Choosing their own path
NHL free agents following NBA path in picking destinations
Kevin Shattenkirk could’ve gotten more money but took less to join the New York Rangers.
Joe Thornton could’ve gotten a multiyear deal from someone but wanted to stay with the San Jose Sharks.
Brian Campbell and Patrick Sharp could’ve gotten more money the past two summers but took the Chicago discount to return the Blackhawks.
The NHL is becoming more like the NBA with top players forgoing longer, big-money contracts to pick their preferred destination, a trend that has added a new wrinkle to free agency.
“It’s their opportunity to go to where they want to go and sometimes you might have to take a little bit less money to go there,” Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said. “Do you want to go to a good team? Is it a city you want to go to? Is it where your family wants to be? ... It’s players finding the right fit for where they want to be and having the money that they can live with.”
Shattenkirk is not exactly LeBron James, but the New Rochelle, New York, native filled that role on Saturday when he turned down offers of seven years and more than $30 million to sign with the Rangers for $26.6 million over four years. The 28-year-old defenceman felt like it may be his only opportunity to “fulfil a lifelong dream” and wants to help pull off what LeBron did in Cleveland.
“No matter where you go you’re trying to win your team a Stanley Cup,” Shattenkirk said. “There’s no better place to try to do it for me than in New York.”
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton praised Shattenkirk for leaving money and years on the table, and even New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero — who made a strong push to sign the top free agent available — gave him credit for signing in New York because it was “where he wanted to be.”
The NHL’s hard salary cap and players re-signing to so many long-term deals means superteams like in the NBA won’t happen. But where and who matters more and more to hockey players than simply how much and for how long.
Thornton had more than half the 31-team league reach out to sign him at age 38 and signed for $8 million for one year because he simply wanted to stay in San Jose. “It was nice getting courted by all these teams, and I felt bad saying, ‘Hey I’m going back to San Jose,’ but that’s where my heart is and that’s where I’m happy,” Thornton said. In this March 25 photo, San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton plays against the Nashville Predators during second period of an NHL game in Nashville, Tenn. Thornton decided to stay in San Jose for at least one more season, while longtime running mate Patrick Marleau left for Toronto.