July 03, 2009
Handing out grades for the annual Free Agent Frenzy is difficult for two reasons: first, that we won't really have a true picture of success or failure of these moves for years; second, that there are still enough impact UFAs (and RFAs, if the good ‘ole boys decide to violate their own unwritten rules) on the market that can affect the grades.
So grain of salt, all things considered, yadda yadda ... enough has transpired in the last few days for us to award hasty evaluations about the acquisition or discarding of talent around the NHL.
Last year's report card dealt strictly with the first day; we've expanded it to late Friday afternoon and included some of the trade made during the Frenzy and signings made before it.
As you'll see, our initial evaluations of the moves made produced some high marks from unexpected places, and low marks from expected ones. Patience was rewarded; inactivity was sometimes the best activity.
So here are the grades; agree to disagree. Thanks again for reading this week. It was a blast.
Anaheim Ducks: Ended about 12 minutes of "OMG, HOME-PROVINCE BOY WANTS TO BE A CANUCK!" suspense by signing Scott Niedermayer(notes) to his inevitable one-year, $6 million contract. Also inked Erik Christensen(notes) to a one-year deal. Still have James Wisniewski(notes) (RFA) and Francois Beauchemin(notes) (UFA) unsigned (as of 4:30 p.m. EST) for a Pronger-less blue line. Are they going to acquire a second-line center or give someone like Andrew Ebbett(notes) the keys? GRADE: B-
Atlanta Thrashers: Don Waddell said he wanted to add a few special players. No one can argue that a 6-6 Kazakh who went from whipping boy in Toronto to a player New York GM Glen Sather said had a "snowball's chance in hell" of getting what he wanted on the UFA market is pretty darn special.
Waddell said that Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) was familiar with Nik Antropov(notes) ($16M, four years) after playing with him during the lockout; and really, isn't the freshest scouting report the one from when "Saw II" was in theaters?
We kid. Antropov is a dependable offensive player and an upgrade for the Thrash. Re-signing winger Chris Thorburn(notes) was also solid. But Atlanta's trade of Garnet Exelby(notes) and forward Colin Stuart(notes) to the Maple Leafs for Pavel Kubina(notes) and the rights to forward Tim Stapleton(notes) was aces. Atlanta's top four D-men are now Kubina, Zach Bogosian(notes), Tobias Enstrom(notes) and Ron Hainsey(notes). That's not shabby. GRADE: B+
Boston Bruins: The Bruins missed out on Marian Hossa(notes) (again), but it's not as if their cap situation was all that friendly for such a move. Mark Recchi(notes) was a nice deadline pickup and deserved a second year in Boston; and $1 million is about right. Snagging Steve Begin(notes) (one year, $850,000) and retaining Byron Bitz(notes) is good for depth. They lose Steve Montador(notes); they'll survive. Now what the hell are they going to do with this Kessel fellow? GRADE: B
Buffalo Sabres: Suppose the big news through two days is that the Sabres are at zero in the free-agency plus/minus category. They lost defenseman Jaroslav Spacek(notes) to a big money deal with the Habs, but inked Montador (two years, $3.1M) to their own blue line. Even Steven. Normally by this time, the Sabres would have been spurned by every big name free agent, lost all their UFAs and had someone offer RFA Drew Stafford(notes) $25 million a year for 80 gajillion years. So good news, Buffalo: Disaster hasn't sunk in. Yet. GRADE: C
Carolina Hurricanes: See that thing over there? Five digits and a palm, smacking around two guys looking to leave town? Yeah, that's Jim Rutherford's pimp hand. It's strong.
The Carolina GM said both Erik Cole(notes) and Chad LaRose(notes) would test the market, and they did. Cole was the first one to come running back to Eric Staal(notes) for two years and $5.8 million, which is a pay cut from his previous deal.
After Rutherford told the media he had given up on re-signing LaRose ... well, look who decided the grass wasn't greener last night, to the tune of two years and $3.4 million?
Add that to getting Jussi Jokinen(notes) done (two years, $3.4 million) before the Frenzy, and it was a very good week for the Canes -- even with the lingering questions about UFA Dennis Seidenberg(notes) and RFAs Anton Babchuk(notes) and Tuomo Ruutu(notes). GRADE: B+
Calgary Flames: This is a tough one, to be honest. There's no question that the marriage between Jay Bouwmeester and the Flames is a very good one. At five years and $33.4 million, J-Bo joins a team that now will have two outstanding pairings on the blue line to combat deep teams like the Red Wings and Blackhawks. He helps the power play, and is a rather perfect fit for what Brent Sutter likes to do as a coach. Jettisoning Jordan Leopold(notes) and Adrian Aucoin(notes) was cost-saving in relation to this move. (The Flames also signed Fredrik Sjostrom(notes) from the Rangers for two years and $1.5 million.)
However ...the loss of Mike Cammalleri is a key subtraction they've yet to address. He was a dynamic offensive player for the Flames last season, and a boon to Iginla. Say what you will about the Devils' style of play, but Sutter's system worked best with the kind of scorer Cammalleri was for the Flames. They need help on the wings, and good luck finding the cap space to get it. GRADE: B-
Chicago Blackhawks: We've said our piece on the Marian Hossa signing for 12 years and $62.8 million. They get a major pass for it in this report card because any quibbles about the deal are going to come down the line. Right now, from a hockey perspective, it's the move of the Frenzy.
It's also one of five moves Dale Tallon made in the last few days. It started with five years and $16.875 for center Dave Bolland(notes). It continued with winger Tomas Kopecky(notes) following Hossa from Detroit to Chicago for two years and $2.4 million. Then came two-time Cup champion John Madden(notes) from the Devils in for one season at $2.75 million. The team upgraded the roles Martin Havlat(notes) and Sami Pahlsson played last season.
Goaltending, future cap considerations and Tallon's propensity to overpay aside, if the test is whether a team is closer to a Stanley Cup after its deadline moves, the answer for the Blackhawks is an unequivocal "yes." Conditions could change next summer; but for now, it's a solid GRADE: A-
Colorado Avalanche: Craig Anderson(notes) brings his unique talents (stopping 50 shots in a game, leering at Ice Girls) for two years and $3.6 million. If he turns out to be the backup quarterback who finally gets his chance and makes the Pro Bowl, the Avs are geniuses. If he turns out to be Scott Mitchell or Elvis Grbac ... well, there's always good 'ole Peter Budaj(notes) again.
More sands through the hourglass as Ian Laperriere(notes) leaves the fold for Philly and the team waits to reveal to the world what Joe Sakic(notes) intends to do (or not) do next season. Colorado signed pugilist David Koci(notes) (one year, $575,000), which is great news for Western Conference brawlers who enjoy winning fights.
Columbus Blue Jackets: While their contract debate with star Rick Nash(notes) escalated faster than the street fight in "Anchorman" (we hear Nash killed a man with a trident), the Jackets had a quietly effective Frenzy. Pahlsson at three years and $7.95 is terrific, even if he's lost a step. Mathieu Garon(notes) was also a quintessential mentor/competitor/insurance policy for Steve Mason(notes) between the pipes at two years and $2.4 million. Still have to add some forwards to the mix, but a strong start to the summer. GRADE: B+
Dallas Stars: Whatever Jere Lehtinen(notes) has left in the tank, the Stars get it for one year as a deep discount ($1.5 million, down from $4.1 million last season). Defenseman Karlis Skrastins(notes) was a solid defensive defenseman for the Panthers last year, and two years at $1.375 million isn't bad. As of Day 3 of the Frenzy, the Stars were still waiting on Sergei Zubov(notes) and whether or not they can sign Swedish goalie Jonas "THE MONSTER" Gustavsson to eventually replace Marty Turco's(notes) five-hole. GRADE: B-
Detroit Red Wings: There are going to be several ways to measure the loss of Marian Hossa, none the least being that the Red Wings won a Stanley Cup without him and lost one with him.
If the choice was Johan Franzen(notes) (re-signed back in April) or Hossa, then the Wings made the right choice for their roster with Holmstrom aging and Franzen's power game thriving. If a guy like Ville Leino(notes) (if re-signed as an RFA) can move onto Datsyuk's wing and produce, the loss of Hossa doesn't sting as badly. If Hossa didn't want to play ball for the cap hit Ken Holland wanted, then that's his choice. Time will tell if it was the right one for the player and his new team.
The Wings have the depth to overcome the defection of Tomas Kopecky to the Hawks. Jimmy Howard(notes) moves up for Ty Conklin(notes), who left for St. Louis. Jiri Hudler(notes) (who was supposed to file for arbitration) is still unsettled. Mikael Samuelsson(notes), however, fled to the Canucks; tough if expected loss there. But we'll give them GRADE: C for now, which can obviously rise to something like a GRADE: B- if they can take care of their own RFAs.
Edmonton Oilers: So what's the hockey philosophy at play for the Oilers? They wouldn't give Dwayne Roloson(notes) a second year, so he left for the Islanders. Yet they gave Nikolai Khabibulin four years (at $3.75 million per season on the cap) to take over between the pipes. The Bulin Wall is 36. No wonder it took a millisecond to decide to sign with Edmonton.
Along with re-signing Jason Strudwick(notes) for one year and $700,000, the Oilers were obviously embroiled in the Dany Heatley(notes) drama. They made an aggressive pitch, he put the kibosh on the deal. But the Oilers deserve credit for winning the derby and, now, for hanging in there to see if it all shakes out. GRADE: B-
Florida Panthers: For the second straight season, the Panthers lose a major piece of the team but add some interesting new pieces. Jay Bouwmeester wasn't coming back; nothing Florida would have done could have changed that other than relocating to Western Canada. So getting Jordan Leopold's rights and inking him to a $1.75 million one-year deal is at least some return.
The Scott Clemmensen(notes) (three years, $3.6 million) signing is interesting because it's a validation that Florida believes his numbers in New Jersey were his and rather than belonging to Brent Sutter's system. Yet one wonders if Craig Anderson blossoms in Colorado how this decision will look. The best move of the Frenzy for Florida was getting David Booth(notes) locked in for six years and $25.5 million, because he's a power forward on the rise and an asset they couldn't afford to lose. He said all the right things after signing, too. GRADE: B-
Los Angeles Kings: Overpaid a bit for defenseman Rob Scuderi(notes) from the Penguins (four years, $13.6 million), but that's what a team in Los Angeles has to do to land talent. He's famously nicknamed "The Piece," and GM Dean Lombardi sees him as a vital one on the blue line to play with either Drew Doughty(notes) or Jack Johnson(notes) (an RFA that Lombardi mentioned, so good news there). He also allows the Kings to let their young prospects percolate for a bit longer in the minors.
The Kings lost out on Hossa, and that was Hossa's decision. They still need a sniper up front, and there's been scuttlebutt that they're chasing a veteran goalie. GRADE: B
Minnesota Wild: Turning the page on Marian Gaborik(notes) felt right considering all the other regime changes in Minny, and getting a very good two-way player in Martin Havlat as a replacement was a coup (despite the obvious trait both players share: fragility). Six years is a little long for Havlat, but the $5 million cap hit is about right.
Added Greg Zanon(notes) from the Predators for three years at $1.93 million. Had a few UFAs (Marc-Andre Bergeron(notes), Kurtis Foster(notes), Martin Skoula(notes)) that hadn't decided their fates as of Friday afternoon. Good signing of Shane Hnidy(notes) (at $750,000 for one year) for a little blue line grit. Goalie Josh Harding(notes) remains an RFA and a curious decision for the Wild. GRADE: B+
Montreal Canadiens: Hey, turnabout is fair play -- the New Jersey Devils have been borrowing from the Canadiens for the last 20 years; it's about time the Habs built around former Cup winners for Jersey. How long until Jay Pandolfo(notes) and Sergei Brylin(notes) end up on the checking line?
First and foremost is the Scott Gomez(notes) trade, in which the Habs took on a massive contract ($7.357 million against the cap through 2014) and a player who struggled in the spotlight of Manhattan. But when he's motivated and find the right chemistry with a winger, Gomez is still a brilliant open-ice skater and playmaker.
Those are the question marks. The big wins for the Habs were the additions of Mike Cammalleri from Calgary for five years and $30 million. A versatile player who is a power-play ace, Montreal outbid other suitors and landed one of the best names on the market. The combination of Jaroslav Spacek (three years, $11.5 million) and Hal Gill(notes) (two years, $4.5 million) bolsters the blue line and costs just $1.58 million against the cap more than keeping Komisarek.
Overall, some dramatic gambles by Bob Gainey along with some sound decisions. Still trying to figure out how "we're chasing a big center" turns into collecting hockey hobbits as free agents; then again, Montreal's always been obsessed with rings.
Best of all: It's a change of personnel and overall vibe for a team that needed it. They've gone in a different direction, both on the ice and off. Is it just throwing money at their problems, or does this get the Habs back on track? GRADE: B
Nashville Predators: Getting Steve Sullivan(notes) (two years, $7.5 million) and Joel Ward(notes) (two years, $3 million) back in the fold are two wins for Dave Poile, as the Predators allow some veteran talent to flee (Zanon) in order to make room for some young, cost-friendlier players. Are the Predators done? Hopefully not, because it would be a shame to hit the one-year anniversary of not replacing Alex Radulov's offense by still not replacing it. GRADE: B-
New Jersey Devils: Are the days of Lou Lamoriello overcompensating for the loss of primetime players over? Where were the panicky reactions to Madden and Gionta leaving, like the regrettable Dan McGillis(notes) mess and the still-awful Dainus Zubrus contract?
The Zen-like restraint from Louie Lams was symbolized by the signing of 6-2, 220-pound Finnish winger Ilkka Pikkarainen, an obscure 2002 draft pick by the Devils and the kind of player Lamoriello is famous for tracking down as a reinforcement. (It's also a name that leaves us at a loss on whether we should make the "Can I buy a vowel?" or "Can I have a consonant?" Wheel of Fortune joke.)
Now, the whole Zen thing goes out the window if Lamoriello overpays for a forward or two. But right now, it's been a good summer despite the relative inactivity; especially getting defenseman Johnny Oduya(notes) back in the fold for three years and $3.5 million. Recommended reading: This In Lou We Trust fan post about how the Devils might be cycling back for a Cup run. GRADE: C+
New York Islanders: The only thing not to like about the Dwayne Roloson signing is that it underscores what a creeping bust Rick DiPietro(notes) is. Otherwise, two years at a $2.5 million cap hit is very solid. Nothing else so far, though. GRADE: B+
New York Rangers: Shedding Gomez's cap hit for anything more than a bag of melted pucks would have earned them an 'A+', especially considering what Gainey sent back their way. But the Rangers obviously weren't done.
We thought our take on the Gaborik signing was in the minority until became clear that the majority of the New York media was behind the five-year, $37.5 million blockbuster. Gabby said he's healthy. If he remains that way for a good portion of this contract, it's a major win for the Rangers. He's an elite offensive talent.
Letting Antropov go was expected and fine. The Donald Brashear(notes)/Colton Orr flip-flop is a head scratcher. We thought Orr was a scrappy fit on this roster. Maybe the Rangers didn't want to hit four years. Maybe Torts likes Brashear better, Blair Betts(notes) mugging be damned. GRADE: A ... Eh, they actually signed Tyler Arnason. GRADE: A-
Ottawa Senators: Dany Heatley refuses a trade he requested. The Senators pay him $4 million. There's talk of filing a grievance. Oh, and Chris Neil(notes) was given a four-year, $8 million contract. As far as moments in Senators' history, this Frenzy is right up there with losing a Stanley Cup and any playoff series involving the Leafs. GRADE: D
Philadelphia Flyers: The Chris Pronger(notes) trade being their de facto Frenzy move, the Flyers nonetheless did some curious things this week. Losing Mike Knuble(notes) was preordained after Pronger's salary arrived; the Flyers have forwards in reserve, but none with that veteran grit. Does the Brian Boucher(notes) signing (two years, $925,000 per) underscore that Ray Emery's(notes) your starter for 2009-10? Ian Laperriere for three years and $3.5 is a great character move, but a little redundant. What is he there for? To teach Daniel Carcillo(notes) how to be Ian Laperriere?
Hey, at maybe they need someone to take care of the Rangers' new star ... GRADE: C
Gary Bettman Bill Daly Jerry Moyes Jerry Reinsdorf Jim Balsillie Somebody made some decent moves for the Coyotes this summer. Adrian Aucoin is a solid addition to the blue line at one year and $2.25 million. Vernon Fiddler(notes) had a down year for the Predators, but could be a 30-point guy in the right situation; not bad for $2.2 million over two years. Jason LaBarbera(notes) at two years and $2.2 million was curious; no Al Montoya(notes)? LaBarbera had five minutes to make his decision. What is this, a game show? GRADE: C
Pittsburgh Penguins: Teams win the Cup, teams lose beloved players. Such is the hockey life cycle. Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi aren't easily replaced on that blue line, especially in Scuds' case. But the Penguins feel they have the kids in reserve to do it. Bringing back Bill Guerin(notes) (one year, $2 million) and Craig Adams(notes) (two years, $1.1 million) before the UFA bell was solid. Mike Rupp is a big banger with fleeting moments of offense, but at two years and $1.65 million he's a good depth player with experience.
Getting Ruslan Fedotenko(notes) in at one year, $1.8 million was outstanding. No searching for a winger to play with Evgeni Malkin(notes) (assuming Fedo's back in that role again). The Penguins save money on his cap hit, too. GRADE: B
San Jose Sharks: And Sharks fans wait for the big changes to begin ...
ESPN reported RFA Ryane Clowe(notes) signed a four-year contract with a cap hit north of $3.5 million per season. The Sharks re-signed defensemen Kent Huskins(notes) to a two-year, $3.4 million contract and Rob Blake(notes) to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The changes were always going to come via trade if they come at all for San Jose. GRADE: C
St. Louis Blues: After having their names inexplicably linked to the Heatley Derby for a while, the Blues settled back into their steady building mode. They bought out Jay KcKee before the Frenzy and inked Ty Conklin (two years, $2.6 million) as a backup/competitor for goalie Chris Mason(notes), who enters the final year of his deal. Unless the fates of Charles Linglet(notes) and Trent Whitfield(notes) keep you up at night, this wasn't going to be a very thrilling Frenzy for the Blues. At least not yet. GRADE: B-
Tampa Bay Lightning: Up is down, left is right, hamburgers eat people -- the Lightning are winners at the Frenzy.
Defenseman Mattias Ohlund(notes) wasn't returning to the Canucks, but his signing with the Bolts was an early day shocker on Wednesday. Not to say it didn't make sense: Big minutes, veteran presence, mentor to Victor Hedman. He signed for seven years and $26.25 million, with $4 million up front. In addition, they add defenseman (and noted creepy finger guy) Matt Walker(notes) for four years and $6.8 million and re-upped with Lukas Krajicek(notes) for another season. The Tampa Bay Lightning, with six NHL quality defensemen and Vincent Lecavalier(notes)? C'mon, the circus was just getting good ... GRADE: A-
Knowing that Canadiens fans will have to bend themselves into pretzels to hate and demean a defenceman that they have lauded as being the lynchpin of their defence while having to find ways to like a former object of derision, Hal Gill, makes me laugh.
And yet here is a player Toronto loyalists have been calling overrated for years, and he's the foundation for Brian Burke's reconstruction of the franchise.
Five years and $22.5 million is a lot of dough for a defensive defenseman, and Komisarek had his struggles towards the end of the run in Montreal. But Burke's vision for the Leafs is clear, and Komi's clearly buying into it: "I was pumped to see Brian Burke's approach, his vision for the team, having a physical, aggressive team that's tough to play against."
(The notion that Habs fans can call a traitorous former player-turned-Leaf a "Komi" is all sorts of hilarious.)
The Leafs also inked RFA and noted Habs-lover Mikhail Grabovski(notes) to a three-year, $8.7-million deal; as well as Rangers bruiser Colton Orr(notes) to a four-year deal for $4 million, which is really easy math for a guy like Colton Orr to figure out.
The Kubina trade isn't an easy one stomach, because those false-starts at previous trade deadlines would have produced so much more. But Garnet Exelby from the Thrash certainly fits the Burke mold.
No, they didn't get the Sedins, and Mike Cammalleri is a Hab. But Brian Burke is well on his way to putting together his collection of goons, brawlers and about three or four skill players that worked so well in Anaheim -- while completely pissing off his division rivals along the way. Gotta love it.
Vancouver Canucks: They signed the Sedins. Five years, $30.5 million apiece, rather than the Zetterbergian deals they were searching for earlier. GM Mike Gillis worked his tail off, and it paid off. It's a win. Case closed.
Winger Mikael Samuelsson is a very nice pick-up from the Wings for three years and $7.5 million, but there's still work to do at some of the forward spots (oy, what to do about Sundin?) and on the blue line. Plus, that Roberto Luongo(notes) extension is still simmering.
Washington Capitals: Mike Knuble was exactly what the team lacked last season. He's their Billy Guerin-type North American tough winger who can scorer, adding some essential sandpaper to a too-passive lineup. Two years at $5.6 million for a guy who'll be 37 is certainly a commitment, but he's played 82 games in each of the last two seasons. Could actually make Ovechkin and Backstrom better, which is scary.
Donald Brashear was a great asset as a fighter, fan favorite and in the community. He'll be missed.
The Capitals still have some major needs to address on their second line and with upgrades on the blue line. Oh, and finding out if they claim Michael Nylander was abducted by aliens, whether it would wipe his salary from the cap. GRADE: B+