Free agents are about marketing

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

The NHL free-agent market -- no one's free, but there is a lot of marketing going on.

The league's absence last year gave all players a chance to return on a level playing field, and it's unlike anything we have experienced in the past.

Some players maintained their skills by representing their country in international competition. Others chose to stay in shape overseas.

But the NHL is the standard by which hockey excellence is measured. We know the names of the players in the top echelon, and some (Jarome Iginla) will likely be more reliable that others (Bobby Holik).

That being said, there's money to be made on both sides -- and with the ability to score a "name," most teams are jumping at the chance to add a known player, thereby increasing the odds of a marketing angle to sell their fans on.

Here are some of the standouts on both ends of the spectrum:

- Florida Panthers (fair to decent marketing strategy) -- Getting on this bandwagon early is either going to be a stroke of genius or a total disaster, and it all depends on how Jacques Martin handles the reins. Regardless, the base was in place for this to be a team of interest in a tepid market. They were able to land both Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts, but left plenty of cap room to deal with integral pieces such as Jay Bouwmeester and Roberto Luongo. And Ottawa fans -- wasn't the signing of Martin Gelinas one of those moments when you wondered if John Muckler's phone was working?

Also falling into this category are the Oilers. Edmonton fans seem confident that their team will recover from the lockout -- fantastic news considering the financial outlook was bleak for the Oilers. But GM Kevin Lowe realized that adding names into the mix would speed up the process. In the past, a player of Chris Pronger's stature was impossible for a team like the Oilers to obtain. Michael Peca is a question mark, but one can hope that the change in scenery will prompt a resurgence of sorts.

- St Louis Blues (questionable marketing strategy) -- This is an insane sports town in which all teams fight for coverage. So why are they keeping players like Doug Weight, who earns a paycheque of $5.7 million US for scoring just over 60 points, and letting Pavol Demitra slip through their fingers?

- Toronto Maple Leafs (potential marketing conspiracy) -- Let's look at this objectively: The Leafs have lost Roberts -- basically their Doug Gilmour, version 2.0, in respect to pure unadulterated reverence. To prevent entering effigy status, GM John Ferguson Jr. had the sense to re-sign Tie Domi, whose loss would have been a public relations nightmare. They have yet to sign anyone of note, and in the grand scheme of things, why should they? Leaf fans would mob the ACC to see Darcy Tucker sitting at centre ice getting a pedicure. They showed up during the '80s, didn't they? The Leafs' front-office realizes that marketing is of little importance in a city where fans may complain, but they always shell out.

It's encouraging to see most teams on the right track in respect to obtaining players that will capture even the most disheartened fans' interest. On Oct. 5, we'll finally be able to see how many of these pseudo-Frankenstein experiments work out.

HOT SHOTS: On Thursday, Sidney Crosby made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The positives? He was poised and gracious. The negatives? A few nerves must have provoked several Sami Salo-esque shots, and he missed a golden opportunity to crosscheck Rob Schneider ... Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is writing a movie to fulfill his dream of winning an Oscar. Could he be the Francis Ford Coppola of the NHL? Based on Washington's success, he seems to be heading more in the direction of Joe Eszterhas ... The steroid that Rafael Palmeiro allegedly tested positive for was stanozolol -- the same drug that brought down Ben Johnson at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Someone needs to tell Raffy that his moustache isn't the only thing that's out of date.

erinnicks@yahoo.ca


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