NHL free agents fol­low­ing NBA path in pick­ing des­ti­na­tions

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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-yearold de­fense­man felt like it may be his only op­por­tu­nity to “ful­fill 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 re­sign­ing 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. Like­wise, Sharp couldn’t pass up re­turn­ing to Chicago where he was part of three Stan­ley Cup teams, even if his con­tract is worth just $850,000 with per­for­mance bonuses. Sharp said he was “com­ing back to make some more great mem­o­ries and try to help this team win an­other Stan­ley Cup,” which Camp­bell tried last off­sea­son, too.

Justin Wil­liams and his wife bought a house near Raleigh, North Carolina, be­fore sign­ing a $9 mil­lion, two-year deal to go back to the Hur­ri­canes. Ryan Miller called it “pretty ideal” to sign a $4 mil­lion, two-year con­tract in Ana­heim, close to Hol­ly­wood where actress wife Noureen DeWulf needs to be of­ten for her work.

Fa­mil­iar­ity with Nashville and coach Peter Lavi­o­lette led Scott Hart­nell to re­turn to the Preda­tors on a $1 mil­lion, one-year deal, af­ter play­ing his first six NHL sea­sons with them. “Ab­so­lutely love com­ing back to Nashville,” Hart­nell said. “I wish it was Oc­to­ber al­ready.”

That kind of nat­u­ral ex­cite­ment doesn’t hap­pen ev­ery­where. Ex­ec­u­tives around the league don’t be­grudge play­ers for mak­ing per­sonal choices.

“Play­ers have pri­or­i­ties on where they want to play: fam­ily rea­sons, where teams are, whether they’re on the verge of win­ning a Stan­ley Cup or a re­build­ing sit­u­a­tion,” Buf­falo Sabres GM Ja­son Bot­ter­ill said. “I think that hap­pens ev­ery year.”

Some money fac­tors could play a role, such as Alexan­der Radulov mak­ing more in Dal­las than he would have earned on the same con­tract in Mon­treal or Ve­gas, with Tampa Bay and Florida hav­ing a leg up in states with no in­come tax. But the Stars wouldn’t have at­tracted Radulov if they weren’t con­tenders. “Try­ing to win is a huge com­po­nent to play­ers pick­ing places,” said vet­eran winger Chris Ku­nitz, who won the Cup three times with the Pen­guins and signed with the Light­ning. “I think we’re all pretty for­tu­nate in what we do, but we also want to go out there and com­pete and have a chance to win.” — AP

PITTS­BURGH: In this Dec 20, 2015, file photo, Toronto Maple Leafs’ Matt Hun­wick (2) plays dur­ing an NHL hockey game against the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins in Pitts­burgh. The Stan­ley Cup cham­pion Pen­guins will look a lot dif­fer­ent as they go for a three-peat. The Pen­guins signed de­fense­man Matt Hun­wick and goal­tender Antti Niemi and lost de­fense­men Trevor Da­ley and Ron Hain­sey and cen­ter Nick Bonino dur­ing free agency. —AP

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