I like J.S. Giguere as much as the next guy. By all accounts he is a very nice individual, a good teammate.
And for a few weeks back in the 2003playoffs, when he was 25, he was the best goalie on the planet. He inhaled just about every puck in sight, until the Ducks just couldn’t hold on any longer against the Devils in the finals on the road in Game 7.
He was magnificent.
But it’s amazing how things shift (and I’m not picking on Giggy, just using his situation as a recent example)—even for these often spoiled, multi-millionaire athletes who are used to getting things their own way. (Is it fair to say they are spoiled just because they make millions and don’t have to pay for things that everyday people do as a a matter of course? Well, the loquacious Ken Dryden wrote in his overly-praised book, The Game, many years ago, that he knew his fame meant he would “never have to stand in line again”…) And that's just a very small example of their celebrity and the benefits they receive as a result.
If not spoiled, then privileged, for sure.
In their prime, these talented athletes are hotly pursued, desired by many clubs. If they are about to hit free agency, they will usually say they prefer to stay with their current team (didn't Brad Richards say that a few months ago, and we know he's gone...), but when July 1 comes, they will usually jump at the best offer. (Even taking a “hometown discount” will still make them wealthy beyond what any everyday person could ever dream of- or need.)
They are wined and dined. They have NHL GMs waiting at their door at midnight. You want a no-trade? No problem.
It’s a heady time in their lives, and for some, it never quite ends.
But for most, at some point they face the inevitable decline in skill, brought on by aging and the wear and tear of years of playing a difficult, physically and mentally demanding sport.
They don’t want it to end. It’s a good life. They want “one more” contract. Just one more.
They begin to really appreciate what they’ve had. They realize all the things they complained about over the years, things that were enough to make them wash away an entire season on principle not long ago (not that owners aren’t their own worst problem…) just aren’t that important.
They just want to stay with “the guys” They just want to play.
They don’t need to play big minutes anymore, or be the number-one guy.
Suddenly, they just want a job.
They need a job.
So when I read this week, as I’m sure you all did, that Giguere “wants” to return to Toronto and act as a “veteran presence” for James Reimer, well, we know what’s happening.
It’s quite often the agent who does the media sell—you know, playing the local media to gain favorable sound bites to hopefully assure, impress or in some fashion sway the local GM and his brass.
In this case Giggy did it himself. He went public (not for the first time, as I recall) with his apparent desire to return to the Leafs, though he has had, frankly, a relatively undistinguished time here.
Why would he do this? Is he not a still relatively young goalie facing free agency in less than a month? Doesn’t he want to be number-one again?
Well, goalies who haven’t been a true number one for a few years aren’t always in high demand. Especially so when they have been injured every year in their career for the past several years; when they are coming off another surgery and when they have been significantly overpaid for what they have produced in the past several seasons.
So, the dance begins.
He likes it in
. Loves everything that his friend “Burkie” has accomplished. He can play a role helping young Reimer. (I’m sure he could.) Toronto
It’s all about the slow recognition that he is no longer what he was, and may never be able to be again: a top-flight NHL goalie. And, never again able to command millions upon millions of dollars just because he is available.
Now, he must scramble—and talk his way into a job.
He can’t play his way into a job, unless things become so desperate that he is ignored (which is his fear) this summer and ends up attending an NHL camp as an invitee only, with no contract.
We should make no mistake. Players and their agents look ahead. They know who needs a goalie, whether starter or back-up. They know where teams sit on the cap issue. They see the projected depth charts. They know who else is available, who teams are happy with, or not.
I’m guessing Giguere has looked into his agent’s breakdown and came away realizing: I may not have many options.
As with coaching vacancies, there are dozens of qualified guys for every spot nowadays. Fire a coach and you’ll literally have fifteen currently unemployed coaches or their agents on the phone, not to mention those wanting to move up the ranks, within hours.
The goaltending position is such that most teams don’t want to spend big money anymore on their number one guy, much less a back-up. There are exceptions, of course, but that appears to be the obvious trend.
paid Jimmy Howard, their number-one guy, what? Less than 3 million a year? And they have a revolving door for the back-up position every year, as do most teams. Detroit
And how many young goalies are out there, ready to make their name? Look at the Capitals and their goalie situation. Young, young and younger. And all pretty good.
How many minor-league goalies are fighting for a shot? Guys are coming over from
every year. Europe
Teams don’t want to spend a lot of money, or don’t have it to spend. There is a ton of young, healthy, chomping-at-the-bit competition.
What does Giguere have to offer?
He’s a “veteran presence” that can help continue to tutor Reimer. And he’s friends with Burkie.
Suddenly, what would have been deemed an insulting contract offer only a year or two ago, may be way beyond what Giguere can hope to sign for now.
Are the Leafs interested? Is anybody?