2012 NHL Free Agency: The Best Move Every Team Has Made So Far

Al DanielCorrespondent IIOctober 15, 2012

2012 NHL Free Agency: The Best Move Every Team Has Made So Far

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    With the NHL lockout effective on Sept. 15, general managers needed to pay heed to their own unique answer to the after-the-whistle penalty, i.e. no transactions after the CBA expires.

    On the cusp of that buzzer, though, at least three teams made arguably their most crucial move of the offseason and their best free-agency deal since July. In all three cases, the club in question finally mustered a new pact with a current player who will, by all accounts, be pivotal to the franchise’s future.

    Whether it was an external signing or an internal re-signing, these are each NHL team’s most positively momentous transactions in the 11 weeks between the start of free agency and the subsequent work stoppage.

Anaheim: Acquiring Sheldon Souray

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    Teemu Selanne’s renewal should benefit the Ducks if he is able to return, although there is no guarantee he will if half or the whole season is lost to the lockout. Even if there is more action ahead of the 42-year-old forward, it likely will not stretch beyond the spring of 2013 and may not be of the same quality as even 2011-12.

    Conversely, the 36-year-old Souray had a bounce-back year after an AHL detour in 2010-11. The hulking blueliner with at least a mild offensive touch led all Dallas defensemen with a plus-11 rating and chipped in seven points on special teams.

    He will now transfer to another Pacific Division franchise that, like the Stars, is seeking to rebound from a 2012 postseason no-show.

Boston: Renewing Tuukka Rask

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    After two seasons primarily in Providence, one that was virtually split with Tim Thomas and two as the decided backup, the 25-year-old Rask should be ready to permanently assume Boston’s starting job.

    Although the length of the contract he signed in July may not appear to underscore the Bruins’ long-term commitment to Rask, it is appropriate. After all, Rask has attained better numbers in the final years of his previous two pacts, and an assertive 2012-13 campaign will surely earn him a lengthier deal as he inches deeper into veteran status.

Buffalo: Renewing Tyler Ennis

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    Had he not missed a sizeable portion of the 2011-12 season, Ennis could have tallied points in the upper 50s, almost 10 more than in his first full NHL campaign the year prior.

    Working up front with veterans Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek and the rising Mikhail Grigorenko and Marcus Foligno, Ennis ought to personify the Sabres’ ascension in the coming years.

Calgary: Acquiring Jiri Hudler

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    Despite tallying a career-high 25 goals for the Detroit Red Wings, Hudler was turned loose on the market over the summer and found new employment with the new-look Flames. He and newly-hired head coach Bob Hartley each bear a Stanley Cup ring and constitute the hallmark of Calgary’s commitment to making its first playoff appearance since 2009.

Carolina: Acquiring Alexander Semin

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    In tandem with the trade for Jordan Staal, the import of Semin gives the Hurricanes a new-found offensive depth and a replenished playoff contender’s persona.

    While they will not necessarily be vying for a Stanley Cup in the near future, they are a threat for the automatic tournament qualification that comes with winning the division. The reigning “champion” Florida Panthers are on pace to fall apart, and Semin comes directly from Washington, which had finished first in the Southeast four consecutive seasons from 2007-08 to 2010-11.

Chicago: Acquiring Michal Rozsival

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    The 34-year-old Rozsival leads all of his new Blackhawk blue line peers with 756 NHL career games and can lend reliable defensive depth along with points in or near the 20-range, if he is available for the vast bulk of the schedule.

    Give an honorable mention to Sheldon Brookbank, who is similarly bringing substantial experience and depth to the Chicago defense.

Colorado: Acquiring P.A. Parenteau

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    The Avalanche offense has steadily slipped each of the last three seasons, going from sixth-best in the league in 2009-10 to 25th last year.

    The continuing rise of Gabriel Landeskog can help that to a degree, but Colorado needs to pad on additional strength at the wings to complement its wealth of reliable centers. Importing Parenteau, third only to John Tavares and Matt Moulson on the New York Islanders production chart the last two seasons, is one way of addressing that need.

Columbus: Acquiring Adrian Aucoin

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    Do not underestimate what the likes of Aucoin and February acquisition Jack Johnson can do to reverse the fortunes of the Blue Jackets’ long liable defense.

    Because Aucoin is 39 and only on a one-year deal, his contributions may not be enough to deliver a playoff berth in his time as a Columbus player, but could make the club’s valiance shine brighter. In turn, he can at least leave the franchise with a more reckonable outlook and greater sense of conviction than the way he found it.

Dallas: Acquiring Ray Whitney

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    The subject of substantial trade talk leading up to the last deadline, Whitney instead stayed in Phoenix and continued to defy his age for the Coyotes benefit. However, as part of the reigning Pacific Division champions and Western Conference finalists’ offseason undoing, he has since latched on with a restocking divisional rival.

    One of the reason’s the Whitney trade chatter had any traction was the uncertainty of the Coyotes mere playoff hopes at the time. Ultimately, with the help of his team-leading 77 points, they emerged at the top of the circuit while the Stars snuffed out at the last minute.

    Whitney’s transfer to Dallas, combined with other moves, could alter the Pacific landscape considerably.

Detroit: Acquiring Mikael Samuelsson

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    Since the last lockout of 2004-05, Samuelsson has never failed the break the 40-point plateau when suiting up for at least 70 games in a given regular season. He will be a second-term Red Wing with a title from 2008 on his resume, plus another appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals with Detroit in 2009 and another run to the fourth round with Vancouver in 2011.

Edmonton: Renewing Sam Gagner

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    Although Gagner figures to rank behind the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov from a production and publicity standpoint, he will, at the very least, be a pivotal depth contributor.

    Through each of his first five NHL seasons, he has never failed to break double digits in the goal column and reach the 40-point range. In addition, he is just coming off a career year in two key categories with 18 goals and a plus-five rating as well as his best point total since he was a rookie.

Florida: Renewing Kris Versteeg

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    The Panthers faithful can file this one under the “at least” heading.

    With Versteeg staying, Florida keeps intact its top offensive line, which also constituted its top three point-getters and combined to insert 70 (or 35.5 percent) of the team’s 197 goals in 2011-12.

Los Angeles: Renewing Dustin Penner

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    After a sketchy regular season in his first full year as a King, Penner began to resuscitate his rhythm in the playoffs, his 3-8-11 output in 20 postseason outings nearly matching his 7-10-11 totals from the previous 65 games-played.

    Every other season in Penner’s six-year career has been decidedly more fruitful. Future campaigns, especially if the lockout helps the Kings stave off Stanley Cup hangover, promise to follow suit.

Minnesota: Acquiring Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

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    The fact that it is an obvious pick only underscores the fact that it is indisputable. Furthermore, the repeat emphasis on Parise and Suter emboldening the Wild will only be prolonged until the franchise has permission to put its new-look lineup into action.

    The two blockbuster signees are both certifiable leaders and elite performers on the ice as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin natives who will doubtlessly embrace the chance to cater to (arguably) the NHL’s most devout American fanbase.

Montreal: Acquiring Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust

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    More often than not, when playing a full professional season, Prust and Armstrong have each broken double digits in both the goal and assist column. That is precisely the ideal productivity range to throw in with the traditional grunt work of a fourth-liner’s job description.

    With both men in the equation, the Canadiens can bank on a much-needed addition of depth and physicality up front.

Nashville: Renewing Shea Weber

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    The Predators simply did what it took to keep their captain and avoid losing two elite defensemen in a single offseason.

    While the loss of Suter and ongoing questions about their offense will leave their outlook fairly uncertain, they can at least fall back on the combination of the Norris-caliber Weber and the Vezina-caliber Pekka Rinne as their foundation.

New Jersey: Renewing Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg

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    Although neither of them will likely last much longer, the two veteran Devils goaltenders are worth keeping while a multitude of promising prospects are phased into the equation. It is a better approach than either rushing in the likes of Scott WedgewoodMaxime Clermont or Keith Kinkaid too quickly or bringing in a rental from another organization.

NY Islanders: Acquiring Matt Carkner

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    Delete Carkner and half of the Islanders’ top dozen defensemen, nearly all of whom could realistically see at least a sliver of NHL action in the coming campaign, would qualify as rookies.

    By plucking Carkner out of Ottawa, the Isles assure themselves at least five qualified blueliners with more than a full NHL season to their credit, the others being Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Lubomir Visnovsky.

    Granted, he can only be expected to function in a stay-at-home capacity, but he along with Hamonic should combine to serve up sufficient physicality for the bulk of any given game.

NY Rangers: Acquiring Taylor Pyatt

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    The 31-year-old Pyatt is capable of producing goals and assists in the teens and, upon going to the Rangers, projects to be working with Brian Boyle and Carl Hagelin.

    If Boyle can create space with his size and Hagelin elevates his standards in his sophomore campaign, all three individuals will combine to lend head coach John Tortorella invaluable secondary scoring.

Ottawa: Acquiring Guillaume Latendresse

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    Latendresse’s recent history of injury, which has confined him to only 27 appearances in the last two seasons, makes it easy to forget that he is still merely 25 years of age.

    Almost exactly 10 months removed from his last competitive game, he has had ample time to replenish his form. Furthermore, depending on the length of the lockout, rust will be a lesser concern if a sizeable number of his peers and competitors have likewise had a protracted hiatus from extramural action.

    The Senators cannot be blamed for being cautious and only signing Latendresse for one season, but it is a worthwhile experiment as they try to reap more production from players not named Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek or Erik Karlsson.

Philadelphia: Acquiring Ruslan Fedotenko

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    Even though they did not land him, one could make a credible case to put the offer sheet to Weber in this slide. But to put it plainly, the outcome of that move was akin to a valiant multi-overtime losing effort in the postseason. In other words, “losing” outweighs “valiant” and “effort” in that sentence.

    In an altogether unfulfilling couple of months, the Flyers did at least add a depth forward with a few radiant nuggets on his resume.

    While Fedotenko can be inconsistent in the thick of winter, his postseason transcript is enticing. From his decisive two-goal game that gave Tampa Bay the 2004 title to another Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 to a sound run with the Rangers last spring, he has the telltale track record of a winning ingredient.

Phoenix: Renewing Shane Doan

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    The Coyotes need not offer the aforementioned Predators much sympathy in the wake of their various offseason losses, some of which constitute the selections for other teams’ slides.

    With that said, Phoenix was at least able to seal a new deal with its captain in advance of the lockout-induced free agency freeze. The Coyotes are still at risk of tumbling out of the playoff bracket, but Doan’s tangibles and intangibles are enough to salvage a legitimate degree of hope.

Pittsburgh: Acquiring Benn Ferriero

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    Other than Tanner Glass (262 career games), who has a modicum of NHL-caliber skill, all of the Penguins' latest free-agency acquisitions have relatively minimal NHL experience.

    But Ferriero has done the most with his limited time, charging up a 14-8-22 log in a cumulative 92 appearances with the San Jose Sharks. On top of that, he played eight postseason games in 2011.

    With each successive season, Ferriero has seen his number of NHL appearances grow and his AHL outings dwindle. He should soon be ready to reliably fill in full-time on either the fourth or third line in Pittsburgh.

San Jose: Acquiring Adam Burish

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    Another case of transferring within the division at no cost other than a cap hit, Burish comes from Dallas with the skill set and resume of an ideal fourth-liner.

St. Louis: Renewing T.J. Oshie

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    Oshie was tied for tops on the team with 54 points last season and tied for second with 48 points two years prior. He all but certainly would have finished within the same echelon of the St. Louis scoring charts in 2010-11 had he not missed 33 games, but last year was a telltale rebound campaign en route to career highs.

    Given that he will not be 26 years of age until late December, Oshie gives the impression that better seasons are still ahead, which appropriately personifies the state of the Blues.

Tampa Bay: Acquiring Matt Carle

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    Previously the Philadelphia Flyers' ice-time leader and one of their top playmakers and point-getters among defensemen, Carle is back with the Lightning for what figures to be a lengthier tenure.

    He along with fellow free agent Sami Salo on the blue line and trade import Anders Lindback in the blue paint are assigned to address Tampa’s most conspicuous needs to replenish its 2011 form.

Toronto: Acquiring Jay McClement

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    Colorado’s shorthanded ice time leader and one of its most efficient penalty killers for the last two seasons, McClement is a critical key to solving one of the Maple Leafs’ principal hindrances.

    As part of their seven-year Stanley Cup playoff drought, the Leafs have finished 24th overall among penalty killing teams in 2005-06, 27th overall in 2006-07 and among the NHL’s bottom three each of the last five seasons.

Vancouver: Acquiring Jason Garrison

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    Garrison broke out for a career campaign in every category despite playing for a Florida team with limited offensive threats. He will now take his power-play point shot and team-best plus-six rating to a more reckonable Vancouver team, where, by all logic, the individual and the club in question can only enjoy symbiotic improvement.

Washington: Renewing John Carlson

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    Although Carlson was re-signed in the wake of a sophomore slide, he is still worth banking on as the future face of the Capitals defense. His size and his craftiness ought to make him a perennial threat in virtually every situation once he fully blossoms.

Winnipeg: Acquiring Olli Jokinen

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    Alexei Ponikarovsky is a close second in this slide, as he brings some of the same qualities, but Jokinen simply brings more.

    The 33-year-old veteran of 1,042 NHL games showed that he still has yet to peak in his most recent season with the Calgary Flames. Using his 6’2, 210 lb. frame, he charged up a 23-38-61 transcript for his best single-season totals since 2007-08.