Deals included both term (unless you're Marian Hossa -- more on his signing later) and dollars, leaving players to pick destinations based on personal preference -- like strength of team and style of play.
The main reason for players having the luxury of very specific choice is sheer market force creating competition for a relative handful of highly-coveted players such as Brian Campbell. With a long-term lucrative contract assured due to multiple suitors, Campbell was able to assess each situation independent of the offers. Thus, the smooth-skating offensive-minded defensemen heads to an exciting, on-the-rise, offensively-oriented outfit like the Chicago Blackhawks for eight years at $7.14 million per season. It seems like a perfect fit for both.
But the supply and demand part of the equation doesn't begin and end there. With players achieving free agency at younger ages, there are more players of similar ilk -- in this case puck-moving rearguards -- available. Thus, the San Jose Sharks maneuvered to cover the loss of Campbell by first signing veteran Rob Blake (one year, $5 million) and then acquiring Dan Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Boyle's availability was due to the Bolts committing resources elsewhere -- a conscious directional decision that centered on All-Star mainstay Vinny Lecavalier and included multiple signings, among them former Penguins Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts. In return for Boyle, the Lightning got Matt Carle, who is a decent facsimile of pre-star status Boyle when he arrived in Tampa from the Florida Panthers in 2001.
On and on it went with regard to puck-moving defensemen. The New York Rangers landed Wade Redden for six years at $6.5 million per and re-signed their own top point-producing blueliner Michal Roszival for four years at a total cost of $20 million. The Islanders plucked powerplay specialist Mark Streit from the Canadiens ($20.5 million for five years). The Atlanta Thrashers succeeded in addressing their desire to shore up the backend by signing Ron Hainsey -- the Columbus Blue Jackets' top-scoring defenseman the past two seasons -- for five years, with the deal worth a total of $22.5 million.
So, the market conditions seemed to work for teams of all shapes and sizes, with those willing to spend to the cap addressing needs and those operating nearer the floor doing likewise. Further, teams with long-established identities made moves that were true to their legacies -- the New Jersey Devils defined that strategy by returning Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik to their mix -- and made for comfortable, logical fits for the players involved.
Sure, the allure of money and the unknown was also present, especially with the litany of moves made by the Lightning, who have new ownership and a new coach, and made no fewer than five free-agent signings on top of their major trade with the Sharks. Still, the Hossa signing in Detroit at once caught everyone off guard, proving that all things being more equal than ever, players are now able to make personal decisions based on their hockey wants, needs and desires more so than ever before.
Hossa left long-term money and tenure on the table to play for the Red Wings. Some would say he is crazy for inking only a one-year contract for just less than $7.5 million when the Pittsburgh Penguins offered nearly $7 million per annum over seven seasons. But that view misses the point. Hossa had options. He could pick and choose based on his perspective and no one else's. The Red Wings have cache right now as a hockey destination because of how they play, how they win and how they treat their players. Hossa accepted a mercenary short-term deal that didn't pay more than the Red Wings' artificial cap of "no one should make more on this team than captain Nik Lidsrom."
That made sense to Hossa and it didn't have to add up for anyone else, which is the ultimate definition of market independence. It's an extreme case on its own, but the NHL signing period has proven like never before that free agent equals free to choose.