Free Agency: Which Teams Have Faltered Thus Far?

In the wake of July 4th, the anniversary of when my motherland declared its independence from the big meanieheads in Britain, I’ve decided there’s no better way to spend my time than to analyze the recent events regarding a largely Canadian pastime: NHL Free Agency.  Huge blockbuster trades and signings have gone down all around the league over the last few days, and this is one of the more exciting years in recent memory.  The raising of the salary cap and floor by roughly four million or so has caused several teams to scramble and sign low line players for far more than they’re worth, and big name players to get huge contracts they couldn’t have managed in the past.  I’m a world-renowned pessimist, and as such would like to christen this publication with less of a celebratory fanfare and more of a cruel, finger pointing mockery of teams in the Western Conference who couldn’t handle themselves during the hectic free agency period.

Minnesota Wild: Right of the bat, I’m sure people are scratching their heads on this one.  How could any team that nabbed the coveted Dany Heatley be considered in the lower classes of Free Agency activity?  Quote Greg Graffin: “It’s never really what you own, but what you threw away.”  Yes, Heater is a beastly goal scorer and Devin Setoguchi is a hot, young dude who can score, but the Wild have given up just far too much otherwise.  Their plan was to essentially give the team a fresh start by focusing on young talent, which I understand, but giving up darn near all of your veterans isn’t the wisest idea.  Granted, Mikko Koivu is one of the most underrated centers in the game today, but he is one of the few returning players I’d like to have on my team.  Andrew Brunette ran away to Chicago, Chuck Kobasew is now residing in the Rockies with the rival Avs, the solid blue liner Cam Barker signed with the now (shockingly) promising Oilers, the continually improving Antti Miettinen has not resigned, and veteran leader and three-time Cup winner John Madden is sitting on the open market.  Worst of all, they traded away a stud D-man, Brent Burns, to San Jose for The Gooch and quick, veteran goal scorer Martin Havlat for the goal-scoring mech-warrior in Heater.  In terms of raw talent, I’d rather have Heatley on my team, but Havlat is now surrounded by all stars while Heatley is left to carry most of the team on his own with only Koivu to help shoulder the load.  He had Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa, he had joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose, and he’s all alone in Minnesota.  Expect a lackluster season on his part.

St. Louis Blues: This one is more due to inactivity than poor decisions.  Hooray, they managed to keep young star T.J. Oshie, but this team needs more than him.  Apart from Oshie, David Backes, David Perron, and midseason acquisition, Chris Stewart, St. Louis doesn’t have much in the way of offense, and this was a great time to bolster themselves in that area.  By signing average, low-pair D-man, Kent Huskins and Brian Elliott to back up Jaroslav Halak in net, they’ve completely failed in that regard so far.  In fact, I believe one of the reasons Halak performed so lukewarmly last year was due to a lack of support in front of him, so a big D signing would help the team plenty as well, and yet here they sit, with people like McCabe and Arnott still available.  Maybe nobody wants to play for such a woeful team?  It seems to be happening in Long Island so I suppose it’s possible, but the fact remains that here sits a mediocre team who isn’t improving during the time in which you should really be doing so.

Editor’s note: Since the posting of this, the blues took Mike’s advice and signed Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott. With these new additions, Mike removes them from the list and adds the Colorado Avalanche due the Semyon Varlamov’s injuries and Jean-Sabastien Gigure’s age.

Nashville Predators: I like the signing of young Niclas Bergfors (even if he hasn’t been living up to the potential I thought he had in Jersey), but otherwise the Preds haven’t done a whole lot these first few days.  Their blueline is overall good like always (with one of the scariest top pairs in the league with Ryan Suter and the android known as Shea Weber) and Pekka Rinne is a lanky Vezina finalist with an impressive Anders Lindback backing him up in net, but like the Blues, this team really lacks a scoring touch.  Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist can get it done best, with Sergei Kostitsyn and J.P. Dumont chipping in occasionally, but really this team is all about the defense.  It’s been working for them all this time, so I suppose I can’t fault them for not attempting to fix something that isn’t broken at the moment, but the recent trading of promising young defender Cody Franson and former Phoenix scorer Matthew Lombardi for defenseman Brett Lebda and forward Robert Slaney from Toronto doesn’t sit well with me at all.  Franson is a decent D-man with a moderate scoring touch but the Music City is stacked on his position, so he’ll have a chance to shine in Toronto, but Lombardi could have been the scoring man they needed.  I’m well aware his only season with Nashville was shortened by 80 games due to a concussion last year, but is it really a good idea to give up on him so quickly?  Not to mention what they got in return was another D-man and some nub who nobody’s ever heard of.  Nashville isn’t a big loser here, but I’m not a fan of what they’ve done so far, adding some offense to their game could make a world of difference (I’d like to use Anaheim as an example but they went out first round to this very team so I suppose that’s kind of moot).

Phoenix Coyotes: Keeping Radim Vrbata is a good thing, and signing Raffi Torres (as much as I don’t like him) is good for the team in terms of toughness, but the loss of Ed Jovanoski is really going to hurt.  As much as they’re going to miss JovoCop, where the ‘Yotes really lost was between the pipes.  Ilya Bryzgalov was far and away the best player down in the desert, and his recent defection to Philadelphia has left the team reeling.  In their scramble to replace Bryz, they’ve picked up Mike Smith from Tampa and Curtis McElhinney from Ottawa.  McElhinney isn’t a great goalie, but I suppose he’s a solid backup, playing the role for Jonas Hiller in Anaheim and a getting a little more time behind Elliott and later Anderson in Ottawa.  The problem is that he’s now playing backup to a guy who went from a 50/50 starter to a clear backup over the last two years with the Bolts.  Smith was promising enough for Tampa to shell out the extremely talented horse-toothed center who has made such a huge splash this offseason, Brad Richards, back a few years ago, but he’s clearly been a bust since losing his job to a quadragenarian with a mullet.  Shane Doan, the last remaining big name in Phoenix, is also past his prime and quickly approaching the end of his career, so it’s disappointing to see the team not doing a whole lot in the way of offense either.  You know your team is struggling when you’re in danger of being sold and moved, you know your team is going to suck when the only thing that Torres says when asking his reaction on signing is that he’s excited that he’ll be able to speak more Spanish down there.

Calgary Flames: I’m kind of stretching here, since in the realm of free agency, the Flames signed a grand total of one relevant player, defensemen Chris Butler.  What makes me think they’re going to be a worse team next year has more to do with what they lost.  Losing Robyn Regher costs the Flames a big presence, and while he isn’t a high profile scorer (he’s coming off back to back 2-15-17 seasons), he’s an important veteran to have on any team.  This leaves Jay Bouwmeester as the sole high profile defender since the aging Steve Staios is now a free agent, and Jay hasn’t been dangerous since he signed with Calgary.  For my money, Calgary is about to be in the same hole that the Oilers and Islanders have been trying to dig themselves out of these last few years.  Their biggest stars are reaching the end of their careers, apart from Granlund, the young guys don’t show quite as much promise as some other choice young’uns from around the league, and they’ve been on a steady decline over the last three or four years.

There’s my take on the first few days of free agency in the realm of teams that aren’t looking too hot, and I’m well aware that I’ve listed two teams that played in the playoffs last year, one of which going to the second round with both goaltender of the year and coach of the year nominees.  We’ll see about all of these things, but mark my words: Minnesota will not make the playoffs and Phoenix will crumble without Bryz backstopping them.

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