Winners and Losers Early in the 2013 NHL Free-Agency Period

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2013

Winners and Losers Early in the 2013 NHL Free-Agency Period

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    Despite a lengthy lockout that involved NHL owners trying to find ways to reduce player salaries and control costs, these men have opened up their checkbooks in a major way as the 2013 NHL free-agency period officially began on Friday.

    According to TSN, there were 63 contracts signed worth a total of $411.9 million on the first day of free agency, which beat the previous record of $389 million set on July 1, 2009.

    While some general managers have spent their owners' money to make important and smart upgrades, others have overpaid to sign free agents and failed to use salary-cap space wisely. There have also been a few teams that haven't made any signings, while division rivals have been busy strengthening their rosters for the 2013-14 season.

    Let's look at the biggest winners and losers early in free agency.

Winners: Edmonton Oilers

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    Notable Deals

    Player Position Term Salary Cap Hit Source
    Andrew Ference Defense 4 years $3.25 million TSN's Bob McKenzie
    Boyd Gordon Center 3 years $3 million
    TSN's Bob McKenzie
    Jason LaBarbera
    Goalie 1 year $1 million TSN's Bob McKenzie

    The Oilers did very well signing Ference, who adds some much-needed defensive skill, penalty killing and championship experience to a young team. He's also a high-character guy who logs a lot of minutes against the opposing team's best scorers.

    Gordon will give Edmonton additional center depth, and will take and win lots of important faceoffs, an area in which the Oilers finished 30th last season. LaBarbera is a veteran goalie with plenty of experience in a backup role and will complement starter Devan Dubnyk very well.

    The Oilers improved their blue line with Ference, added toughness and bottom-six skill with Gordon, and strengthened their goaltending all on the first day of free agency. It was an impressive showing for general manager Craig MacTavish.

Losers: Winnipeg Jets

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    Notable Deals

    None

     

    The Winnipeg Jets were one of the few teams that made zero free-agent signings on Friday.

    Despite having 13 players (eight UFAs, five RFAs) with expired contracts, the Jets were unable to reach an agreement with any of them.

    Top-four defenseman Zach Bogosian is the most notable free agent on the team, and he is permitted to sign an offer sheet with another club now that free agency has officially begun.

    Even if Winnipeg is able to re-sign most of its own free agents, it's going to be hard for this team to improve, as most of the best UFAs on the market have already signed with new teams.

Winners: Detroit Red Wings

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    Notable Deals

    Player Position Term Salary Cap Hit Source
    Stephen Weiss Center 5 years
    $4.9 million TSN's Bob McKenzie
    Daniel Alfredsson Wing 1 year $5.5 million TSN's Darren Dreger

    The Detroit Red Wings bolstered their depth down the middle with the addition of Stephen Weiss, who could play a second- or third-line role for head coach Mike Babcock.

    When healthy, the 30-year-old forward is capable of scoring 20 goals per season and making an impact on the power play with his playmaking skills. He's also more consistent than center Valtteri Filppula, who left the Red Wings to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    General manager Ken Holland also added a veteran winger by signing longtime Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who now gets to play with Swedish Olympic squad teammate Henrik Zetterberg. Alfredsson provides the Red Wings with strong leadership, valuable depth scoring on the wings and the ability to excel in the team's puck-possession style of hockey.

    Holland was able to improve his team's offense, which ranked 19th in goals scored last year, without making any risky signings.

Losers: Washington Capitals

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    Notable Deals

    None

     

    The Washington Capitals chose not to re-sign second-line center Mike Ribeiro, and since they did not make any signings on Friday, most of the top centers, including Stephen Weiss, Tyler Bozak, Valtteri Filppula, Daniel Briere and Vincent Lecavalier, are already off the market.

    General manager George McPhee also needs to add some defensive skill, experience and toughness to his blue line, which will be a difficult challenge given the lack of talent and depth among defensemen in this free-agent class.

    Re-signing RFAs Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson will also be top priorities for McPhee, but he has just $8,465,705 of cap space to work with.

    The Capitals will not make the playoffs next season from a tougher division if they don't add a veteran defenseman and a top-six center from outside the organization.

Winners: New York Islanders

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    Notable Deals

    Player Position Term Salary Cap Hit Source
    Travis Hamonic
    Defense 7 years $27 million Aaron Ward of TSN
    Pierre-Marc Bouchard
    Wing 1 year
    $2 million
    Arthur Staple of Newsday
    Evgeni Nabokov Goalie 1 year
    $3.25 million 
    Arthur Staple of Newsday

    The New York Islanders locked up a key part of their blue line on Friday by reaching a long-term agreement with RFA defenseman Travis Hamonic. He plays a physical game, blocks shots, logs a lot of minutes and has improving offensive skills. He's already a top-four blueliner, and his team-friendly cap hit will greatly benefit the Islanders in the last half of the contract.

    General manager Garth Snow also added some much-needed depth with the signing of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who will likely fill a role on the third line. He's capable of tallying 20 to 35 points for the Isles on the wing in the 2013-14 season.

    Snow also re-signed starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who was arguably the biggest reason why New York made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007.

    The Islanders kept two important free agents and made strong depth signings without overpaying, making them one of the winners of free agency thus far.

Losers: St. Louis Blues

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    Notable Deals

    None

     

    While the St. Louis Blues didn't make any notable signings on Friday, their division rivals—the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars—all improved over the last two days.

    According to Lou Korac of NHL.com, the Blues did try to sign UFA centers Stephen Weiss and Valtteri Filppula. "We had good conversations [with] both players. I thought we put in a very good presentation," said Blues manager Doug Armstrong on Friday (per Korac).

    After failing to sign these two players, there aren't many top-six centers left on the market. This is bad news for a team without much offensive skill down the middle and an offense that ranked 17th in goals scored last season. Making any significant improvements will likely cost the Blues quality assets in the trade market because the amount of top-tier UFAs still unsigned is small.

    The next challenge for the Blues, who have been close to the cap floor over the last few seasons, is to re-sign RFA defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and forward Chris Stewart.

    Failing to sign Pietrangelo, who will likely reach the level of a superstar next season, by Friday has left the team vulnerable to an offer sheet. Given the fact that St. Louis has only $11,850,000 in cap space, re-signing Pietrangelo and Stewart may be difficult.

Losers: Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Notable Deals

    Player Position Term Salary Cap Hit Source
    Valtteri Filppula Center 5 years
    $5 million TSN's Pierre LeBrun

    The Tampa Bay Lightning found a replacement for Vincent Lacavalier by signing Detroit Red Wings center Valtteri Filppula to a five-year deal.

    General manager Steve Yzerman overpaid for the 28-year-old forward, who despite having high-end skill is very inconsistent and not a major force on the power play.

    In 41 games last year, Filppula tallied only 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) and has put up more than 40 points in just one of his seven NHL seasons. That's not the production of a player who deserves to make $5 million annually.

    In addition to the Filppula deal, Tampa Bay also failed to improve a blue line that lacks a shut-down presence and championship experience. The Lightning finished 26th in GAA and 19th in penalty killing during the 2013 season, but did not sign a defensive defenseman on the first day of free agency.

    With no top-pairing defensemen left on the free-agent market, the Lightning will need to part with valuable trade assets to acquire the star blueliner they sorely lack.

Winners: Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Notable Deals

    Player Position Term Salary Cap Hit Source
    Rob Scuderi Defense 3 years
    $3.37 million TSN's Bob McKenzie
    Craig Adams
    Wing 2 years $700,000
    TSN's Aaron Ward

    The Penguins had to acquire a defensive defenseman this offseason after the team's horrible performance in its own end against the Boston Bruins during the Eastern Conference Final. Pittsburgh addressed this weakness by signing a key piece of its 2009 Stanley Cup-winning team, Rob Scuderi.

    The 34-year-old defenseman will provide some much-needed grit, shot-blocking and penalty killing to the Penguins' blue line, while also giving offensive defenseman Kris Letang a quality partner.

    Re-signing Craig Adams helps maintain the Penguins' impressive depth. The veteran forward provides the team with strong leadership, physical play and faceoff skill.

    The Penguins didn't have a ton of salary-cap space to work with on Friday, but they were still able to plug a major hole by acquiring Scuderi.

Losers: Buffalo Sabres

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    Notable Deals

    None

     

    The Buffalo Sabres were silent on Friday, while their division rivals—the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings—all made significant moves over the last two days to improve their rosters.

    Special teams were a problem last year for the Sabres (they ranked 29th in power-play success and 26th in penalty killing), but general manager Darcy Regier made no upgrades on Friday to address this weakness.

    RFA center Cody Hodgson is still unsigned and has the option of signing an offer sheet with a rival club. Buffalo would be wise to re-sign him as soon as possible given his importance to the team's current and future success as a young forward with impressive talent and potential.

    Unless the Sabres can sign a second-tier forward over the next few days, such as Daniel Cleary, Damien Brunner, Mason Raymond or Dustin Penner, they will have failed to improve a weak offense via free agency and will likely be forced to rely on young players and prospects to win games consistently next season.

Winners: Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Notable Deals

    Player Position Term Salary Cap Hit Source
    David Clarkson Wing 7 years $5.25 million TSN's Darren Dreger
    Tyler Bozak Center 5 years $4.2 million TSN's Pierre LeBrun
    Jonathan Bernier Goalie 2 years  $2.9 million
    Sportsnet's John Shannon

    David Clarkson adds some much-needed size, skill and physicality to the Leafs lineup. He's a perfect fit in head coach Randy Carlyle's system with his ability to win physical battles and score the dirty goals. He's an ideal fit alongside newly acquired center Dave Bolland and will likely score 20 to 30 goals per season over the duration of his new contract.

    The Leafs also re-signed top line center Tyler Bozak without overpaying. He has proven to be a nice fit alongside star wingers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, while also excelling on faceoffs.

    General manager Dave Nonis also signed Jonathan Bernier, obtained from the L.A. Kings last month, who has star potential and is likely to challenge James Reimer for the starting job. Toronto now has two excellent goaltenders signed to team-friendly deals.

    The Leafs needed to get tougher, maintain their goaltending depth and re-sign key free agents on Friday, and for the most part, they accomplished these goals.

     

    Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.