Free Agency in the East: Who Won So Far?

The 2011-12 NHL free agency period is only a few days old.  There was a bevy of moves made in a frantic first day.  I am going to focus on a five winners in the Eastern Conference so far.

Washington Capitals

The moves that the Caps made so far haven’t gotten a lot of publicity.  There was a draft day deal that traded their 2011 1st round pick (pick 26) for the Blackhawks winger Troy Brouwer.  As a Blackhawks fan, I think the Caps gave a lot for him, but Brouwer does the things that go unnoticed to the television viewers, he has the strength and will to win battles in the corners.  He may not live up to his offensive potential, but he’s a nice player.

The best trade the Caps made was the 1st round and 2nd round conditional pick for the 2012 draft in compensation for, eh, Semyon Varlamov?  Colorado is giving away assets in some stupid deals, this is worse than the Stewart/Shattenkirk deal last year.  I do like Varlamov, Neuvirth, and Holtby; so I believe Washington has some of the best young goalie talent in the league, but a deal like this you can’t pass up.  Because of this trade, Washington is probably going to have a top-5 pick in the draft next year.

And their best deal so far is the signing of Tomas Vokoun at a cap hit of $1.5 million, a steal if you ask me. You ask, “$1.5 million for one of the best goaltenders in the league?” Yes, it’s true.  Think about this as well, the Avalanche signed Varlamov for 2 years at $2.75 per year.  What?  Washington received a steal here, plain and simple and Vokoun will certainly be on all of my fantasy teams.

Other key players they’ve signed are 37-year-old puck-moving defenseman Roman “The Hammer” Hamrlik and two-way forward Joel Ward who gives them even better winger depth than they already had.

Boston Bruins

What have the Bruins done in free agency so far?  Nothing, and that’s exactly why they are winners.  Unlike the Blackhawks the season before, the help of a raised salary cap and the lack of expiring contracts, the Bruins are able to keep their core together.  They lost Michael Ryder who signed with Dallas.  In addition, they lost Tomas Kaberle, whose play in Boston surely means fans won’t miss him much

With Kaberle and Ryder coming off the books they have room to sign a couple more veteran players to take their place.  They could take a chance with a younger player like Zherdev, or an older winger like Samsonov.  With Savard hopefully coming back from multiple concussions, they have some of the best center depth in the league, along with Krejci and Bergeron.  I see no need to do this, but they could get a lot in a trade for any of the three.

The Bruins made a trade with Carolina, sending a 4th round pick and received defenseman Joe Corvo in return.  I think this is a  good trade for Boston and think that Corvo will pay big dividends this year.

Carolina Hurricanes

No big splashes here.  What is there to do in Raleigh, North Carolina?  I don’t have a clue….ok, I just looked up some things to do: apparently they have a lot of museums, there is an annual beer festival (I guess I could live in Raleigh), and many other things that every major city has like historic sites and shopping.  At least they get nice weather, sometimes, with hurricanes, hence the name.

So to the good, I got sidetracked.  The keys here are the re-signing of Jussi Jokinen, Joni Pitkanen, and Chad LaRose.  Jokinen was re-signed at $3 million a year for three years, which is laughable, because Tomas Kopecky signed a four year deal in Florida for the same cap hit.  Jokinen contributes in both ends of the ice and is a 20-30 goal scorer with a healthy Eric Staal.  A couple free agent signings were two solid forwards who will give you between 15-20 goals, Alexei Ponikarovsky and the lesser of the Stewart brothers, Anthony Stewart.  Also Brian Boucher is a serviceable backup to Cam Ward who is still a top-10 goaltender in the league.

 

The Hurricanes also signed Tomas Kaberle to a 3 year $13.75 million deal.  The Hurricanes have better defensemen on their roster and a prospect would have been better playing this position instead of an overrated “puck moving” defenseman who refuses to shoot from the point.  I still count their free agency a win, but this is a stupid signing.

Philadelphia Flyers

Many would hardly consider Philly as winners this offseason.  When the first of two blockbusters was revealed, the one that sent Jeff Carter away, I was so confused.  I figured it must be so they can sign Ily Bryzgalov, who they traded for the negotiating rights of.  Well, I was right, but I didn’t think it would result in trading away Mike Richards too.

The deal for Carter netted them the 8th overall pick in the 2011 draft (drafted C Sean Couturier), a 3rd round pick in the 2011 draft (drafted Nick Cousins), and Jakub Voracek.  The Richards deal gave them more in return; they received promising prospect center Brayden Schenn (drafted 5th in 2009 draft), Wayne Simmonds, and a 2nd round pick in 2012.  Yes, they gave up two experienced, talented, two way centers for a lot of prospects basically, but in the end this could still be a fair deal.  All three players received can contribute immediately.

Right winger Jaromír Jágr signed a $3.3 million deal and was poached away from the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Jaromír Jágr that tortured Philly for several years during the 1990’s is now wearing the Flyers sweater.  He’s been almost a point per game layer in his later years.  I see him having a decent season; something like Mark Recchi has had in Boston, but just a tad bit better.

The biggest signing was the 31-year-old goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51 million deal.  Signed until he is 40, Bryzgalov is the goaltender that they needed the past few seasons.  Last year I said if Nabokov would have signed with the Flyers they would have won the Cup.  Well that’s not the case this time around with Carter and Richards gone.  This team will still make the playoffs and compete very well, but there will just be that lack of scoring.  Also with those two gone, Briere is very likely to play center, and it’s well known that his scoring decreases when he plays this position as opposed to wing.

Other moves the Flyers made were the signing of Maxime Talbot to a 5-year deal, he will fit nicely here.  Andreas Lilja will take care of the third pair on defense.  They’ve lost Darroll Powe, Ville Leino, and Daniel Carcillo.  They should be happy to “lose” Carcillo, although.  He was nothing but an idiot, he goes out and gets penalties on stupid plays, he has energy but is a worthless turd that was a Broad Street Idiot, not a bully.

Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff (not the Sabres)

Both players signed with the Buffalo Sabres this offseason.  There is a reason they are winners and not the team though, they were highly overpaid.  Leino inked a 6-year, $27 million deal.  Ehrhoff’s deal was longer, 10-year, $40 million deal.

Right now this hurts the Sabres because they have to shed some more salary (they are over the cap right now), which shouldn’t be too hard because they have some useful players and many teams are struggling to meet the salary floor.  They were reportedly going to be in the Brad Richards sweepstakes, and were going to meet with him and his agent.  But with the window closing for Leino to be available; so they chose him over trying to get Richards, who honestly probably wasn’t going to choose them anyways.

Leino is a winner in this whole thing because he is now making $6 mil-6 mil-4 mil-4 mil, 3.5 mil-3.5 mil (for each of the 6 years) and he gets to play his preferred position, center.  Leino was a centerman until he was 23 (now 27), then switched to wing.  Because he is now playing center, likely on Buffalo’s second line, he will be centering probably Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe; an uptick in points is possible.  He had a career year and a fantastic post season last year.  Really though, the main reason Leino is a winner is because he is not “worth” that much money.  He’s a decent penalty killer and camps in front of the net, but his defensive skills combined with his scoring ability do not warrant that much money.

Christian Ehrhoff’s bargaining rights were traded twice before he became an unrestricted free agent.  The first trade was the Islanders giving their 4th round pick in next years draft to the Canucks.  After talks with him and his agent, they realized they weren’t going to sign him, and traded his rights to the Sabres for their 4th round pick next season.  Now, Ehrhoff is a good offensive defenseman and is no slouch in the defensive end.  But his specialty is offense and the power play.  I have no doubt he’s still going to be very good and help this team win, but he was signed for 10 years; the deal will pay him $10 million in the first year, and $8 in the second.  This is more of a win for Ehrhoff because he gets most of his money in the first half of the contract and if he wants to he can retire, or be traded to a contender when he’s in his late 30’s.

The reason I picked the players as winners and not the Sabres is because this gives the team the inability to sign another free agent or two to give them a chance at a Cup run.  I do not see the Sabres as being cup contenders with this current roster, they will make the playoffs, but won’t make it to the finals.

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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.

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.