Takin' a T/O With BT: Behind the Scenes Signings of NHL Free Agency 2009

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Takin' a T/O With BT: Behind the Scenes Signings of NHL Free Agency 2009
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Let's face it—July 1 is a big deal in Canada.

Who would've thought the NHL would be smart enough to place the day that free agent signings can commence on the same day as the birthday of a land mass who could provide each of it's inhabitants with 27 baseball fields worth of land.

It's true. I read it on the JumboTron at SkyDome (or for the "politically correct," the Roger's Centre).

Sidenote: The politically correct can bite me. It will always be the SkyDome.

But on the day Canada turned 142, the nation was treated to a wealth of things to talk about, a majority of them centering around hockey.

A drive home from Toronto that began with gloating over the Blue Jays' 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays to the two Rays' fans in the car quickly turned to shouts of surprise, anger and excitement as we began to catch up on the latest NHL free agent news.

Sidenote: My friend Will (one of the two Tampa fans—his other being his girlfriend) is the most obscure sports fan you'll ever meet: He's a Minnesota Timberwolves fan, a Minnesota Vikings fan, a Phoenix Coyotes fan (formerly the Jets) and a Tampa Bay Rays fan. He's a transplanted Winnipeg resident living in Southwestern Ontario, meaning the only one I actually understand is the Jets/Coyotes one.

Poor guy, he may be the most diverse sports fan who'll never witness any of his teams win a championship if they keep going 'close but no cigar.'

Of course, there was the news of the Sedins re-signing in Vancouver and Marian Hossa's monster deal with the Chicago Blackhawks to vault them firmly into the Western Conference stratosphere; but there were also the minor deals mentioned.

Deals featuring players who get lost in the shuffle of the big-money contracts and the long-term tie-ups; guys simply looking for one last shot at glory, a chance to keep playing the game they love while contributing to a team or even a chance at all.

These are the players and the contracts that can turn out to be the biggest steals on deadline day.

Don't get me wrong, Marian Hossa signing for 12 years and the New York Rangers paying Marian Gaborik $7.5 million is news, but we always knew Hossa could swaggle the long-term deal he wanted from someone. It just happened a year later than we thought.

We also knew that someone out there would be desperate enough to pay Gaborik a bunch of money to stay healthy for half a season (But who knows? He could surprise).

So while everyone pumps out articles regarding today's perceived big winners, let's look at who could pay dividends down the road when they slip out from the shadows of obscurity.

 

Dwayne Roloson—Goalie, New York Islanders—2 years, $5 million ($2.5 hit)

In going to the New York Islanders, Dwayne Roloson really did two things.

First of all, he helped prove to everyone that while Dany Heatley is still contemplating whether or not he wants to live there, Nikolai Khabibulin wants to live in Edmonton.

Or at least get paid by them.

The real question in this scenario, however, is how long Roloson will be "obscure." The 39-year old posted 28 wins and a 2.77 goals-against average for the Oilers this past season (and a .915 save percentage), but he goes to a market where there aren't so much whisperings of a goalie controversy as there are of a goalie complexion.

Rick DiPietro is far from a sure thing to play a full season. In fact, the man with the 15-year contract played only five games this past season after a slew of lower-body injuries, leaving the Isles with Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis to tend to the pipes.

Can Roloson be the saving grace of a team if DiPietro goes down again? Don't hold your breath. However, it's nice to see that the Islanders are preparing for such and instance should it happen.

 

Brian Boucher—Goalie, Philadelphia Flyers—2 years, $1.85 million ($925k hit)

It seems like goalies are always the most interesting signings.

Well, after the Ray Emery signing, it was widely acknowledged that the Flyers were going to need a backup plan in case Ray Emery pulled, well, a Ray Emery.

Brian Boucher is that backup plan.

In 22 games last season, Boucher was able to win 12 games while mainly filling in for an injured Evgeni Nabokov.

While he struggled in spot start duty, Boucher thrived early on in the season, winning nine of his first 12 games.

Despite a mid-season swoon, Boucher has developed into a dependable backup after some troubles in Chicago and Columbus, and is experienced with the Philadelphia way of things after spending five seasons split between the NHL and AHL in the City of Brotherly Love.

 

Mike Knuble—Right Wing, Washington Capitals—2 years, $5.6 million ($2.8 hit)

In the "New NHL," the signing of a 36-year old big-bodied winger to a two-year contract would raise more than a few eyebrows.

Not with Mike Knuble.

Since the 2002/03 season, Knuble hasn't scored fewer than 21 goals and he's posted totals of 34, 24, 29 and 27 over his four-year Flyers career.

While the Capitals may not necessarily need the added scoring punch of Knuble (they had five players with 20 goals or more and Tomas Fleischmann nearly made it six), he immediately fills the physical hole left by Donald Brashear and obviously brings better hands.

On a team with so many young, dynamic weapons, Knuble could slip to his familiar spot in front of an opponent's net fairly easily with the attention being paid elsewhere against the Caps.

 

Greg Zanon—Defenseman, Minnesota Wild—3 years, $5.8 million ($1.93 hit)

The Minnesota Wild are a defensive team. A very defensive team. Even if you've barely watched hockey, you've probably heard someone—either gloating or complaining—about the Wild's play in their own end, but their inability to score goals.

You can guess which aspect of their game they help in adding Greg Zanon.

Zanon led the Predators in plus/minus, short-handed time-on-ice and blocked shots last season, while finishing second in total hits.

If you wanted to look at the downside, then Zanon was on the ice for the third-most power play goals against (14th in the league in shorthanded time on ice) and was in the top thirty of total goals against.

But also consider that he's playing the amount of minutes that guys named Timonen, Niedermayer, Pronger and Mitchell see and they're all in the top-12 of shorthanded goals against.

Minnesota was not only able to improve their offense on the first day of free agency (in signing Martin Havlat) but they were also able to solidify their well-known strength.

 

Hal Gill—Defenseman, Montreal Canadiens—2 years, $4.5 million ($2.25 hit)

While Montreal did lose their big-name shutdown defender, they were able to plug the hole fairly quickly and effectively.

Although Gill is seven years older than Mike Komisarek, he's three inches taller, ten pounds heavier and nearly 500 games more experienced than the former Hab.

While Gill isn't the fleetest-a-foot out there on the ice, he is big and mean and was able to play a strong and effective 20 minutes a game for the Penguins en route to their Stanley Cup championship.

Pittsburgh will miss him and Carey Price will thank his lucky stars that the Habs filled in the front-of-the-net presence with Komisarek walking.


Craig Anderson—Goalie, Colorado Avalanche—2 years, $3.6 million ($1.8 hit)

Since leaving the windy streets of Chicago for the sandy, sunny beaches of Florida, former-Panther Craig Anderson has become a fairly recognizable name on the benches behind Tomas Vokoun.

Now he'll have the opportunity to steal starts from Peter Budaj in the Mile High City.

While the Andrew Raycroft experiment failed, the Colorado Avalanche will turn to a man who caused more than a few murmurs over the past two years in Florida.

Then again, 23 wins in 48 games (and only 13 regulation losses) was certainly a key factor in getting those lips moving.

While the Panthers were hard-pressed to split time between their two tenders, Anderson proved that he could get hot at the right time (at one point winning five of six games). Anderson will have a chance to prove that he can be proactive in an expanded role in the NHL.

Perhaps he's even more of a late-bloomer than we thought.


Matt Walker—Defense, Tampa Bay Lightning—4 years, $6.8 million ($1.7 hit)

While the Tampa Bay Lightning spent all of last year's offseason dropping cash on offensive threats, this year seems to be a little bit different.

At the draft, the Lightning were able to hold on to the number two overall pick and select Victor Hedman, immediately making them better defensively.

Today, after free agency opened, the Bolts were able to add Swede Mattias Ohlund to mentor the young Hedman, and former-Chicago defenseman Matt Walker.

While Walker isn't a stud defender by any means, he gives the Lightning depth on the back end—something you sorely need when Richard Petiot is lighting it up for you to finish off the regular season.

Walker will offer minimal offense to Tampa Bay's attack, but an expanded role could help him bump up those point totals and some added confidence couldn't hurt.

 

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile or email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. You can also check out his previous work in his archives.

 

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