2012 NHL Free Agency Watch: Who's Hot, Who's Not
The NHL free-agent market opened to its usual fanfare on July 1. The writers and broadcasters took their positions, working their phones and their Twitters in an effort to be the first to break the big announcements.
By July 4, over 100 players had inked new deals. The two most prized possessions, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, took their time, but in the end they were both able to ink $98 million, 13-year contracts with the Minnesota Wild (per ESPN).
Parise and Suter's signings should create a domino effect of further activity among the teams that lost out. We'll likely see lots more action with free agency and trades in the days to come.
As the dust settles, here's a look at the winners and losers of the 2012 free-agency season so far: who's hot, and who's not.
Hot: Minnesota Wild
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For the second straight summer, the Minnesota Wild have made a major offseason splash.
This year, they celebrate the Fourth of July with possibly the biggest day in their franchise's history, locking up American free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for the foreseeable future.
Minnesota had a dose of success last year, sitting in first place in the Northwest Division at Christmas before their team was decimated by injury in the second half of the season. They have some interesting building blocks in place.
Parise and Suter should help to sell even more tickets in a hockey-mad market. Will their signings translate to a dominant new era for the Wild?
Not: Rick Nash and Roberto Luongo
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As the NHL has waited on Parise and Suter to make their free-agent decisions, the two biggest names in the trade market have been stuck on the sidelines.
Columbus has been trying to trade Nash since January, and GM Scott Howson believes that he can maximize the trade value for his star winger as the market of available players becomes more scarce.
Expect to see more movement on the trade market now that the big guns have found a home.
Hot: Jason Garrison
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Jason Garrison peaked at the right time.
The 27-year-old scored more than twice as many goals for Florida last year (16) than in his entire NHL career (seven). That number was good enough to put him third in goal scoring by defensemen, behind Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson, and second in power play goals, behind Weber.
Garrison made $700,000 last year. He signed a six-year, $27.6 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, and it's believed he could have earned more. He's a British Columbia native who grew up idolizing the Canucks, and Vancouver wasn't going to pay him more than its incumbent top defenseman, Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa makes $4.6 million a year, while Dan Hamhuis is slotted in at $4.5 million.
Garrison is a late bloomer who went undrafted, then was signed by Florida as a free agent out of the University of Minnesota Duluth. In four pro seasons, he has shown steady improvement every year. Vancouver is counting on the fact that Garrison is just beginning to realize his potential as an NHL player and will be a top blueliner for years to come.
Not: Winnipeg Jets
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So far, it looks like the Jets are having a bumpy summer.
They lost role player Tanner Glass to Pittsburgh through free agency. They were forced to offer a big money, long-term deal to Ondrej Pavelec when the rumors of his interest in the KHL started to swirl (via the Winnipeg Sun). He's now the only goaltender they have, after both Chris Mason and Jonas Gustavsson signed free-agent deals with other teams.
(UPDATE: per TSN, the Jets signed backup goaltender Al Montoya on July 4)
Even worse, while young stud Evander Kane remains unsigned and is rumored to be looking for a trade (via RDS' Renaud Lavoie), Kevin Cheveldayoff just signed Olli Jokinen to a two-year contract worth $9 million (per the Calgary Herald). This represents a 50 percent increase for a player who was seen as a frustrating underachiever during many of his years in Calgary.
Jokinen's production over the last two seasons wasn't bad, with 61 points in 2012 and 54 in 2011. But the big center is now 33 years old and is likely entering his twilight years as an NHL player. If not for the $9 million deal signed by Ray Whitney, Jokinen's deal would be even more widely regarded as that of an old guy who got way too much money.
Hot: New Jersey Devils
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Despite continued rumors of financial problems, the New Jersey Devils are doing an amazing job of methodically re-signing the team that took them to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
While Parise was getting all the attention, Lou Lamoriello started by re-signing Cam Janssen and Peter Harrold, as well as his entire fourth line—Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter.
On July 2, he squashed rumors of Martin Brodeur's potential departure (as mentioned by The Star-Ledger) by re-signing both Brodeur and backup Johan Hedberg. Then on July 3, he met with Bryce Salvador and matched the offer that he'd received on the open market (from ESPN).
The Devils weren't able to offer the terms to bring back Parise, but they'll have much of their core intact heading into next season.
Hot: Tough Guys and Grinders
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While the skill players sat on the sidelines, much of the early activity on July 1 surrounded a collection of gritty players being brought in to toughen up various rosters.
Minnesota acquired Zenon Konopka on a two-year deal. Adam Burish signed for four years with San Jose. The New York Islanders doubled Matt Carkner's salary and gave him a three-year contract even though the 31-year-old has only played more than 50 NHL games once in his entire career.
Meanwhile, Arron Asham will add toughness to the Rangers while Tanner Glass fills his spot in Pittsburgh. George Parros gets a two-year deal in Florida. Even agitator Jordin Tootoo made out with a three-year, $5.7 million contract from the Red Wings, of all unlikely candidates.
The biggest winner in the tough guy sweepstakes had to be Brandon Prust, who inked a $10 million contract with Montreal over four years. Prust made just $800,000 during his last two years in New York, where he played every game and led the league with 20 fights. But his offensive production dropped from 13 goals in 2010-11 to just five last year, and he won't play more than about 12 minutes a game.
Last year, it was widely believed that many of the Canadiens' issues stemmed from them being too small and too easily pushed around. Now that Brad Staubitz is gone, and Mathieu Darche is an unrestricted free agent, will Prust and Colby Armstrong provide the toughness upgrade that the Habs need?
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