Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Free Agent Winners and Losers edition

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) celebrates with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) after a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 of a first-round NHL playoff hockey series in Pittsburgh, Saturday, April 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) celebrates with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) after a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 of a first-round NHL playoff hockey series in Pittsburgh, Saturday, April 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]  

10. Washington's goals-against

Well the Caps at least made a bit of a splash by signing the most sought-after (for some reason) free agent defenseman in the NHL this season, getting Matt Niskanen for “just” $5.75 million AAV for “just” seven years, and boy won't it be funny when they find out they paid all that money for a fringe No. 2 defenseman whose PDO was as symbolically high as Braden Holtby's GAA last season?

And speaking of high, how on earth do you justify giving Brooks Orpik five years and $5.5 million? For real, I want each of you to write me an email explaining to me how Brian MacLellan justifies that signing. How does Ted Leonsis let him write a check like that?

On any free agent day, there is going to be a needlessly high number of bad contracts given out to players who don't deserve them, and today was no different, but Brooks friggin' Orpik, who got turnstiled every shift. The guy can barely skate at this point and you give him five years? At more than Duncan Keith gets in Chicago? Come on, dude. I know you're a new GM but good lord. This is a bad contract now. Day 1, it's terrible. Four years from now, when Orpik is 37? And he still has a year left on the deal? Well, MacLellan better hope he's been out of the league for three seasons at that point, because this deal is a disaster.

They're probably going to trade Mike Green because they wanted Brooks Orpik for $27.5 million. Green's not exactly, well, that Mike Green any more. But he's a good distance better than Orpik probably ever was. Oliver Ekman-Larsson money. A million a year more than Anton Stralman. This is literally unbelievable, in that I cannot believe it happened. How? Why?

Currently the Capitals are spending $28.7 million on a defense headlined by Matt Niskanen. I mean, really.

9. Dale Tallon

Not to be outdone by his counterpart in Washington, though, Florida's general manager wasn't about to lie down and let someone make a run at “worst contract of the day.” He didn't quite get there, but it was a valiant effort.

Tallon gave Dave Bolland $25 million over five years, making him the highest-paid forward on the team. That's why he gave 72-year-old Shawn Thornton a 9 percent raise and two seasons. That's why he gave barely-mobile Willie Mitchell $4.25 million and two years on a 35-plus deal. All pretty bad, and enough to negate the fairly decent move of giving Jussi Jokinen four years and $16 million.

The highlight of my Tuesday, though, was Thornton talking about his contract on Sportsnet's coverage, saying that the reason he didn't do well in the playoffs was that he, “didn't get a chance to contribute” as much as he might have needed to make an impact. Yeah, that was the problem alright.

8. Fingers on the pulse of the goalie market

Just as Ryan Miller did not offer any sort of appreciable upgrade over Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis last year, he does not do so over Eddie Lack in Vancouver either.

And yet here are the Canucks, slip-sliding down the Pacific Division and Western Conference standings, trading away a number of their best players, and giving an aging veteran $18 million over three years, and for what? Lack's in his mid-20s already and doesn't need mentoring or help. He posted a .925 save percentage at even strength last year. Miller? Just .920.

They're paying $6 million a year for a downgrade, unless of course Jim Benning has a time machine that can make it 2010 again. In that case, good deal.

7. The Rangers' chances next year

Well, we knew with the Rangers' cap crunch there wasn't going to be much of a chance for them to retain any of their really good free agents. Stralman and Brian Boyle jetted off to Tampa for pretty reasonable deals. Benoit Pouliot got fair money and maybe a smidgen too much term in Edmonton, but that's not a deal you can really dislike.

What they got back was, uhh, iffy. I don't know how everyone else feels about Dan Boyle but if he can't make things work on a team with the Sharks' power play — and he really couldn't — then how is it going to go in New York? And how do you give Tanner Glass three years and $4.35 million? Another candidate for worst contract of the day. Just mystifying.

Dominic Moore's deal is okay for what it provides, I guess. But overall, this team seems poised to take a serious step back. They're the 2010 Flyers of 2014. Made it to the Cup Final, now they're an easy out in the first few rounds.

Center Paul Stastny is heading to his hometown of St. Louis after signing a four-year, $28 million contract with the Blues. (AP)
Center Paul Stastny is heading to his hometown of St. Louis after signing a four-year, $28 million contract with the Blues. (AP)

6. Anyone hoping to get out of Conference III

This is gonna be an 82-game knife fight in the Central Division.

St. Louis improved, getting Paul Stastny (for maybe a little too much money, but the term is perfect) and Jori Lehtera to bolster a forward group they should have bolstered at the deadline last year.

Chicago improved, getting Brad Richards for short term and money on a prove-it deal on which he couldn't possibly be worse than Michal Handzus. Great stopgap for Teuvo Teravainen's coming of age. This is a team that didn't need much help, but they got it anyway because that's what a lot of good teams do.

Minnesota got Thomas Vanek for a very reasonable deal but did nothing to address the fact that their goaltending is a trainwreck in waiting.

Dallas is a club we'll get to in a second, but boy oh boy does that team look scary all of a sudden.

The Predators got James Neal and while there's not anyone to get him the puck there (yet?) at least it's something.

Colorado, well, they got Jarome Iginla. That's a kind of improvem... Daniel Briere and Brad Stuart, you say? Never mind.

Winnipeg didn't do anything of note because they are not good and no one wants to play for them, except Chris Thorburn.

5. The lure of playing for the legendary Detroit Red Wings

There was a time when all you heard about was the mystique of Detroit. What an organization and so on. They could just get free agents by snapping their fingers and casually mentioning that they might like to sign them.

Oh, how times have changed. Here's the sum total of Detroit's signings on Day 1, as of about 7:30 p.m. on the East Coast: Kevin Porter and Kyle Quincey. (And they had to give Quincey $4.25 million a year because the bartender turned on all the lights and told everyone to go home.)

As they did in the Ryan Suter/Zach Parise sweepstakes, it was a big ol' swing and a miss from Ken Holland as every available free agent you'd actually be excited to sign said thanks but no thanks to wearing the Winged Wheel and being the guy holding the wheel when the team finally missed the playoffs for the first time in a century.

Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle, Anton Stralman. All of em passed. They couldn't even lock down Stephane Robidas, and that guy's 37 and just broke his leg.

The sun's going down on the days of the Red Wings being a model franchise, and with Datsyuk and Zetterberg starting to wind down a bit, you can't imagine darkness is going to take too much longer to fall unless this team realizes its actual shortcomings.

People don't want to play for teams because they're good organizations. They want to play for teams that will either pay them way more than they're worth or give them a chance to win (or both). Detroit simply doesn't provide the latter now that Nicklas Lidstrom is gone.

4. Edmonton's embrace of possession numbers

Look, the Luke Gazdic signing wasn't a smart one and no one is going to try to defend it, but how about a hand for Craig MacTavish realizing that the only way to improve is by getting guys who are good at keeping the puck?

Again, Pouliot should have been one of the most sought-after forwards in this draft, and he looks like a nice No. 2 left wing behind Taylor Hall.

Hard not to be a little dubious on Mark Fayne, to be quite honest, because his WOWYs without Andy Greene were, uhh, lacking, this season, but he was marvelous without him the year before. Time will tell on that, but at least an organization which has been treading water at a depth of several fathoms is now starting to move in the right direction. They're not there yet, but they're getting to it.

3. Jim Rutherford, shockingly

The Penguins had a lot of problems entering the summer and it seems that, for the short term at least, Rutherford has addressed them fairly affordably.

The Christian Ehrhoff deal might have been the best signing of the day, because it's cheap and it solves a lot of the Penguins' problems at the back end and on the power play. He's a shout better than Niskanen, so to get him even for a year at $4 million helps this team with its delusions of being competitive.

Marcel Goc and Blake Comeau might help shore up that dreadful bottom-six, and I doubt they miss a step between James Neal and Patric Hornqvist, to be quite honest. They also have a little bit of space to afford a bit more help if they want it, and they should.

They're still well below the giants of the West especially, but given what the Bruins lost and what no one else in the East has really made up, I'm not convinced this isn't the best team in the weaker conference. Damned by faint praise, though.

2. The negotiating period

For the first time in the salary cap era, teams and free agents were able to discuss broad parameters of deals in advance of the July 1 signing period, and as a consequence, the first hour of the free agency period was bananas.

That was so much fun. Let's do it again next year.

Jim Nill had worked in the Red Wings organization since 1994. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Jim Nill had worked in the Red Wings organization since 1994. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

1. Jim Nill

Oh man.

No team took a bigger step forward yesterday than Dallas, not by a long shot. Jason Spezza gives them center depth of Tyler Seguin, Cody Eakin, and Jason Spezza. Most teams would love to have those guys down the middle, and Nill has basically made it happen from nothing. You don't get a pair of top-two centers anywhere in a two-year period, or at least you shouldn't.

Adding Ales Hemsky, who was a point-a-game player playing with Jason Spezza in Ottawa last year and a very good No. 2 right wing, makes this not very fair at all. You don't think of Ales Hemsky as only being 30, but that's what he is. Getting him for three years and just $4 million per makes this team very, very dangerous. There aren't going to be too many teams that can go toe-to-toe with them for 60 minutes, especially given how fast they get up and down the ice.

Gotta take your hat off here. Jim Nill demolished July 1. You wish your GM did anywhere near this well. No bad deals, only great ones. Golly.

(Not ranked this week: The Deryk Engelland contract.

All that talk about the worst contract of the day? Don't worry about it. Calgary, predictably, has it sewn up.

A team that was already slated to pay Brian McGrattan and Brandon Bollig a combined $2 million next season is now also going to pay Deryk Engelland $2.9 million — a raise of about 500 percent — on top of that. Right after they bought out Shane O'Brien, who in all honesty isn't much worse than Engelland, and would have been $900,000 cheaper against the cap, and would have been gone next summer. 

This is very clearly a sign that Brian Burke's influence on the team's decision-making has not changed despite the fact that he is no longer GM.

Either that, or Brad Treliving has no idea at all what he's doing, and in either case, that's bad news for the Flames' chances going forward. On a day in which Brooks Orpik got five years and $5.25 million per, the fact that there was even a close second here — for a team still in search of “toughness” despite having too much of it already — tells you everything about what a disaster this franchise is. Good lord.

Treliving said in the wake of the signing that Engelland has been “undervalued” for a while, so one assumes he thought he'd make up for that by overvaluing him to a ludicrous extent. 

Poor Sam Bennett. Poor Sean Monahan. Poor Johnny Gaudreau. Poor Flames fans.)

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