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Grades for Biggest Signings Early in 2013 NHL Free Agency

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2013

Grades for Biggest Signings Early in 2013 NHL Free Agency

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    The first wave of free-agent signings in the NHL this weekend didn't look like teams were under new financial constraints as they prepare for the 2013-14 season.

    The salary cap has been reduced to $64.3 million per team, so it wouldn't seem likely that a team would give a forward who scored three goals a five-year, $24.25 million contract, but that's just what the New Jersey Devils did when they signed Ryane Clowe.

    The Clowe signing shows that some teams are thinking with their heart first and wallet second.

    Here, we grade the biggest signings of the first weekend of free agency.

Ray Emery, Philadelphia Flyers, Grade: A-

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    The Philadelphia Flyers appear to have improved their goaltending situation quite a bit with the signing of Ray Emery.

    The Flyers inked Emery to a reasonable one-year, $1.65 million contract after he had a brilliant season as the backup goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks. Emery had a 17-1-0 record, a 1.94 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He had been slowed by a hip injury earlier in his career, but he rebounded spectacularly for the Blackhawks.

    The move came on the heels of the Flyers severing ties with former goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Emery will share goaltending duties with Steve Mason, and if he can come close to repeating what he did last year, he should emerge as the starter.

    This was a sharp signing by Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.

Daniel Alfredsson, Detroit Red Wings, Grade: B+

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    This was perhaps the most shocking signing of the weekend, as Daniel Alfredsson left the Ottawa Senators after 17 years of service.

    It was expected that Alfredsson, 40, would play out the remainder of his career with the Sens, but he made the choice to leave when the Red Wings came through with a one-year, $5.5 million contract.

    Alfredsson said the reason he left Ottawa was for a chance to win the Stanley Cup before he retired. "It pretty much came down to a selfish decision in terms of I have not won a Stanley Cup, a big priority for me," Alfredsson said in a conference call after the signing.

    Alfredsson brings speed and a dangerous shot. Instead of having to carry the Senators, he will have a chance to play a role with a strong Detroit team as he attempts to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career.

Nathan Horton, Columbus Blue Jackets, Grade: C+

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    This was one of the strangest moves of the weekend. While Nathan Horton made it known a few days after the Boston Bruins' season ended following their defeat in the Stanley Cup Finals that he was not going to return to Boston, signing with Columbus does not seem to make sense.

    His explanation was that he wanted a fresh start. That "fresh start" may mean missing out on the playoffs, since the Blue Jackets have made it just once in their history.

    Horton, an outstanding clutch scorer during his three-year run with the Bruins, signed a seven-year, $37.1 million deal. That seems exorbitant for a player who scored 30 regular-season goals the last two seasons.

    Horton is scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery and will need four to six months to recover and rehab the joint.

Stephen Weiss, Detroit Red Wings, Grade: B

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    The Detroit Red Wings want to increase their versatility as they move to the Eastern Conference, and general manager Ken Holland went after Stephen Weiss from the Panthers to improve the team's second-line scoring.

    Weiss, injured much of the 2013 season, signed a five-year, $24.5 million contract with the Red Wings. He had to carry the load with Florida, but he won't have to do the heavy lifting in Detroit. That should make life much easier for him.

    As long as Weiss is healthy—he had wrist surgery earlier this year—he should be a productive player for the Wings.

Ryane Clowe, New Jersey Devils, C-

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    There's little doubt that Ryane Clowe is a hard-working forward who plays the kind of heavy game that New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Pete DeBoer admire. Still, there's every reason to question the five-year, $24.25 million deal.

    Clowe scored three goals after coming over to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline from the San Jose Sharks. He had not scored any goals with the Sharks.

    Clowe has scored 20 or more goals twice in his career. The Devils appear to have made a strong financial commitment to a player who struggles to score.

Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning, Grade: B

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning are not concerned about their ability to put the puck in the net. Even though they bought out Vincent Lecavalier, they still have Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and explosive first-round draft pick Jonathan Drouin.

    The Lightning need defensive help and forwards who play a 200-foot game. That's why they signed Valtteri Filppula away from the Detroit Red Wings to a five-year, $25 million contact.

    That's clearly a sizable deal, especially when you consider Filppula's nine goals and eight assists last season. He has scored 20 or more goals just once in his career.

    However, he's an outstanding defensive player who can shut down the opponent's best center. He concentrates on being in the proper defensive position and not letting up easy shots or passes. Filppula is exactly the type of player the Lightning have needed for the last two seasons.

Mike Ribeiro, Phoenix Coyotes, Grade: A-

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    Mike Ribeiro was one of the key players in the Washington Capitals' climb up the ladder from last place to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

    Ribeiro scored 49 points in 48 games and gave the Capitals a consistent scoring option besides Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. It was quite surprising that the Capitals did not ink Ribeiro to a long-term deal.

    However, the Phoenix Coyotes did not hesitate to sign Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million deal. Ribeiro, one of the more clever playmakers in the NHL, said he was looking forward to playing for Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett.

Michael Ryder, New Jersey Devils, Grade: A

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    The New Jersey Devils appeared to make one of the best signings so far in free agency when they signed former Canadien Michael Ryder to a two-year, $7 million deal.

    Ryder, 33, has played with the Canadiens, the Boston Bruins and the Dallas Stars. In the 2011-12 season, he scored a career-high 35 goals with the Stars.

    Ryder is a sniper who can score big goals. He was instrumental in the Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup run and he can pick the corner from long distance. Lamoriello picked up a big-time scorer at what appears to be a bargain price.

Jarome Iginla, Boston Bruins, Grade: B+

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    After being rebuffed by Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline, the Bruins finally got their man during free agency.

    The Bruins needed a right wing since Nathan Horton left through free agency, and they decided not to bring back veteran Jaromir Jagr. Iginla, 36, signed a one-year, $6 million deal and should play right wing for the Bruins on a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic.

    Iginla may have slowed down a bit, but he scored 14 goals and 19 assists in 44 games last season. He will go to the front of the net and pay the price to score goals himself or set up his teammates.

Derek Roy, St. Louis Blues, Grade: C+

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    Derek Roy has been a highly skilled player throughout his NHL career. However, he has not always played with the requisite aggressiveness that would allow him to take advantage of his talent.

    The Buffalo Sabres got tired of his up-and-down play and traded him to Dallas prior to last season, and the Stars moved him to the Vancouver Canucks at the trade deadline.

    Roy has signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the St. Louis Blues. His lack of consistency most likely prevented him from getting a better deal, but if he has a big year in St. Louis, a long-term deal could be coming his way next year.

Vincent Lecavalier, Philadelphia Flyers, Grade: A-

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    When the Tampa Bay Lightning made the decision to buy out Vincent Lecavalier, it gave the other 29 NHL teams a chance to pick up a potential star without having to give up a player.

    Lecavalier had plenty of suitors, but it was the Philadelphia Flyers who came through with a five-year, $22.5 million deal. Lecavalier, 33, should give the Flyers steady offensive production and will not skimp on his defensive responsibilities.

    Lecavalier is probably not a threat to break the 35-goal mark any longer, but he has scored 20 goals or more in 12 straight full seasons. He scored 10 goals and 22 assists in the shortened season for the Lightning.

David Clarkson, Toronto Maple Leafs, Grade: A-

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    While the Toronto Maple Leafs have paid a stiff price to sign former Devils winger David Clarkson, he appears to be the kind of player Randy Carlyle's team needs if it is going to avoid any future letdowns like it had in the third period and overtime of the seventh game against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.

    Clarkson, 29, signed a seven-year, $37.1 million contract with the Maple Leafs. He is a strong power forward who will go to the front of the net and pay the price to score tough goals. He scored a career-high 30 goals in 2011-12 and followed up with 15 in the truncated 2013 season for the Devils.

    Clarkson will use his strength to establish position down low, and he will also bang bodies in the defensive zone. Toronto general manager Dave Nonis is counting on Clarkson to play with the same aggressiveness he demonstrated in New Jersey.

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