Free Agency Busts in the East

Free agency, it’s an exciting time of year for the avid fan. It comes just a few weeks after the champions have kissed the trophy and a city has celebrated. It comes just days after the NHL Entry Draft and just three months short of opening night.

As exciting as it is, it’s also a telltale sign of which teams will have the best chance at contending in the upcoming year. Some teams do absolutely nothing, others go crazy, yet still, some just mystify you with how much they seem to fumble in the offseason. I’m here to focus on these mind boggling blunders of the Eastern Conference this summer.

Before I do so, keep in mind that free agency doesn’t just mean who you signed, it’s who you didn’t sign, who was signed by another team, and what players and draft picks you’ve traded. For some teams, all they need is a tough guy or a goalie, for other teams, you might as well buy a whole roster. Without any further conversation, here are my five free agency busts of the East!

Toronto Maple Leafs

They really haven’t done much in free agency, which alone doesn’t mean too much, but unlike Boston, who won the Cup, they don’t really have anything going for them. For a team that finished 10th in their conference, they haven’t seemed to want to get better. The only moves truly worth noting are the signing of Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur. With James Reimer in net, and Jonas Gustavsson as his backup, Toronto seems to feel secure with their goaltending, I could argue against that, but I’ll simply say, “fair enough.”

Moving onto the forwards, I’ve already mentioned MacArthur and Connolly, which are decent pick ups, but they just don’t have any true star players. Since I went there, the names there aren’t that bad at all, but no one truly sticks out. There is no real Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, or Ilya Kovalchuk on this team. I can give them a break as they were one of the many teams lobbying for Brad Richards, but that’s still no true excuse. When it comes down to it, Toronto really could’ve used some room up front and there were definitely more than enough offensive talents out there. They have about $8.6 million in cap space (Capgeek.com), which is more than enough to land you a solid top six forward.

Toronto is relatively adequate with their defense, Dion Phaneuf heads this group and truly sticks out. They also have Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles. Toronto really should’ve tried a little bit harder to make improvements to their team. Even with the most of the offseason to go, Toronto just does not seem like they want to win and seems to be stuck in mediocrity.

New York Rangers

This is one that is bound to get some criticism. Yes, they signed Brad Richards, but is he really worth that much? For another team that seems to dwell in mediocrity, you’d expect much more than just one big signing. Each team plays with twelve forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies, not one Brad Richards.

The Rangers might just be the biggest free agency bust of the year. They signed Brad Richards, but Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle, Michael Sauer and Ryan Callahan have all filed for salary arbitration. Usually, deals are struck before arbitration is reached, but not always. The one saving grace in all of this is that even after signing Brad Richards, they have roughly $16 million in cap space (CapGeek.com).

Now, they have some time to figure this all out, and if they can strike a deal with Callahan and Dubinsky at least, I may be able to forgive them for their terrible start to free agency. The problem is that they still need to add a couple more defenseman to fill their roster out even if they re-sign Sauer. They’re just another team that hasn’t really tried to fix their problems and looking towards one player won’t help them out.

Philadelphia Flyers

This one is just weird. Remember when I said some teams just mystify you, Paul Holmgren has made his team the one to do that this year. I don’t understand why sending away one of your alternate captains and your captain is a good idea. Sending one is excusable, but two of three, what are you thinking?!

However, the Flyers have made some nice pick ups. Signing Ilya Bryzgalov is probably one of the best moves by any team this offseason. This doesn’t excuse them from the bust category though. After all, they’ve lost or traded away about a third of their team.

As of today, the Flyers no longer have Ville Leino, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Sean O’Donnell, Brian Boucher, Dan Carcillo and Darrol Powe. Not every single one of those players is vital to a winning team or even a household name, but you’re talking about losing a third of the roster.

Guys like Powe, Carcillo and O’Donnell are mainly role players and are replaceable, but it’s hard to justify sending away both Carter and Richards. Yes, they Flyers did sign Jaromir Jagr and got Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek for Carter and Richards, but it’s really hard to say they’ve improved their team much, if at all.

Tampa Bay Lightning

I put Tampa Bay on my list because, like Philadelphia, I feel that they haven’t done enough to keep their team or make it any better. In particular, they have yet to sign Steven Stamkos. There seems to be some buzz about possible offers, but no solid information yet. This isn’t quite the end of the world, but if they want to remain a contender it is a must.

They’ve also lost some strong forwards in Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim. Not only that, but they have only 10 forwards on their roster if you include Stamkos. The Lightning have some grit to their lineup, but I think they need just a little bit more finesse and from someone who can play a top six forward position. Holding about $15.5 in cap space (CapGeek.com), Tampa Bay can still have a great offseason. To do this they will need to re-sign Stamkos and fill up their holes at forward, but so far they just haven’t done it yet.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils really haven’t done much at all this offseason, which is part of the reason I have them on this list. This one isn’t as simple as the rest, the Devils missed the playoffs last year, but they also had one of the best runs by any team last year. From the start, you can’t exactly say they are a horrible team. Although, Ilya Kovalchuk has handicapped them a bit with his monster contract.

With that in mind you don’t expect them to make many moves, but you expect more than almost nothing at all. The main reason I am including the Devils is Zach Parise. Unfortunately, Parise missed almost all of last year with an injury, otherwise the Devils could’ve saved themselves from such a hellish start to their season. I believe Parise is an absolute necessity to keeping this team afloat. As with Stamkos, Callahan, and Dubinsky, it is early in the offseason and these players will all sign soon enough, but you can’t wait around forever.

The Devils are a team that even though they struggled last year, they had it rolling from about January to March and were almost unstoppable. Prior to the offseason announcement of the raising of the salary cap, things looked to be quite rough for New Jersey this year. Call it a resurrection of sorts for the Devils. They sit just under $8 million cap space left (CapGeek.com), which should be enough to sign Parise, but they still will need to roll with a couple scratch players to fill out their roster and one more forward.

They still might want to make some moves to give them breathing room, but it shouldn’t be hard at all for them to do so. With a signed Parise, the Devils won’t have any true issues, but it would be nice to see a little bit of shuffling by them as well.

It’s not to late for any of these teams to turn things around as it is early in the offseason and free agency isn’t even a week old. This is time that is most essential to maintaining a solid team or fixing the sometimes gaping holes that exist. If you can’t make it through the offseason, you’ll be hitting the driving range come mid-April, and trust me, you don’t want that.

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