New York Rangers: Jaromir Jagr (35), Brendan Shanahan (38)
New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur (35)
Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic (38)
Toronto Maple Leafs: Mats Sundin (36)
Detroit Red Wings: Nicklas Lidstrom (37)
Anaheim Ducks: Scott Niedermayer (34), Teemu Selanne (37)
All of these players will go to the Hall of Fame, and most of them were still playing near a Hall of Fame level at the time. As franchise players age, teams get more and more panicky about winning while they are still in the fold. Baseball Prospectus did a study that teams who lose franchise players to retirement are usually slightly worse five years after that player leaves than the year after - the basic claim being that the cupboard has been made barren and a lot of bad contracts are left around. All of these teams made a significant commitment during that off-season.
Part 3: Youth
This claim is a little more esoteric, and we are not sure that we have the chops to go into it with as much detail as we'd like. What we'd like to claim is that there are significant talent gaps in the NHL due to the variability of the draft. We'd also like to claim that due to the nature of the historically great 2003 thread, many franchises thought their prospects/young players were better than normal, failing to compare them to the rest of the league.
Here is a list of players drafted in a particular year playing in the NHL in 2006-07. We compiled this list somewhat haphazardly, so there is a margin of error of +/- 3 or so. We still think it drives the point home.
This should be expected. There should be a bulge outward towards 24 and 25 year old players as projects get one last go in the NHL to see if they can hack it before going overseas or being labeled as AHL lifers. Here is the number of players playing in the NHL right now drafted in 2003 and 2004:
Our contention would therefore be that an influx of younger talent into the league actually raised the price of the free agent players because of A: the relative scarcity of players of their talent level around their draft year(s) and B: the increase in salary cap room that entry level and pre-arbitration contracts create.
A third thing that we have not the room to discuss is the buyouts of contracts - less of a % of the league's salary cap room was occupied by bad contracts because of the ability to buy-out bad ones in the summer of 2005. We think this had some effect, though what effect is negligible, as many of these contracts would have expired in 2007 had they been allowed to complete.
A fourth thing that we have not discussed is the falling free agency age, which would then press more players into being unrestricted free agents than a static free agency age. This seems self-evident, so we need not discuss it further.
These dual forces, the old and the young, both pressed on general managers to create the maelstrom of awful that was the 2006-07 off-season. Next, we will try to tackle the difficulty of adjusting for the 2005-06 year, and look at before and after snapshots of some contracts.