Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Free Agency Dance

July 1st marked the start of free agency in both the NHL and NBA, and both of the state's teams in those league were busy, one more than the other.

First, the NBA Charlotte Bobcats

They made qualifying offers to Emeka Okafor and Ryan Hollins and picked up the team option on Jermareo Davidson. All of this was expected, as was the release of Othella Harrington (or the team not picking up his option--semantics). Okafor, Hollins and Davidson are younger, and will be around longer than Harrington.

Okafor's case is puzzling, because I don't know what he is thinking. He's a good player, but not great--at least not yet. He averages a double-double, which is impressive, however, he's not the marketing "[put fannies in the seats" player that a Dwight Howard is. Jason Richardson can be that guy (and has been at times, although the fannies have yet to find the seats), but Okafor is a bread and butter big man. He gets his 10-15 points, 10-12 rebounds, 3-6 blocks and defends the bucket so well, Rick Bonnell, the Charlotte Observer Bobcats beat-writer calls him a "goalie at the basket." All positives, yet Okafor turned down a contract offer from the Bobcats last summer, and may not get a new deal in place before the start of the upcoming season, meaning he plays one more year in Charlotte, and then becomes an unrestricted free agent.

What does he feel he commands on the open market? My guess more than the Bobcats offered him last summer (a deal believed to be in the 7 million dollar a year range). Don't get me wrong, I like Okafor, but at some point, athletes ought to realize that playing a game for 7 million dollars a season isn't the worst thing in the world, and that 8-10 million a year won't be all that different.

As for the Bobcats in free agency, I don't see a big splash ,simply because they don't have much cap room--most of the surplus was eaten up by the Jason Richardson and Nazr Mohammed deals. Believe it or not, I think the team can be fine--we'll just have to see what the Larry Brown effect is on this group. My guess is, it will be far better than the Sam Vincent effect.

In the eastern portion of the state, the Carolina Hurricanes hit free agency quite hard, signing some players like Anton Babchuk and Ryan Bayda, but the big splash came in the form of a trade, sending right winger Erik Cole to Edmonton for defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Those of you that know me, know that hockey is my game, my passion, my love. After playing it for years through college, and beyond, it's a part of me.

People tried to tell me this was a bad deal on Tuesday. Tried convincing me letting Cole go is a mistake.

I like the deal from a hockey perspective, but don't like it from a fan perspective. Here's why.

Hockey perspective:
The Hurricanes (I hate calling them the Canes--a cane is a device to assist someone in walking) blue line suffered 2 losses after the season. Glen Wesley retired (after a pretty darn good career), and Bret Hedican is testing free agency. Don't ask.

Losing those 2 players off the back line is severe, as both hold a vast amount of experience on the back end. They had to get younger, and were doing that with Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo playing defense, and the re-addition of Babchuk. Pitkanen is a very good defenseman, very capable of playing the power play, quickly starting the transition game from defense to offense. I like Pitkanen, a former top 5 pick in the draft. He's the offensive-defenseman GM Jim Rutherford has wanted for years. Once upon a time, he signed Sandis Ozolinsh, one of the better 2-way defenders at the time, and I think Pitkanen is better than Ozolinsh was. In the end, the Hurricanes had to give up something to land him, and that something was Cole.

Fan perspective:
I LOVE Erik Cole's game to pieces. The guy never left anything in the dressing room--it was all on the ice for the Hurricanes. Every stride, pass, shot, or body check was 100%, and I imagine that will continue in Edmonton. Cole was a fan favorite, and that is always tough for the paying customer to stomach--losing a guy you may have spent $200 on a customized jersey for yourself with their name and number stitched on it never feels good. Still, when Cole and Edmonton return to the RBC Center, I would hope that the fans greet Cole with a warm reception during the warm-up and introductions. He didn't ask to be traded, didn't ask to become the enemy. I wish Erik well, except when he plays Carolina or Chicago.

Speaking of Chicago, my beloved Blackhawks got miles better when they signed both goaltender Cristobal Huet and defenseman Brian Campbell on Tuesday. Scary that the Blackhawks could actually become relevant in their home town once again, a sensation that vanished in the early 1990's. Coincidentally, the Blackhawks moved from the now torn down Chicago Stadium, and moved across the street to the United Center at the same time.

23 days until Panthers training camp.

Mike Solarte


Anonymous said...

Good article Mike,
As a former 'burb Blackhawk fan from the original six era, one must understand the game to realize the Cole trade (After 2 major defensive losses) was a necessity. This is a business and nobody liked the idea of Erik heading to Canada. Best of luck, Mr. Cole...wish we could have had a shot at Brian Campbell.

Marian Hossa said...

Maybe Okafor just wants out of Charlotte?

Hell, I couldn't wait til my contract ran out.