Why would a potential unrestricted free agent sign with a team before July 1 when he could consider all possible offers?
That’s what ESPN’s Craig Custance wanted to know when he spoke to Scott Howson, the Columbus general manager who acquired the rights to James Wisniewski from Montreal last June 29, two days before the defenseman was set to become unrestricted.
Howson, of course, was successful in his pursuit – which cost the Jackets a fifth-round pick – locking up Wisniewski for six years and $33 million before any other interested parties could bid.
“I don’t think we would have got him without [acquiring his rights beforehand],” Howson said. “At 12 o’clock [on July 1], it would have started and Columbus would have been just another team…It was important for a team like ours, a city like ours, to get in front of James early and let him meet us.”
Said Wisniewski after he met with the Jackets and decided to sign: “I felt like they really wanted me, and I want to play for an organization that wants me.”
In 2009, the Calgary Flames pulled off a successful sales job of their own, convincing Jay Bouwmeester to sign a big contract after paying the Panthers for the right to a brief, exclusive negotiating window.
Granted, the risk doesn’t always pay off, as the Flyers and Penguins found out with Dan Hamhuis and the Islanders with Christian Ehrhoff.
Which brings us to Ryan Suter and Zach Parise – this summer’s two big potential UFAs.
Suppose the Predators and Devils are unable to reach a deal with Suter and Parise, respectively. Would, say, the Red Wings roll the dice and offer Nashville a pick/prospect/player for one (or both) of their rights?
According to Detroit GM Ken Holland: “Yeah, absolutely. If the price is right and it’s a player we’re interested in.”
And to gain a bit of leverage, maybe the Wings (or any team that acquired their rights) could offer Suter/Parise a big, tempting contract, with the only stipulation it was off the table at 11:59am on July 1.
A risky tactic, yes. But if you’ve done a good job selling a player on the opportunity, there’s a good chance he’ll sign. If not, you probably won’t get him anyway.