Who's this year's Perreault?

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

NHL questions you would never encounter in a million years. Let's hear them.

"How long does Don Cherry practise his pronunciation of player names before going on-air?"

(Stanley Cup engraver thinking aloud) "How do you spell Phoenix?"

"Who's going to be the next Yanic Perreault?"

That last query is slightly relevant, strange as it sounds.

We're heading into that portion of the NHL off-season where the unrestricted free agents left unsigned are beginning to look like wallflowers at a high school dance. Undoubtedly, there weren't many who thought they'd be in this situation, and likely look at similar players who were signed, only to ask, "Why was he picked and not me?"

The sheer volume of free agents combined with salary cap restrictions means there will be some players left without a bench to sit on by October.

But not all the cases relate back to a player potentially being viewed as undesirable. Some are mulling retirement or overseas options, and others are recuperating from injuries or surgery before making a decision.

Which brings us back to Yanic Perreault.

If you'll remember, Perreault was one of those players -- he was still recovering from abdominal surgery when the 2006-07 season began. In fact, it took nearly a month before he felt ready to play, eventually accepting an offer from the Phoenix Coyotes. The franchise signed him to a one-year contract for the paltry sum of $700,000 (all terms US) on Oct. 29.

AN ALL-STAR

But Perreault, who sat on the sidelines for 24 days after the season's start, began to make an immediate impact for the Coyotes upon arrival. Phoenix had gone 3-9 prior to the veteran's arrival. From Nov. 3 (his first game) until the all-star break on Jan. 20, Perreault's new team achieved a record of 19-15-2. He was offered a contract extension by the Coyotes in mid-January and received an invite to play in the all-star game.

Why was Perreault so successful? Maybe Wayne Gretzky's system suited his play and overall demeanour. Perhaps he felt a need to prove himself after critics questioned his health and his late start to the season. Regardless of the motive, his value was noted, despite a trade-deadline move to Toronto where his impact was far less significant.

How else do you explain the Chicago Blackhawks scooping up the 36-year-old for a one-year, $1.5-million contract -- more than double the amount of his previous season's salary?

That's the thing about being left behind when the season begins, no matter what the reason may be. If you're a player similar to Perreault with a specific skill to offer --in his case, faceoff circle domination -- someone will always come calling. Two-way players, offensive defencemen and even players on the decline with grit and leadership to offer can fill a role on a team as the season progresses. As for goaltenders, they're the ultimate Plain Janes in disguise, particularly when a No. 1 goes down with a No. 2 not quite ready to carry the load.

No one can say whether a late-addition free agent this season will have the same impact as Perreault did last year, but based on the number of players still left to be re-signed, we know that some will be waiting beyond the beginning of October to make their services available.

Some team, somewhere, will eventually pick up an unsigned name for a song due to a lengthy injury recovery, previous indecisiveness or a blatant lack of demand. And similar to Perreault, that player could shine up like a brand-new penny -- providing valuable assistance to a team this season, and adding money to his pocket in the next.

Now it's just a matter of waiting to see who it will be.


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