2015-16 Free Agency Reviewby Eric Schneider | November 2, 2015, 8:15 PM ET
HALIFAX -- With the pre-season set to begin on Tuesday, Schooners GM Eric Schneider can't be bothered to give a full interview to this local beat writer. He's too busy working the phones.
"Okay, you saw how many guys we signed," said Schneider. "I didn't plan that."
The "that" to which he's referring is the unprecedented signing of 21 players. 21. Twenty-one. Let that sink in.
"A few of those guys, like Skille, Loov, Farnham, those are guys we thought had some growth potential. But the majority, they could be playing for a pro club. They're not all going to play here -- all parties were aware of that coming in -- and that means my job isn't done just yet. But, like my grandpa said, 'you don't look a gift horse in the mouth.'"
There are a few familiar faces coming back. Marian Hossa, instrumental to the Schooners' playoff run last year, signed a 1-year, $9.25mill contract with a whopping $3.08mill signing bonus. He'll be looked to as a veteran two-way threat and is expected to rejoin franchise star John Tavares on the top line. Paul Gaustad is also returning, but he may have to earn his spot with the big club after signing a two-way contract for $1.49mill.
"I had other offers," said Gaustad. "But I spent the last two seasons here, and this club gives me my best chance at winning a Cup. If I'm a call-up then I'm a call-up, but I like my chances here."
David Legwand is also back, signing a $2.75m 1-year deal. He's the main reason Gaustad hasn't punched his ticket to Halifax just yet, and is the frontrunner to anchor the 4th line and penalty kill. Nate Guenin is also back on a two-way deal, having spent his entire career with Nova Scotia, and veteran blueliner Sergei Gonchar returns after spending a year away in Fredericton. Schneider was shocked to pick him up on a two-way deal:
"A guy like Gonchar, if you can get someone like him who's willing to work with the kids and be that influential presence, you can't turn that down. I'm still floored he signed here. We've got 10 defencemen who could crack our opening night roster, and having him around at training camp will really push the rest of the team to bring their A-games."
That group of defencemen includes three new faces: Brad Stuart, who's being paid $4.25mill to clear Marc-Andre Fleury's crease; Andrew Ference, fresh off a Cup win in Acadia; and journeyman Scott Hannan, who's joining his sixth team in five years. Stuart's place in the top-4 is assured, but Ference and Hannan are facing a crowded blueline. With over 2000 SICHL games between them, it's unlikely they'll be satisfied playing for the Cape Breton Clippers in the GHA -- expect Schneider to move at least one of them before the start of the season.
Rounding out the roster additions, Schneider brought in veteran checkers Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera on 1-year deals. The new-look Schooners look to be running three scoring lines, which puts extra pressure on the fourth line to play safe, high-energy minutes. Both wingers will be used on the penalty kill, along with Legwand and trade-acquisition Martin Hanzal.
"Obviously, I'm excited," said Schneider. "We're in win-now mode, and we're expecting success. Now get out of my office, I've gotta take this call."
With that, I give you your Nova Scotia Schooners intial line-up projection:
Couture -- Tavares -- Hossa
Nash -- Duchene -- Ennis
Nyquist -- Hanzal -- Kucherov
Laich -- Legwand -- Chimera
Weber -- Suter
Stuart -- Bogosian
Staal -- Gudbranson
Captain's Log: Over-budget -- The team's projected payroll to start this season is approximately $84 million, with more than $5.5 million tied up on the farm... Elder statesman -- At age 40, Gonchar is the second-oldest player in the SICHL, after only Jaromir Jagr... Veteran presence -- The average age of the Schooners' six pro signings is 34... Going strong -- This marks the Schooners' 11th season in the SICHL.