Ever since the rebuild began -- so, after initial pushes for veteran free agents like Ryan Smyth and Bill Guerin proved unfruitful -- New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow has been conservative if not downright miserly with his non-elite unrestricted free agents as they age.
For every Doug Weight (the player, not the coach/exec) and Lubomir Visnovsky signed to modest, short-term extensions there is a P.A. Parenteau, Matt Moulson or Mark Streit, a Brad Boyes, James Wisniewski or Andy Sutton.
The trio of Parenteau, Moulson and Boyes alone stands out as players who were bought low, produced attractive numbers playing with John Tavares and on the power play, and were allowed to walk for multi-year deals elsewhere.
What's interesting is all of them have been moved by teams at least once since leaving the Islanders. That doesn't mean their bad, but it does mean other teams found them surplus or unaffordable.
Traded, Signed, Bought Out
Allowed to walk and earn a walk-on job with the Panthers, followed by a two-year contract extension, Boyes (age 30 with the Isles) is being bought out this summer.
Moulson (30 when he was traded), Wisniewski (turning 27 when traded) and Sutton (34 when dealt) didn't reach free agency with the Isles, but were traded for picks during their walk years. Sutton retired with Edmonton due to injury. Moulson was flipped again by the Sabres, but they re-signed him to the big deal the Isles weren't comfortable providing.
Wisniewski wasn't re-signed in Montreal, but got the contract the Isles wouldn't give him from Columbus, who traded him this season to the Ducks...who traded him this week to the Hurricanes. (Anaheim's (non)use of Wisniewski was bizarre, and their subsequent trade to make room for Kevin Bieksa was curious at best, but the larger point stands: Three teams have decided against keeping Wisniewski at that contract.)
Streit garnered a four-year contract from Philadelphia that will take him to age 39, though he has remained quite good for his age in the first two seasons of the deal. His spot was filled by the one-year-older Lubomir Visnovsky on a shorter term.
Always, the acquiring team is overpaying on the back end to get the production of the front end. Always, the team letting them walk isn't willing to risk the trap of the back end for the hope of the front end.
Vanek Bullet Dodged?
This isn't to say that all of the above are washouts, nor is anyone suggesting the Islanders are perfect or even consistent at this age-aversion game: They reportedly offered 37-year-old Jarome Iginla a better deal than the one he signed in Colorado. (Iginla still scored 30 goals in 2014-15 though.)
And Moulson was dealt for Thomas Vanek, who turned down a mammoth contract offer from the Isles that would begin at age 31, only to struggle in the first season of his new deal with the Wild. (He still ended up with 21 goals. Alarming for a major free agent, but not bad for a "disappointment.")
We'll see how Moulson, Iginla and Vanek do as their contracts progress.
But it's almost universally true that players have already reached their peak right when they command the most dollars as unrestricted free agents. That means it is imperative to treat them suspiciously, sign them only carefully, and keep all of these lessons in mind as free agency opens with a shallow pool on July 1.