NHL Teams That Are Resorting to Backup Plans After Start of Free Agency
The 2013 NHL offseason may turn out to be one of the most radical in recent memory due to compression. It's been shortened because of the lockout, giving general managers and owners less time than usual to draw up (and execute) an offseason plan of attack.
Toss in the added intrigue of the compliance buyout and a falling salary cap ceiling, and GMs have been forced to walk an awfully tricky tightrope this offseason—improving upon the last year's roster while spending less money.
This has been especially tough for teams that were very close to the cap ceiling prior to it sinking.
As is always the case during the offseason, there just aren't enough Plan A's to go around. Some teams must make the most of their situations, and some franchises are much better at adapting than others.
Plan A Was: To retain the services of Daniel Alfredsson at a cap-friendly number.
The story that the Ottawa Senators spun in the wake of Alfie's departure was a tale of a longtime veteran and captain bolting to try and capture a Stanley Cup.
Like all things, though, it came down to money. The Detroit Red Wings were all too happy to shell it out, stripping Ottawa of its longtime captain and most beloved player ever.
Plan B Is: Bobby Ryan.
Whether or not he was brought in to be the new face of the franchise is up for debate, but one thing is clear: Ryan will be taking Alfredsson's spot on the right wing of the top line. He'll also be charged with boosting Ottawa's mediocre power play.
How Backup Plan Will Work: From a numbers standpoint, the Senators will receive more production from Ryan than they would have received from Alfie. This situation runs much deeper than goals and assists, though—the fallout from losing a folk hero like Alfredsson to a new division rival might leave a bitter taste in the mouths of season ticket holders for years to come.
Are the Senators better today than they were on July 4, when it appeared likely Alfredsson would be returning? Probably. But was the price of burning him to save between $500,000 and a million bucks really worth it?
Detroit Red Wings
Plan A Was: Re-sign Valtteri Filppula to a deal worth south of $5 million.
The (now) ex-Red Wing's camp held firm on that number despite a year's worth of pressure from Ken Holland, both player and agent insisting Filppula would receive that kind of payday on the open market.
The Tampa Bay Lightning decided to give Filppula the deal he was looking for, inking the one-time 20-goal scorer to a five-year deal worth $25 million, as reported by Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times.
Plan B Is: Sign free agent Stephen Weiss.
The Detroit Red Wings gave the ex-Florida Panther the money Filppula was looking for. It was a strong statement from Holland and Co.: One 20-goal season isn't going to get you $5 million in this neck of the woods.
Four 20-goal seasons, on the other hand...
How Backup Plan Will Work: Weiss has a bit of an injury history, but the Red Wings have made themselves relevant across three separate decades by successfully implementing players who are looking to redirect and revive their careers.
He gives coach Mike Babcock a lot of options to work with when it comes to the top nine. Weiss is arguably more capable than Filppula at this point, and Detroit appears to have paid the right player in this instance.
Los Angeles Kings
Plan A Was: Re-sign Rob Scuderi.
Once the standout defensive defenseman became a free agent, he received a call from his old team in the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens never wanted to lose Scuderi, according to NBCSports.com, and Scuderi never wanted to leave Pittsburgh.
Los Angeles couldn't compete with the history (or the dollars), so Scuderi and his Stanley Cup magnet bolted town.
Plan A Is: Recruit from within and lean harder on Jake Muzzin.
It's likely that the Los Angeles Kings would have battled much harder for Scuderi's services had Muzzin not had a breakout season in 2013. While losing a hard-nosed guy like Scuderi can be tough, it's a lot easier when you have the pieces to replace him already available within the organization.
How Backup Plan Will Work: Toss Alec Martinez back into the equation in 2014, and L.A. finds itself in the enviable position of allowing a defenseman like Scuderi walk without stressing over it.
The Kings were able to trade Jack Johnson because of the emergence of Slava Voynov. Now they're able to get younger once again by promoting Muzzin and Martinez without having to overpay to keep Scuderi.
This is how you maintain status as a Cup contender, and kudos to the Kings for handling these tough choices so well.
Plan A Was: Retain Nathan Horton.
It was clear a week prior to the opening of free-agent frenzy that Horton wouldn't be back. On June 29, Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe broke the news that the big-bodied winger had informed the Boston Bruins he wouldn't be returning to the club.
That gave the B's enough time to cook up a backup plan. And they didn't have to dip very far back into the past to get it.
Plan B Is: Of all people, Jarome Iginla.
Iggy had spurned the Bruins to go to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. The words "left at the altar" were tossed around, and Boston was left feeling pretty jilted by Iginla's last-minute flip-flop.
The Bruins ultimately had the last laugh and gave Iginla a front row seat to witness just how good they are as they smashed his Penguins into the ice in the Eastern Conference Final. The message was received, and Iginla left Pittsburgh to sign with the Bruins as a free agent.
How Backup Plan Will Work: The short term looks good for the Bruins. Iginla is a more dangerous player than Horton is and has posted more points than Horton in every single season since 2003-04, when the new Columbus Blue Jacket made his NHL debut.
Iginla has also never played alongside a true No. 1 center—something he'll be able to do in Boston, likely skating on a line with David Krejci.
Horton has several more years worth of production in front of him, but for now, the Bruins actually managed to trade up here, especially considering how much money it would have taken to retain Horton's services.
New Jersey Devils
Plan A Was: Prevent David Clarkson from figuring out how large of a payday he'd be in for upon entering the free-agent market. That obviously isn't, and wasn't, possible, so the New Jersey Devils needed to opt for another big forward.
Plan B Is: Ryane Clowe.
Two years removed from his best offensive season and hot off the trail of a three-goal 2013 campaign, the Devils saw fit to pay Clowe nearly $5 million a season over the next five years. Which totally makes sense, because it's common for NHL players—especially those prone to playing in the dirty areas—to have their best offensive seasons after their 30th birthday.
Except not really.
How Backup Plan Will Work: This signing has future buyout written all over it. Clowe is rip, roaring and ready to "prove doubters wrong," but that doesn't mean he has the wherewithal to actually do it.
While New Jersey was wise in not overpaying Clarkson, the franchise seemingly lost it when it came to Clowe.
Plan A Was: Anyone besides Ilya Bryzgalov. The Philadelphia Flyers jettisoned Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to bring Bryz in for the 2011 season. They proceeded to give the goaltender one full year at the helm of the team before cutting him loose.
Plan B Is: The one-two super-combo of Steve Mason and Ray Emery.
It's fully possible that Emery will surprise and blow any and all expectations out of the water. If the job of putting the Flyers over the top and into the playoffs in the suddenly tougher Eastern Conference falls to Steve Mason, 2014 could be a decidedly long and difficult season for Philly's faithful.
How Backup Plan Will Work: The Flyers made zero moves to shore up things in their own end—sorry, Mark Streit and his career minus-53 rating isn't the answer when it comes to defense—and actively sought out the opportunity to actually downgrade in net.
With less steady goaltending and nothing resembling a defensive defenseman added on the blue line, it's tough to think of a scenario in which the Flyers make the playoffs in 2014.
Again, Emery could surprise. But let's not forget that he went 17-1 while playing for the Stanley Cup champion, Presidents' Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks. It wasn't like he made a name for himself by keeping a fledgling team in the playoff hunt.
Like, say, what Bryzgalov did with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Plan A: Buy out Mikhail Grabovski's mildly ridiculous contract and replace him with another center.
Things went pretty much according to plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who clearly wanted to toughen up a bit over the summer. In adding David Clarkson and Dave Bolland, they appear to have done just that.
Plan B: Acquire a tougher, less expensive option over Grabovski.
In seeking out Bolland, the Leafs managed to do what they sought out to do. Grabovski is a quick, skillful forward who has a hard time affecting hockey games when he isn't producing opportunities in the offensive zone.
Bolland, on the other hand, carries with him Stanley Cup pedigree and a grittiness that is evident regardless of what line he's playing on.
How Backup Plan Will Work: Despite what some management teams seem to believe, toughness in and of itself doesn't score goals and win championships. As such, it's hard to determine whether or not the Leafs are actually a better team after these moves.