By Dan Rubin
I had this great idea of going team-by-team, looking at the National Hockey League’s free agency, seeing what each team needed, and who did what right. That didn’t happen.
Now, it shouldn’t be a surprise because I am the epitome of laziness, but, if nothing else, you should thank me for being a useless “blob of humanity” this week because it gave me a reason to change my approach and bring back the Winners And Losers column that many of you enjoyed during the NFL Draft.
That’s right – it’s back! My cheeky, fun look at who overpaid, who underpaid, who did too much and who really made some bonehead moves on the NHL’s first day of free agency.
Before I begin, though, I need to say one thing. Is there any league with as much first-day movement as the NHL? I mean, really. Every other league has all these tampering rules, and free agents drag out their contract negotiations to maximize the dollar. The NHL virtually sewed up every single major free agent within the first 12 hours of waking up. It’s like a carpet bomb of contracts. I don’t think there’s any offseason day as exciting, and it gives us loads of material to look at.
Without further ado…away…we…go!
Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner
The Florida Panthers just got a lot better. In one day, they signed Tomas Fleishmann, Marcel Goc, Ed Jovanoski, Sean Begenheim, Scottie Upshall, and Jose Theodore. With the exception of Jovanovski, every single skater is under 30-years-old. They also signed them all for extended deals, save for Theodore’s contract. That’s three to four years of solid team building and chemistry. These guys all bring something to the table, and they did it in a very, very solid way. And, in signing Theodore, they ensured three solid goaltenders, adding a guy who’s a seasoned veteran to go along with Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen. I love their goaltending, and now I love their ability to skate more than two to three lines deep. Considering they also get Byron Bitz back from injury next season, this team could be one to be reckoned with. Dale Tallon is already doing a “helluva” job down there in Sunrise.
The Washington Capitals made a serious effort to clear up their issues from last season, when they tried to take an offensive team and play defensive hockey. They were badly exposed in the playoffs as a one-dimensional team, one that really couldn’t play defense even though Bruce Boudreau introduced them to a more physical style of play over the course of the season. So they went out and grabbed thumpers who can fill out those roles around the high-powered offense. Jeff Halpern and Roman Hamrlik are great signings away from Montreal, and Joel Ward provides them with the knowledge of playing a defensive style after spending last year with Nashville. We know the Caps are going to be one of the league’s marquee teams, but we also know they have some serious holes. They at least took steps to address the biggest hole.
The Vancouver Canucks get all spades in their review by managing to keep the majority of their free agents in British Columbia. Even though they let Raffi Torres go, they at least got a draft pick for a guy they knew they couldn’t sign – Christian Ehroff. They were able to get Kevin Bieksa back, and they resigned their third line by snagging Christopher Higgins and Max Lapierre. They addressed the loss of Torres by signing Marco Sturm to a one-year deal. That’s a completely underrated move, given what we know in Boston about Sturm.
Last season completely put the emphasis on goaltending, especially in the way that Tim Thomas carried the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup and the way that Roberto Luongo both played stellar and caved in during the playoffs. In the wake of the season where teams without a solid netminder utterly collapsed down the stretch, it would be easy to result in too many goalies getting too many bad deals. But the majority of teams that needed goaltending didn’t give into temptation. Tampa Bay chose to resign Dwayne Roloson to a one-year, $2 million deal, and otherwise, the only goalie to strike the iron was Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who got two years from Colorado. The Avalanche signed him out of necessity when Peter Budaj signed with Montreal. The only team to really overpay for a netminder was Philadelphia, but we’ll get to them a little bit later since they’re in a class by themselves.
On the home front, I liked the Boston Bruins non-moves. The Bruins only notable transaction was to sign Benoit Pouliot to a one-year deal. Let me put this out there – I think Pouliot is terrible. He’s a horrible disappointment and bust after being selected 4th overall in the 2005 draft by Minnesota. And the Bruins become his third team after he stunk up 2010-2011 for Montreal. He’s never consistently stuck in the NHL, and last year he grew a reputation for diving in the playoffs. But that’s fine; I don’t mind that the Bruins picked him up. Pouliot is an insurance policy that can step in and not be a terrible first man in. Pouliot is an emergency fix for letting Michael Ryder go since they honestly bring about the same skillset to the table. But, if Pouliot doesn’t play, he’s easily replaceable by a number of guys in Providence. He’ll most likely compete for a spot on that third line opposite Jordan Caron. Caron’s expected to take that slot, but if he slips, at least they have Pouliot.
“That boy ain’t right.” –Hank Hill
Oh Philadelphia. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for providing me punch lines for the next three years about how to blow up a good team and make the biggest reactionary moves on the planet. Your free agency period and offseason is literally about a week old, and already, you’ve made a move as a reaction to last season and two moves as a reaction to this season.
Where do I begin? Well – way to overpay for Ilya Bryzgalov. You jettison two of your most important players (Jeff Carter and Mike Richards) because you have an insane need to address goaltending issues. You had zero in between the pipes, so you make an emergency move and overpay for a guy who was pretty good last year (Bryzgalov had seven shutouts and a .921 save percentage), but, as Luongo proved this postseason, 9-year contracts are terrible decisions. If Bryzgalov doesn’t reinvent the Flyers goaltending and doesn’t lead them deep into the playoffs every year, then Philadelphia saddles their franchise with that deal for the next decade. Also, Bryzgalov is already 31; when his contract is up, he’ll be 40. You mean to tell me that he’s going to be solid until that age when goaltending in the NHL has gotten progressively younger? By 2017, they’ll all be yelling, “WHOOPS.”
Oh, but the fun just started. Because you got rid of two of your most important offensive weapons, you’re forced to overpay to get a couple of guys to replace them. Carter is 26 years old and coming off three seasons where he had at least 30 goals (and had 29 goals 4 seasons ago). Richards also put up 30 goals and was the team captain at the age of 25. While you’re at it, you lose budding prospects Kris Versteeg and Ville Leino. You replace them with… Jaromir Jagr.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t love Jagr. But, it’s hard to trust a guy that, as Joey Murr put it, was “great in NHL ’94 (on Sega Genesis).” Jagr hasn’t played in the NHL since his short stint with the New York Rangers that ended in 2007-2008. He also left the NHL for Russia’s KHL because he was severely burned out by playing the 82-game grind of the NHL. He might have something left in the tank, but Philadelphia signed him because of his reputation and because they needed a scorer. Out of all the guys out there, this is the guy who’s the answer to all of your problems? It’s like the Boston Celtics signing Shaq. It’s just a bad idea all around. I’m guessing they’re hoping he’ll mentor James van Riemsdyk.
While they were at it, the Flyers continued their Wheel-O-Fun by signing Maxime Talbot to a five-year, $9 million contract. Talbot’s only 26 years old, but they’re getting a guy who never scored more than 13 goals in a season, has only scored 10 goals in three seasons, and has never had a plus/minus on the good side of zero (save for 2007-2008). I don’t get what they’re expecting of him that they gave him that contract. I don’t think he’s worth nearly $2 million per year, not when Milan Hejduk got essentially the same deal.
I think Carolina’s two-year contract for Brian Boucher was just downright dumb. I know you’re signing him to back up Cam Ward, but you don’t want a 34-year old sieve as your backup goalie. It’s not exactly a good sign that Boucher got chased from essentially every game he played against the Bruins during the playoffs. And if you’re going to get a backup goalie for his price (just under $1 million per season), why not spend the money on a prospect or just bring one up from the minors? If something happens to Ward, do you really want to entrust your goaltending situation to Boucher? And if you’re looking for veteran help, Ty Conklin is still unsigned, and Alex Auld was available for essentially the same price.
On the home front, you KNEW someone was going to put a lot of money in Michael Ryder’s wallet. And fans of the Bruins over the past few seasons hoped it wasn’t Boston. Even though Ryder pulled a JD Drew by mailing in the regular season, then showing up for the playoffs, he wasn’t worth his asking price. But Dallas put a two-year, $7 million contract in front of him, and Ryder jumped. Brilliant move since I know Ryder doesn’t think he’s worth that money. He’s a talented guy, evidenced by when he played with Tyler Seguin and David Krejci in the playoffs (then again, I could score with Krejci as my center). And he’s shown flashes.
Also the home front, Tomas Kaberle just got a rude awakening that he’s not worth what I think he thinks he’s worth. All of this movement of bodies on Day 1, including All Stars and future budding prospects, and Kaberle isn’t signed. Maybe he’s taking his time and doing it like other sports, where he’s weighing options and trying to maximize the best deal. Or maybe teams just don’t want to shell out max contract money for a guy like him. And that’s saying something considering teams were burning through cash today thanks to the elevated salary cap. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bruins end up resigning him to a bargain deal. He’s expressed interest in coming back, and I don’t think the market is very good. The only problem is that the Bruins have prospect defensemen waiting in the wings, including their first round draft pick, Dougie Hamilton (who could be NHL-ready by 2013).
And in a last note, I wished the Bruins had done more. I know Brad Marchand’s a restricted free agent, which means Boston is essentially waiting for someone to make him a deal so they can match it. But I don’t like the idea of Marchand sitting out on the market. I’d like to get him wrapped up and see his name next to Patrice Bergeron and a player to be named for that second line. And the fact that right now there’s nobody filling Mark Recchi’s slot on the Bergeron line makes me nervous. They need to get a winger with scoring ability, or get someone who can demote Milan Lucic to the second line. And, looking at the free agent list, Ryan Callahan of the Rangers is still available (albeit a restricted free agent), as is Brandon Dubinsky (also an RFA from the NYR) and Simon Gagne (unrestricted).
Hopefully we’ll have more updates as the free agent period goes on. And, as a last note, I’d like to personally wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July and belated Happy Canada Day. These two great nations give us plenty to be proud of depending on where you’re from, so thank the man and women who make them great. Enjoy the weekend everyone, and make sure that no matter what, you’re being safe and smart.