NHL Free Agency: Picking the Winners and Losers so Far This Summer
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Finding success in free agency will win you headlines in July, but it doesn't always win you games and playoff series when it really counts.
However, free agency is a legitimate way for general managers and owners to improve their teams. When you make a big splash by adding big-name players who have accomplished a lot in their careers, you do it under the impression that they will bring their talent and competitive drive to their new employers, along with a big bank account.
Certainly, the Minnesota Wild have been among the NHL's have nots since a memorable playoff run in 2003 (only two playoff appearances since then). This offseason they have made moves to climb the ladder and compete with the better teams in the league.
They are not the only team to have improved themselves this offseason through free agency though. And there are also a few teams that have fallen further down the ladder.
Winner — Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota Wild
Chuck Fletcher (2nd from right) landed a bumper crop in free agency.
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The mission was clear for Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher: He had to make his team relevant in the NHL and there was no time to waste.
That meant attacking in free agency so his team could compete with the big boys and become relevant in the Western Conference.
Free agency? That's for teams like the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. No free agents would seriously consider the Wild, right?
Wrong. Minnesota inked two free-agent prizes in defenseman Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils. Suter was considered the best free-agent defenseman available, and while he had played Robin to Shea Weber's Batman with the Nashville Predators, he was a difference maker on the blue line.
Parise was the best overall player in free agency and a full-fledged stud. He was also born and raised in Minnesota and decided to come home to continue his professional career. Parise is a brilliant talent who has the work ethic to set a superlative example for his new teammates in Minnesota.
For Fletcher, there is still much work to do to turn the Wild into potential champions. But the team is now relevant and all eyes will be on Minnesota during the 2012-13 season.
Winner — Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens have a chance to rise in the Eastern Conference.
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The Canadiens hit rock bottom last year, finishing 15th in the Eastern Conference. As a result, Marc Bergevin is the team's new general manager and he hired Michel Therrien (he speaks French) to give the team a new voice.
The Canadiens have not gone wild and hit a grand slam like the Minnesota Wild did, but they have made a couple of free-agent signings that should add toughness and character. They signed free-agent forward Brandon Prust away from the New York Rangers and Francis Bouillon from the Nashville Predators.
Bouillon is a hard-hitting veteran who can keep mistakes to a minimum. Prust is a high-energy player who was respected by the Rangers but just did not fit in their price structure.
Former Leaf forward Colby Armstrong was also brought into the fold. He has endured two injury-plagued seasons but he could be a physical force if he stays healthy.
In addition to signing those three, they have resigned forwards Lars Eller and Travis Moen, and goalie Carey Price.
The Canadiens may not have made a dramatic move upward, but they appear to have steadied the ship after last year's disaster.
Winner -- Dallas Stars
Jaromir Jagr still has the talent to be a difference maker for the Stars.
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The Dallas Stars had an up and down 2011-12 season, but it was ultimately a disappointment because the team finished on the outside of the Western Conference playoffs, and failed to play postseason hockey for the fourth consecutive season.
Despite the presence of right winger Michael Ryder and his 35 goals, the Stars went into the offseason needing help in the goal scoring department. They added veterans Ray Whitney from the Phoenix Coyotes and Jaromir Jagr from the Philadelphia Flyers to beef up the offense.
Veterans? Some might say ancient warriors since both have past their 40th birthdays. Whitney scored 24 goals and totaled 77 points for the Coyotes while Jagr recorded 54 points with the Flyers. Jagr had spent the previous four seasons playing in Russia, and looked like he still belonged in the NHL when he returned.
The Stars also added skilled center Derek Roy in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for hard-nosed Steve Ott. While there have been questions about Roy's motivation at times, he also upgrades the team's skill level.
Winner — Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
The big moments just keep on coming for Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
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It has been a brilliant run for the Los Angeles Kings goalie.
His team ripped its way through the Western Conference playoffs, losing two games while winning three series. Then they defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games to win their first Stanley Cup.
Quick was named the MVP of the playoff run and has been celebrated for his stunning performance in net. He allowed 29 goals in 20 postseason games. He recorded a 1.41 goals against average, a .946 save percentage and three shutouts during the playoff run.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi was not about to let any rumors get started about Quick's future. He realized that Quick was as responsible as anyone for the Stanley Cup and that the team's future success depends on having Quick in net.
Lombardi signed Quick to a 10-year, $58 million contract, according to The Hockey News. Quick got what he deserved and can feel secure in knowing that his employers respect and believe in him.
Winner — Colorado Avalanche
Adding P.A. Parenteau gives the Avalanche a credible scorer.
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The Colorado Avalanche believe they have a young and talented team that is capable of making a playoff run.
Why shouldn't they? The Avs finished with 88 points last season and were in contention for a playoff spot until well into March. They finished seven points behind the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, meaning eighth place is well within their reach.
They have a young star in Gabriel Landeskog to lead them into the future and they have added a couple of important and underrated parts through free agency. They signed forward P.A. Parenteau away from the Islanders, and added defenseman Greg Zanon.
Parenteau has shown the ability to put the puck in the net. He had 20 goals in 2010-11 and followed that up with an 18-goal, 67-point season last year. Parenteau is something of a power play specialist with 15 man-advantage goals over the last two seasons.
Zanon is a tough-minded, defensive defenseman. He played with the Islanders and the Boston Bruins last season and acquitted himself quite well. Zanon is not flashy, but he won't back down from any challenge.
Both players should fit in well with the Avalanche.
Loser — New Jersey Devils
It will be difficult for Peter DeBoer to match last year's playoff success.
The New Jersey Devils shocked many Eastern Conference observers when they overcame their No. 6 seeding and rolled past the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It was a brilliant run until they ran into a better team in the Los Angeles Kings. The Devils lost the first three games of the series before they put a scare into their opponents and took the next two games. However, they were blown out in Game 6 and there was no miracle comeback.
Nearly as soon as the handshake line was completed, the questions were being asked about goalie Martin Brodeur and forward Zach Parise. The Devils ended up re-signing their future Hall of Fame goalie, but they were not as lucky with Parise.
He was the most sought-after free agent on the market, and he signed with the Minnesota Wild. While it was somewhat understandable since Parise is a Minnesota native, it hurts the Devils badly.
He was arguably their best player and they don't have the wherewithal to replace him. Head coach Peter DeBoer will be operating with a major handicap since he won't be able to depend on him any longer.
Loser -- David Poile, Nashville Predators
David Poile has to pick up the pieces following Ryan Suter's departure.
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When you are the general manager of an NHL team, there are going to be wins and losses in the free agent market.
You may sign a big-name performer that upgrades your team dramatically or you may lose a star defenseman that hurts your team.
It's all part of doing business and you have to roll with the punches.
Apparently, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile is having a hard time accepting reality. The Predators lost defenseman Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild, and Poile has been licking his wounds since the July 4 signing.
“(I’m) not only disappointed but very surprised," Poile told Josh Cooper of The Tennesseean.com. "Over the last year I’ve had literally, 20, 30, 40 conversations with Ryan and his representative, mostly with Ryan about our desire to sign him to a long-term deal and the importance to the predators hockey club.”
Poile didn't get what he wanted and now he's stomping his feet like a spoiled child. It's time for him to grow up and move on.
Loser — Calgary Flames
Dennis Wideman is not enough to help the Flames climb in the West.
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The aging Calgary Flames are trying to hold it together with band-aids.
The Flames have added offensive-minded defenseman Dennis Wideman from the Washington Capitals and slick forward Jiri Hudler from the Detroit Red Wings. Those moves are not enough to keep the Flames from being just another face in the crowd in the West.
They are not an awful team, but they have missed the playoffs three straight times and they haven't won a playoff series since 2003-04.
While they added Wideman and Hudler, they lost solid center Olli Jokinen to the Winnipeg Jets.
Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff remain the stars of this team. They are aging and would be better off playing for legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. The Flames are not in that category.
Loser — Detroit Red Wings
It will be challenging to play without Nicklas Lidstrom.
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The 2011-12 season ended badly when the Red Wings lost their first-round playoff series to the Nashville Predators. They barely made a whimper as they fell in five games. The series left observers with the impression that the hungry Predators out-hustled and outworked the aging Red Wings.
Shortly after the season ended, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom retired after a brilliant career. It can be argued that Lidstrom is the second-best defenseman in NHL history behind Bobby Orr. Obviously, that's a huge deficit for any team to overcome.
General manager Ken Holland had the cash on hand to make a splash in free agency. He wanted to bring in at least one of the two big prizes and had his eye on both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. He got neither. The Red Wings also lost Jiri Hudler to the Calgary Flames.
We're not saying that the Red Wings will fall apart and won't make the playoffs. They could still end up as one of the better teams in the league. However, they have suffered some painful shots in the offseason.
Loser — Alex Semin, Washington Capitals
Alex Semin has not signed a free-agent deal yet.
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Alex Semin has one of the best slap shots in the NHL and is a valuable scoring weapon.
According to CBS Sports, he was told at the end of the season that the Washington Capitals were not interested in bringing him back, and he was fine with that decision.
Semin has developed a reputation as a player who can be a difference maker with his offense, but struggles to compete on the defensive end. That makes him a selfish and one-dimensional player.
Semin may go back to Russia and play in the KHL according to Yahoo! Sports. he is still feeling out potential opportunities in the NHL though. No matter where he ends up, he has a lot of work to do if he is going to correct the impression that he is anything but a me first type of player.