If there ever was a time when an NHL free agent needed the help of Doc Brown and the Delorean, it'd be today. In fact, Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco probably would have taken out McFly and Doc themselves and whisked their way back to, oh, a week ago to send a note to their younger selves:
Sign the deal. Now.
Goaltending is obviously the most unique position for any hockey team. There's only one, so there's only 30 starting jobs in the league. It's not like a defenseman or forward who can be signed as a low-end guy and work his way up the lineup. As Heidi Klum would say, you're either in or you're out (well, kind of; you could still get back-up minutes). For Nabokov and Turco, they gambled and lost -- for all practical purposes, they're out. If you look at goaltending across the board, there's really nowhere they can go unless they drop their contract demands and a team wants to have veteran support for their young goalies (such as Columbus with Steve Mason).
In the salary cap world, supply-and-demand controls free agency more than ever. And with long-term contracts becoming more commonplace, teams can easily get hamstrung by their previous commitments long before free agency even opens up. Let this be a lesson to free agents in upcoming seasons -- if the market really isn't looking good and a favorable situation opens up to you, it might be worth swallowing your pride and taking less dollars instead of playing chicken with your career.
Similarly, the Philadelphia Flyers made overtures at both Nabokov and Marty Turco and both decided to test the market. Turco reportedly turned down a three-year, $6 million deal before the Flyers resigned Michael Leighton. Now, chances are Turco won't get to play on a Stanley Cup contender and his options will be extremely limited.
Antero Niittymaki landed in San Jose. The Atlanta Thrashers picked up Chris Mason while Dan Ellis went to Tampa Bay. Even third-tier free agent goaltenders found homes, such as Alex Auld and Andrew Raycroft. And yet, the cream of the crop priced themselves out of a job.
Just about everyone saw this coming, from fans to bloggers to mainstream media. How did Turco and Nabokov not realize it? Did their agents give them bad advice or did they simply refuse to see it was coming? If the Stanley Cup Final featured Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo, perhaps it'd have pushed teams to invest their dollars in goaltending. However, the recent years have shown that goaltending doesn't take up a significant percentage of successful team payrolls and it was a buyer's market this particular year.
Supply and demand: it's a pretty basic principle that you learn in any elementary economics course. Perhaps it's time the NHLPA gave their players a primer on this before heading into free agency. While Nabokov and Turco have every right to make their contract demands, the bottom line is that they really weren't in a position of strength. Unfortunately for them, they're hindered by their position; I really don't see this trend happening regularly for forwards or defense, but if I'm part of next year's goalie crop, I'd be very careful about counting the number of open positions and free agents before I turn down any offers.