Power Ranking the Best and Worst Free-Agent Signings

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2013

Power Ranking the Best and Worst Free-Agent Signings

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    We are not afraid to make judgments on this year's class of free agents—even though the season is less than two weeks old.

    These are clearly early-season returns and things could change, but in this lockout-shortened season, a good start is quite important.

    Here's a look at 11 of the most high-profile free agents who changed teams during the offseason.

    We rank them from worst to first—knowing full well that these standings could change dramatically in the next couple of weeks.

11. Jiri Hudler, Calgary

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    The Flames signed Jiri Hudler to a four-year, $16 million contract in the offseason.

    The hope was that the former Detroit Red Wing would give the Flames a steady, scoring presence on their second line and that he would help elevate this team to playoff-contender status.

    It seemed an unlikely scenario at best, because the Flames don't appear to have the kind of roster that could earn anything more than a close-but-no-cigar finish when it came to earning a spot in the postseason.

    Hudler has had almost no impact so far. That's not his fault, as he has has only been able to play one game. He has been on bereavement leave from the team (source: NBC Sports) following the death of his father.

    Hudler will need time to get back up to speed following his return, but it doesn't seem like this signing will pay off for the Flames.

10. Ryan Suter, Minnesota

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    Ryan Suter was one of the two major signings by the Minnesota Wild in the offseason.

    Suter signed a 13-year, $98 million deal, leaving the Nashville Predators to take his spot on the Minnesota blue line.

    Suter is a lot more than a defensive defenseman. He has a booming shot and he should be able to contribute on both ends.

    Suter is off to a rather slow start with his new team. In his first seven games, Suter has yet to find the back of the net. He has four assists, but he has a minus-5 rating so far.

    Suter certainly has plenty of time to turn things around, but so far the Wild's investment in the defenseman has not been a good one.

9. Jason Garrison, Vancouver

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    Jason Garrison was a big pickup for the Canucks when he signed a six-year, $27.6 million contract with them after playing a key role with the Florida Panthers last year.

    Garrison was a vital offensive factor for the Panthers, scoring 16 goals and 17 assists last year. The Canucks signed him believing he would play a key role on the offensive side.

    Garrison scored the first goal of the game in the Canucks' 3-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche Jan. 30.

    That's the only point he has scored in the Canucks' first seven games of the season. That's not what the Canucks have been expecting.

    Perhaps the goal against the Avs will trigger a hot streak, but so far he has not given the Canucks much value for their money.

8. Ray Whitney, Dallas

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    Ray Whitney played a key role in the Phoenix Coyotes' run to the Western Conference Finals last year.

    The Dallas Stars took notice and signed the 40-year-old Whitney to a two-year, $9 million contract.

    The Stars are tired of missing the playoffs and they are hoping that Whitney can get them back into the postseason. He scored 24 goals and 53 assists last year, showing he is still a productive scorer.

    Whitney is off to a so-so start so far with the Stars, having scored two goals and three assists in his first seven games. One promising sign is that Whitney is scoring on 25 percent of his shots. The Stars would like to see him shoot more to take advantage of his ability.

7. Jaromir Jagr, Dallas

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    Jaromir Jagr is one of the great stars in the history of the game.

    He has scored 667 goals and 1,658 points in his NHL career, and while he is nearing the end now that he has reached the age of 40, Jagr signed a one-year, $4.55 million contract with the Dallas Stars in the offseason.

    The Stars are looking for leadership and scoring from Jagr. They know that he can't give them explosive performances on an every-night basis any more, but they are hoping he can score a few highlight-film goals that helps the Stars become a playoff team once again.

    Through six games, Jagr has scored two goals and has three assists. He is struggling with a strained groin that caused him to miss one game. He has scored one point in his last five games.

6. Sheldon Souray, Anaheim

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    Defenseman Sheldon Souray signed a three-year, $11 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks.

    Souray, a powerful man with a big shot, missed the majority of the 2009-10 season with head and hand injuries. He came back last year to play 64 games with the Dallas Stars. He scored six goals and 15 assists with the Stars and he finished plus-11 on the season.

    Souray has scored one goal and he added two assists with the Ducks. He is also plus-three on the season. Souray has not scored a point in his last three games as of Jan. 31.

5. Brandon Prust, Montreal

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    When the Montreal Canadiens signed Brandon Prust to a free-agent contract last summer, they did not bring him in to lead the team in scoring or become a superstar.

    However, Prust has plenty of grit, toughness and had always displayed a solid work ethic while playing for the Calgary Flames and the New York Rangers.

    Prust signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Canadiens, who are off to a 4-2-0 start. Prust has scored a goal, and added an assist and is plus-three. He also has 41 penalty minutes.

    Head coach Michel Therrien knows that Prust will do any job that is asked of him, and that kind of desire and effort may be rubbing off on his teammates.

4. Matt Carle, Tampa Bay

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning was unhappy with their defensive performance last year.

    One of the moves they made to strengthen the unit was to sign Matt Carle away from the Philadelphia Flyers. Carle put his signature on a six-year, $33 million contract during the offseason.

    The 28-year-old Carle scored four goals and 34 points for the Flyers last year. Through his first six games with the Lightning, Carle has scored a goal and he has two assists. He has been steady on the defensive end.

3. Sami Salo, Tampa Bay

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    Sami Salo had been a solid presence on the blue line for the Vancouver Canucks for the past seven years.

    Salo signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    The 38-year-old Salo positions himself well and plays with excellent vision. He scored nine goals and added 16 assists last year. Salo was plus-seven for the Canucks.

    Salo is off to a hot start with the Lightning. He has not scored a goal, but he has five assists and is already plus-10 on the season.

    Salo's play is a big reason why the Lightning is off to a 5-1-0 start.

2. Daniel Winnik, Anaheim

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    When Daniel Winnik signed a two-year, $3.6 million contract to play for the Anaheim Ducks last July, most hockey fans barely paid attention.

    Winnik had scored eight goals last year while playing for the Colorado Avalanche and the San Jose Sharks and he had never scored more than 11 goals and 26 points in any season.

    But Winnik appears to be rewriting his hockey script this year with the Ducks. In his first five games in Anaheim, Winnik has five goals and two assists. He also has a plus-seven rating.

    While it's only five games, Winnik leads the team in goals and is tied with Saku Koivu for the team lead in seven points. His hot start has helped the Ducks begin the season with a 3-1-1 record.

1. Zach Parise, Minnesota

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    Zach Parise was the NHL's prized free agent available last summer.

    He signed a 13-year, $98 million deal to leave the New Jersey Devils and join the Minnesota Wild.

    Parise wanted to come back to his home state and lead a team that has struggled in recent years.

    Becoming a highly paid free agent may be good for the bank account, but it brings a great deal of pressure.

    So far, that pressure is not bothering Parise at all. He has scored five goals and four assists in his first seven games with the Wild.

    Parise is one of the hardest working and most productive players in the league. Minnesota has gotten off to a 4-2-1 start, and Parise's play is a big reason for their sharp play.