July 05, 2011
Good to see a summer where the "frenzy" in the NHL Free-Agent Frenzy isn't just hyperbole, no?
The dust has settled after a few days of signings both large and small, dramatic and expected. Many players you'd never expect to break the bank broke it. Many teams you'd never expect to cut significant checks cut them. (The Panthers were prominently involved in both of these trends.)
Coming up, our report card for the Free-Agent Frenzy, which covers signings right before July 1 and takes us through Tuesday morning, July 5. Keep in mind these are just grades for the free-agent signings, whether it's a deal for a new player or to retain a current player. If there were significant trades involved for teams, we'll note them and in some cases issue an adjusted grade.
Who were the winners and losers over the first few days of free-agency?
And here … we … go.
The Ducks did nothing in free agency during the first few days, instead making an interesting swap of defensemen with the Oilers: Sending Andy Sutton(notes) to the Oilers for puck-moving power-play point man Kurtis Foster(notes). Sutton never meshed with the Ducks system; Foster could really thrive with what the Ducks have up front. For free agency, it's a GRADE: INC, but we'll give the trade a GRADE: B+
The champs said goodbye to Michael Ryder(notes), whose streakiness wasn't worth the price tag. The Bruins signed LW Benoit Pouliot(notes) from the Habs for 1 year and $1.1 million, and one assumes it's so he can score game-winning goals against his former team and really rub some extra salt in old wounds. Pouliot's a project. GRADE: C-
Welcome to Pegulaville. The Sabres' 10-year, $40-million contract for Christian Ehrhoff(notes) is a spectacular overpayment and a successful attempt at cap circumvention. It also gives them a stout top three defensemen in Ehrhoff, Robyn Regher and Tyler Myers(notes). The Ville Leino(notes) contract is just … mouths are still agape. It's 6 years, $27 million for what has been a complementary player in the regular season with outstanding postseason numbers. How much upside does he have? Inking Cody McCormick(notes) to 3 years and $3.6 million keeps a nice player on the roster. The Tim Connolly(notes) Era of frustration ended with him leaving for Toronto. Bottom line: Buffalo made two huge splashes and should be applauded for that audacity; their success as hockey decisions will be revealed in the next six seasons. GRADE: A-
The Flames signed defenseman/point cannon Anton Babchuk(notes) to a 2-year, $5 million deal. Calgary GM Jay Feaster believes his offense will thrive in Brent Sutter's system; his defense remains a liability. Flame For Thought offers a defense of the signing. Feaster, who lost defenseman Adam Pardy(notes) to Dallas, scored some PR points by making the Final Four in the Brad Richards(notes) Derby. But the Flames did little else. GRADE: C-
GM Jim Rutherford's pimp hand snatched up Hurricanes UFAs Joni Pitkanen(notes) (3 years, $13.5 million), Chad LaRose(notes) (2 years, $3.4 million) and Jussi Jokinen(notes) (3 years, $9 million) before they hit the market. He couldn't sign winger Erik Cole(notes), who went on to break the bank with Montreal on a 4-year, $18-million deal. Rutherford also brought in blue-collar hero Tim Brent(notes) from the Leafs (2 years, $1.5 million); left wing Alex Ponikarovsky (1 year, $1.5 million), whose market value dropped dramatically after whiffs with the Penguins and Kings; Anthony Stewart(notes) (2 years, $1.8 million), a power forward from the Jets; and backup Brian Boucher(notes) from the Flyers (2 years, $1.9 million) so Cam Ward(notes) doesn't have to play 82 games next season. Busy, budget-conscious spree for the Canes. GRADE: B+
The big fish was Steve Montador(notes), the former Buffalo defenseman whose rights Chicago acquired and who then signed a 4-year, $11-million deal. He's a solid defender who can move the puck, and a great addition. The Blackhawks had to jettison so many young supporting players in the last two years due to salary constraints — a trend that continued with Troy Brouwer(notes) this summer — that they filled voids with a few low-cost, no-term veterans this offseason. So far, that included LW Andrew Brunette(notes) (1 year, $2 million), D Sean O'Donnell(notes) (1 year, $850K), RW Jamal Mayers(notes) (1 year, $550K) and the oddest signing by far: Former Flyers goon Dan Carcillo(notes) at 1 year and $775,000. Car Bomb with the Blackhawks … who whuddah thunk it. GRADE: B
The Avs fared better in free agency than they did on the trade market, where they overpaid (first and second round picks) mightily for Capitals backup goalie Semyon Varlamov(notes). In the Frenzy, Colorado landed one of the more sought-after defensemen in Jan Hejda(notes), 33, of the Blue Jackets (4 years, $13 million). He's a veteran leader who brings size and stability to a young blue line. The Avalanche also added Chuck Kobasew(notes) from the Wild (2 years, $2.5 million) who can bring some instant offense to the lower lines, as well as Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes) to back up Varlamov at 2 years and $2.5 million — not a terrible veteran option at that price. The Avs lost forward Tomas Fleischmann(notes) to the Panthers' shopping spree. GRADE: B for now, but one gets the feeling the Avs aren't done.
You may have heard that the Blue Jackets gave 6 years and $33 million to a 27-year-old defenseman with one outstanding offensive year to his credit, in a walk-year no less. How James Wisniewski(notes) pans out will be up to James Wisniewski, but a $5.5 million cap his is commiserate with what offensive defensemen with his stats last season make in the NHL. Plus, he fills a vital need for a power-play point man and puck-moving defenseman. The Jackets also signed goalie Curtis Sanford(notes) (1 year, $600K) while losing the reliable Mathieu Garon(notes) to the Lightning. Columbus also bid adieu to defensemen Jan Hejda and Mike Commodore(notes), whom they bought out, as well as forward Scottie Upshall(notes), who hit the jackpot in Florida. Could still use a few more pieces. GRADE: B
The Stars were surprisingly aggressive on July 1, given that they don't yet have an owner in place. The biggest name was RW Michael Ryder of the Bruins, signing for 2 years and $7 million. His goal-scoring has been down and he's as streaky as they come, but he could be a good trigger man for old linemate Mike Ribeiro(notes). The most solid pickup was Vernon Fiddler(notes) (3 years, $5.4 million), a defensive forward from the Coyotes who can post 30 points and kills penalties well. The most intriguing name was Sheldon Souray(notes), the veteran defenseman whose contract was bought out by the Oilers and whose career has fallen apart in the last year. Can he still be an effective power-play quarterback? The Stars also inked RW Radek Dvorak(notes) (1 year, $1.5 million), D Adam Pardy (2 years, $4 million) and re-signed D Brad Lukowich(notes) (1 year, $1 million). Would be an A-minus, but there's no replacing Brad Richards. GRADE: B
That 3-year, $9.75-million deal for Jonathan Ericsson(notes), 27, has been a source of much ridicule, because he's been downright terrible at times in his own end, which is not the stuff of $10-million defensemen. Can he live up to the salary? The Wings also re-signed Drew Miller(notes) (2 years, $1.65 million) and Patrick Eaves(notes) (3 years, $3.6 million). Their big free-agent scores? Defenseman Ian White(notes), the puck-moving blue-collar D-man who played for the Sharks, Hurricanes and Flames last season (2 years, $5.75 million); and Mike Commodore, the veteran defenseman whose elephantine contract was buried and bought out by the Blue Jackets. Two good editions to the Wings' blue line, but Ericsson's deal knocks this down a grade. GRADE: B-
From an Albertan beef perspective, Edmonton added three players who total 657 pounds. Which is to say a roster that needed a little more muscle got some. Ben Eager(notes) moved to his fourth team in three seasons, signing a 3-year, $3.3 million deal with Edmonton. Fellow left wing Darcy Hordichuk(notes) inked a 1-year deal at $825,000. Defenseman Cam Barker(notes), a buyout from Minnesota, came on for 1 year and $2.25 million. One great signing: Eric Belanger(notes), who was a 55.3-percent guy on faceoffs last year with Phoenix, inking a 3-year, $5.25 million deal. The Oilers also bid farewell to Jim Vandermeer(notes) and good riddance to Sheldon Souray. Good Frenzy for Tambo. GRADE: B+
OK, deep breath: The Panthers added F Tomas Kopecky(notes) (4 years, $12 million); G Jose Theodore(notes) (2 years, $3 million); RW Scottie Upshall (4 years, $14 million); D Ed Jovanovski(notes) (4 years, $16.5 million); C Marcel Goc(notes) (3 years, $5.1 million); LW Tomas Fleischmann (4 years, $18 million); LW Sean Bergenheim(notes) (4 years, $11 million). Some of these signings are good, some not so much, most are overpayments. This is either going to be the veteran foundation for an eventual contender or a spectacular financial boondoggle. Then again, it's a Dale Tallon team: It's a little bit of both. GRADE: A-
For the second straight summer, the Kings made a massive pitch to the most high-profile free-agent forward on the market: Hosting Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) in 2010, and then presenting Brad Richards with a video plea that included Kobe Bryant in 2011. Both times GM Dean Lombardi came up short, but the effort resonates with the fans. Without either Brad or Mike Richards(notes) to convert to left wing, the Kings inked Simon Gagne(notes) to a 2-year, $7-million contract. He's skated on a line with Mike Richards in Philadelphia and is an effective supporting player — when he's healthy, which isn't often. Still waiting for that Drew Doughty(notes) contract, Lombardi. GRADE: B
The Wild chose not to wade into the signing frenzy, instead moving Martin Havlat(notes) for Dany Heatley(notes), which is a fascinating trade on several levels. But from a free-agent perspective, the Wild simply signed backup keeper Josh Harding(notes) to warm the bench again and watched Jose Theodore (Florida), Andrew Brunette (Chicago) and Chuck Kobasew (Colorado) leave. They also gave Cam Barker a buyout, who then signed with Edmonton. More cutting of the fat than adding to the plate … for now. Again, just for the free-agent moves - GRADE: D+ … factor in the Heatley deal, and it's GRADE: A-
Two things to keep in mind about Erik Cole and his 4-year, $18-million contract. The first is that his 52 points last season were his highest total since 2007, and his 82 games were the first time he's played a full season … ever. The second thing is that the only time he wasn't a member of the Hurricanes, spending 63 games in Edmonton, it necessitated his trade back to the Hurricanes months later. He's a gamer, but far from a sure bet for that cap hit. Oh well … Peter Budaj(notes) was a great upgrade at backup, even if he'll only play three games. Lost Hamrlik and lost out on Jagr, too. GRADE: C-
For the money, Niclas Bergfors(notes) (1 year, $575,000) is a steal for David Poile. But that was the only highlight of a weekend that saw frustrating defections (Marcel Goc, Joel Ward(notes)), a difficult call to part ways (Steve Sullivan(notes)) and a terrible trade (Cody Franson(notes) to the Leafs). GRADE: D+
Retained the services of defenseman Andy Greene(notes) for four years at a $3 million cap hit, which makes him manageable and tradable. He had a down year last season, playing terribly under since-fired coach John MacLean, but he's a good puck-mover and underrated in his own end. The Devils also retained Johan Hedberg(notes) to play when Marty Brodeur needs a break. Nothing big from the Devils, who still have to sign Zach Parise(notes). GRADE: C+
Swung for the fences on Christian Ehrhorff by acquiring his negotiating rights via the trade of a fourth-round pick to the Canucks, only to have those negotiations end less than 24 hours later. The Islanders then traded him to Buffalo for a fourth-rounder. Their only signing was center Marty Reasoner(notes) at 2 years and $1.35 million against the cap annually. Total spark plug player, and a nice addition to the Isles. But the rejection, and not just from Ehrhoff we imagine, hurt. GRADE: C-
The Rangers caught the big fish: Center Brad Richards, beating out other teams that bid more to ink him for 9 years and $60 million. He's the playmaking center they've coveted for years, and could turn Marian Gaborik(notes) into the lethal sniper they've wanted him to be. The Rangers also signed Penguins power forward Mike Rupp for 3 years and $4.5 million, who is a character guy and a banger down the lineup. They lost defenseman Matt Gilroy(notes) to the Lightning, but he never fulfilled his potential with the Rangers. GRADE: A-
The Senators won the Alex Auld(notes) Derby with a 1-year, $1-million deal, although on second thought it is a bit of a stretch to call a 1-team race a "derby." Ottawa lost center Ryan Potulny(notes) to the Capitals after he wasn't tendered a qualifying offer. If anyone sees Bryan Murray, tell him the free-agent thingy started on July 1. It's possible he's still giggling about Heatley getting moved to Minnesota, though. Or that he's really living by the "restraint and patience are the new buzzwords" mantra. GRADE: D (Ed. Note: Late addition here. The Sens inked Zenon Konopka(notes) to a 1-year deal for $700,000, and he's a really nice pickup for faceoffs and character. Bump this up to GRADE: C)
The weirdness got weirder in Philadelphia. After signing goalie Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) to a creative 9-year deal and trading both Jeff Carter(notes) and Mike Richards at the Draft, the Flyers made arguably the biggest news on July 1 by winning the hand of Jaromir Jagr for 1 year and $3.3 million. Then they signed Max Talbot(notes) to a 5-year, $9-million deal that baffled more than a few. Then they signed Andreas Lilja(notes) (2 year, $1.475 million) for an overstuffed blue line. Jagr could turn out to be a coup. Now, if we can just figure out what the hell the Flyers' plan is for this season and beyond. GRADE: B-
The NHL's team had 10 players go to market on July 1 and saw four of them leave: Ed Jovanovski (Florida), Vernon Fiddler (Dallas), Eric Belanger (Edmonton) and Andrew Ebbett(notes) (Vancouver), in order of "who gives a [expletive]?" But the Coyotes were active themselves in the frenzy: Re-signing Radim Vrbata(notes) for 3 years at $3 million annually, because he's shown he can't really play anywhere else (think Erik Cole West); Alex Bolduc and Boyd Gordon(notes) at center; Mike Smith(notes) in goal for 2 years and $4 million; and the most interesting move, Raffi Torres(notes) from the Vancouver Canucks for 2 years at just $1.75 million annually. He'll have to adjust to there not being a hitting zone anymore beyond the net, but his offensive output could make this a huge bargain. GRADE: B-
The Pens were bamboozled and led astray by Jaromir Jagr, who opted to drop his pants and defecate all over nostalgia by signing with the Flyers. The Penguins rallied with a potentially great little signing in Steve Sullivan from the Predators for just $1.5 million, retained Tyler Kennedy(notes) at 2 years at $2 million annually, said farewell to good soldier Mike Rupp (Rangers) and allowed Max Talbot to become Philly's underachiever for 5 years. With the cap space they have, could be done barring a trade. GRADE: C+ and it's Jagr's fault.
The Sharks didn't wade too deep into the free-agent pool in the first 72 hours, having traded for Brent Burns(notes) at the Draft and then swapping Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat in a stunner. If Burns finally replaced what they lost in Rob Blake(notes) two years ago, Michal Handzus(notes) finally replaced what they lost in Manny Malhotra(notes), signing for 2 years at $2.5 million per season. San Jose saw grunts Jamal Mayers (Chicago) and Ben Eager (Edmonton) depart, and chose not to re-sign Ian White (Detroit) after the Burns trade. Based just on free agency, it's a GRADE: B- but the Havlat trade makes this a GRADE: B+. Sorry, not sold on this swap yet for the Sharks, even if the disparity in playoff performance is enormous between the two.
The Blues re-upped RW Matt D'Agostini(notes) for 2 years and $2.3 million, and signed D Kent Huskins(notes) (1 year, $1 million), AHL hand Brett Sterling(notes) (1 year, $600K) and G Brian Elliott(notes) (2 years, $1.2 million). The Blues don't usually get aggressive early on in free agency, and their ownership situation probably also tightened the shackles this year. Two years for Brian Elliott? GRADE: D+
The Bolts took care of their own in re-signing defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron(notes), RW Adam Hall(notes) and G Dwayne Roloson(notes). Inking Mathieu Garon to a 2-year, $2.6 million deal arguably upgrades their backup goalie spot. Matt Gilroy at 1 year and $1 million isn't a bad "show me" contract. But they found Brad Richards too rich for their blood. GRADE: B-
The Leafs had a quiet July 1, obviously because Brian Burke cares more about military photo-ops than signing free agents. (sarcasm … sigh). The Leafs then signed Tim Connolly for 2 years and a $4.75 million cap hit before trading for Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi(notes). Saw Tim Brent and Jean-Sebastian Giguere leave as well. Questions about Connolly's health are legit; but when he's in the lineup, he's the best center on the roster. Even if he's not Brad Richards. GRADE: B
Following the re-signing of Kevin Bieksa(notes), the Canucks brought back defenseman Sami Salo(notes) the morning of July 1 on a 1-year, $2-million extension; which helped soften the blow of losing Christian Ehrhoff to the Sabres for a contract worth slightly more than the gross national product of Uruguay. The Canucks also re-signed Chris Higgins(notes) for 2 years and $3.8 million. They had one free-agent splash: Signing LW Marco Sturm(notes) to a 1-year, $2.25 million deal; can he still be a top-six forward? RW Mark Mancari(notes) (1 year, $525K) and Andrew Ebbett (1 year, $525K) were added for depth. The Canucks lost Rick Rypien(notes), Tanner Glass(notes), Alex Bolduc and Raffi Torres as UFAs. GRADE: B
The team of the Frenzy. Roman Hamrlik(notes) is a puck-moving, physical defenseman that upgrades the Caps blueline. RW Joel Ward had a few solid years in Nashville and then earned his 4-year, $12-million deal with a spectacular postseason. Jeff Halpern(notes), for Capitals captain, adds veteran savvy down the lineup for just $825,000. Then came the stunner: Tomas Vokoun(notes), the top goaltender still available, signs for just $1.5 million. Even without factoring in a first and a second for Semyon Varlamov, this is a GRADE: A
The Jets signed local products D Randy Jones(notes) (1 year, $1.5 million) and D Derek Meech(notes) (1 year, $700K), and added Tanner Glass (1 year, $750K) and Rick Rypien (1 year, $700K) from the Canucks, both of whom played for the Manitoba Moose. The city is so nuts for the return of hockey, the Jets could go 0-82 and it wouldn't dampen the enthusiasm. GRADE: D+