July 01, 2011
(Ed. Note: Please keep in mind when this was posted, and that it only covers the activity on July 1. Jagr sweater photo from NHL Store via Dave Garvin.)
One look at the free-agent tracker, and you know July 1 was a wild ride. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on players both deserving and undeserving. Teams got better. Teams got worse. Florida went nuts.
In the first several hours of the Frenzy, here are some of the winners and losers in our estimation.
After signing players like Brian Campbell(notes) and Cristobal Huet(notes) to elephantine free-agent deals while the GM in Chicago, Tallon had a reputation as a big spender. The 2011 Frenzy did little to dispel it: Tallon added $67.6 million in payroll over the next four years in signing six free agents on July 1, to go along with a $12 million deal for Tomas Kopecky(notes) and that acquisition of Campbell's contract from Chicago and Kris Versteeg's(notes) from the Flyers.
The haul: F Sean Bergenheim(notes), F Kris Versteeg, F Tomas Fleischmann(notes), F Scottie Upshall(notes), F Marcel Goc(notes), D Ed Jovanovski(notes), G Jose Theodore(notes), D Brian Campbell and F Tomas Kopecky. That's two lines, a defensive pairing and a goalie; as Tallon put it, it's almost like two new power-play units for a team that was dead-ass last in the league last season on special teams.
Some contracts were better than others — JovoCo and Fleischmann would seem to have a high potential for creating regrets down the line — but no GM in the League was as aggressive as Tallon. Now comes the chemistry test.
Uh, doesn't this team still need an owner?
The Stars made six moves on July 1, and some were rather high-profile. RW Michael Ryder(notes) from the Stanley Cup champion Bruins signed for 2 years and $7 million. Vernon Fiddler(notes), a strong checking winger, was inked for 3 years and $5.4 million. Defenseman Adam Pardy(notes) (2/$4M) came from Calgary while the well-traveled Radek Dvorak(notes) (1/$1.5M) arrived from Winnipeg. Their most intriguing move? Signing Sheldon Souray(notes) after he was bought out by Edmonton to a 1-year, $1.65 million contract. Can Souray be the power-play quarterback they've needed since Sergei Zubov(notes) retired?
As of 7 p.m. ET, there were 11 goaltenders signed on July 1, all of whom could be considered backups or goalies from a tandem: Josh Harding(notes) of the Minnesota Wild (1 year, $750,000); Mathieu Garon(notes) of the Tampa Bay Lightning (2/$2.6M); Jose Theodore of the Florida Panthers (2/$3M); Mike Smith(notes) of the Phoenix Coyotes (2/$4M); Brian Boucher(notes) of the Carolina Hurricanes (2/$1.9M); Peter Budaj(notes) of the Montreal Canadiens (2/$2.3M); Alex Auld(notes) of the Ottawa Senators (1/$1M); Johan Hedberg(notes) of the New Jersey Devils (1 year); Curtis Sanford(notes) of the Columbus Blue Jackets (1/$600,000); Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes) of the Colorado Avalanche (2 years); and Brian Elliott(notes) of the St. Louis Blues (2/$1.2M). Plus, Capitals backup Semyon Varlamov(notes) was traded to the Avalanche as well.
In some cases, these goalies will continue riding the pine. But Varlamov will be the Avalanche starter, while Smith and Theodore should challenge for a starting gig.
Ville Leino believed he was worth more than the $3.5 million per season the Philadelphia Flyers were offering. Which is to say he believed in Terry Pegula's ability to make a splash this offseason at any cost.
So now he's a member of the Buffalo Sabres at a $4.5 million cap hit, making him the third highest-paid forward on the team. Which isn't bad for a guy who's never scored more than 19 goals in a season. Which he did last year. For the first time.
After trading for Troy Brouwer(notes) at the draft, the Capitals added some more toughness on the wing in Joel Ward(notes) of the Predators (4/$12M). But it's the acquisition of Roman Hamrlik(notes) (2/$3.5) that was the real stunner — a veteran defenseman who joins a crowded blueline for puck moving defensemen.
OK, the real stunner might be getting a first- and a second-round pick for a goalie who was going to play in Russian instead of with the Capitals next season. That too.
Last summer, Eric Belanger was left bitter about allegedly getting led on by the Washington Capitals, necessitating his short-term signing with the Phoenix Coyotes. This summer, he earned a $5.25 million payday over three years with the Edmonton Oilers, and some welcomed stability.
The only Carolina Hurricanes veteran free agent that didn't feel the sting of GM Jim Rutherford's pimp hand and re-sign, Cole instead found a jackpot waiting for him in Montreal: $18 million over 4 years with the Canadiens.
The Philadelphia Flyers may very well be the best fit for Jagr. And squeezing out an extra $1.3 million will certainly pay for its share of poker buy-ins. But in his flirtation with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jagr went from beloved returning hero to puzzling MIA client to sleeping with the enemy. He managed to alienate both the Penguins and Red Wings in 48 hours. The Pittsburgh fans that were willing to let old wounds heal are licking fresh ones courtesy of No. 68.
Guess the five years had to happen in order to make the $1.8 million cap hit work for the Philadelphia Flyers. But a 5-year, $9 million deal for Talbot just feels … not right.
Personally, the James Wisniewski(notes) contract isn't the offense to the hockey gods that many are making it out to be. But Howson, the Columbus Blue Jackets GM, is being portrayed as having acted out of desperation to sign a 27-year-old player with one outstanding offensive year as a defenseman last season.
Again, we have more faith in this deal than others; but until it's proven to be a winner, Howson's going to be seem as having heavily overcompensated the Wiz.
The old boys network wins out again, as the Free-Agent Frenzy went deep into the evening on July 1 without an offer sheet being tendered. Imagine if some of these teams funneled some of their unrestricted free-agent money into players under the age of 27? Why, they might actually contend for more than two years!
The Colorado Avalanche GM didn't tender an offer sheet to goalie Semyon Varlamov, believing the Capitals would match it. Instead, he traded a first-round pick and a second for the RFA goalie. He may be the future for the Avs. But the initial cost is astronomical considering Varlamov wasn't going to play for the Caps this season. Even Colorado fans are cynical. (Still, the Jan Hejda(notes) signing was solid.)
No major signings on July 1 as money flies from every corner of the NHL. Obviously, there's still time to make a splash, and perhaps patience is a virtue given the nature of some of these deals. But their absence was conspicuous, to the point where GM Brian Burke was criticized for visiting with the troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Canada Day:
Here's Hockey Wilderness on "the optics" of that critique.
They added some quality veterans in Sean O'Donnell(notes) and Andrew Brunette(notes), and some sandpaper in Jamal Mayers(notes) and Dan Carcillo(notes). But one can't avoid feeling a letdown when you think about how many quality (younger) supporting players had to go due to cap mismanagement in Chicago, replaced by lesser facsimiles and players near retirement. (That said, Montador is a great signing pre-July 1.)
Anyone Who Stood Around Outside of Brad Richards' Agents' Offices, Hoping To See NHL Executives Hastily Leave Or To Briefly Get On TSN
This really goes without saying.