never know ...

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.




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