NHL Free Agency 2014: Early Grades for Every Team

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistJuly 3, 2014

NHL Free Agency 2014: Early Grades for Every Team

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    After the opening days of free agency, how are the NHL's 30 general managers doing?

    In the following slideshow, featuring complete grades for every team, we attempt to answer that question. In grading the teams, we follow some simple rules:

    • Time frame: Only deals reached after the draft are included here. This means the some deals—like the Ryan Kesler trade—are excluded from consideration.
    • Inaction is more forgivable for a good team than a bad, with the exception of those teams that could be legitimate Cup contenders with just a little more help.
    • Bad contracts (as defined by us) are judged especially harshly if they are on a team with serious cap issues or given to a player who is clearly on the decline and not worth the money. 

    All signing data comes via either TSN.ca or CapGeek.com.

    Read on for our look at each team's significant gains and losses, the net shift in its fortunes and a letter grade for its body of work since Sunday. 

30. Florida Panthers

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    Significant gains: Jussi Jokinen, Al Montoya, Willie Mitchell, Dave Bolland, Shawn Thornton, Derek MacKenzie

     

    Significant losses: Tom Gilbert, Jesse Winchester, Scott Gomez, Ed Jovanovski, Matt Gilroy, Scott Clemmensen

     

    Net shift: The addition of Jussi Jokinen was a big win for Florida, but that victory was quickly undermined by a trio of lousy contracts: Thornton, Mitchell and especially Bolland, who will earn $5.5 million per year for the next five years as a third-line centre. Add in the loss of Tom Gilbert, and this was an ugly free-agent period for the Panthers, who spent a pile of money without making themselves appreciably better. 

     

    Grade: F

29. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Significant gains: Stephane Robidas, Matt Frattin

     

    Significant losses: Mason Raymond, Nikolai Kulemin, Dave Bolland, Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Paul Ranger, Troy Bodie, Jerred Smithson, Trevor Smith

     

    Net shift: The Leafs gave a three-year deal to a 37-year-old defenceman and gave Leo Komarov (he of nine career points) just under $12 million over four years to come back from Russia. The only good news is that Florida paid more for Bolland than Toronto was willing to match, preventing a third bad signing.

     

    Grade: F

28. Ottawa Senators

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    Significant gains: Alex Chiasson 

     

    Significant losses: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky

     

    Net shift: Free agency has not been kind to the Senators, who lose two-thirds of what was probably their most effective line down the stretch. Chiasson is a nice add but won't compensate now for the loss of Spezza, and a team that finished outside the postseason in 2014 looks primed for another slip. 

     

    Grade: D

27. Washington Capitals

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    Significant gains: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters

     

    Significant losses: Mikhail Grabovski, Dustin Penner 

     

    Net shift: The Caps paid through the nose for Niskanen, but that's a move which is at least defensible. The decision to blow $5.5 million per season for the next five years on Orpik (who turns 34 in September) is insane. The loss of Grabovski hurts too. 

     

    Grade: D+

26. Calgary Flames

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    Significant gains: Jonas Hiller, Mason Raymond, Deryk Engelland

     

    Significant losses: Mike Cammalleri, T.J. Galiardi, Paul Byron, Shane O'Brien, Kevin Westgarth, Chris Butler, Ben Street, Blair Jones

     

    Net shift: Jonas Hiller should be a pretty massive upgrade in net, but he has to make up for a lot of other subtractions. In addition to losing a slate of role players, Calgary replaced Cammalleri with Raymond, which is certainly a downgrade. The hilarity of the Deryk Engelland contract—nearly $3.0 million per season on a multiyear deal when he's just barely earned $3.0 million over his NHL career—drags the grade here down significantly. 

     

    Grade: D+

25. San Jose Sharks

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    Significant gains: John Scott

     

    Significant losses: Martin Havlat, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, John McCarthy, Bracken Kearns

     

    Net shift: Doug Wilson's going to be pretty upset once he manages to extricate himself from the dimly lit room where he's presumably tied up at present. The Sharks were a pretty good team last year, and they've gone out and landed...John Scott. 

     

    Grade: D+

24. New York Rangers

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    Significant gains: Dan Boyle, Tanner Glass, Mike Kostka

     

    Significant losses: Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot, Brad Richards, Brian Boyle, Raphael Diaz, Dan Carcillo

     

    Net shift: The Rangers have lost some significant pieces. The addition of Boyle doesn't fully offset the loss of Stralman, and in Pouliot, Richards and Boyle, New York loses three key supporting pieces from 2014's Stanley Cup Final run. Giving Glass ludicrous amounts of money on a three-year term doesn't come close to making up for that.

     

    Grade: D+

23. Detroit Red Wings

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    Significant gains: Kevin Porter

     

    Significant losses: Daniel Alfredsson, David Legwand, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson, Dan Cleary 

     

    Net shift: It's unclear when "re-sign Kyle Quincey at inflated dollars" became a reasonable free-agent approach for the Red Wings, but July 1 was not kind for the team. Aside from overpaying Quincey and retaining the erratic Jonas Gustavsson, the only move GM Ken Holland was able to manage was the addition of Kevin Porter on a two-way contract.

    The Red Wings had a lot of bright spots in a tough, injury-filled season, but management isn't improving the team. 

     

    Grade: D+

22. Colorado Avalanche

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    Significant gains: Jarome Iginla, Daniel Briere, Brad Stuart, Jesse Winchester, Ben Street, Zach Redmond 

     

    Significant losses: Paul Stastny, P-A Parenteau, Andre Benoit, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Cory Sarich, Brad Malone  

     

    Net shift: We've already considered the Avalanche in some detail, and suffice to say that the team is worse now than it was at the end of the season. Every significant addition it's made comes with a significant loss, and in most cases the gains are exceeded by the departures. 

     

    Grade: C-

21. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Significant gains: None 

     

    Significant losses: Nikita Nikitin, Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, Matt Frattin, Nick Schultz, Jack Skille

     

    Net shift: The Blue Jackets lost some depth to free agency, with Nikitin being the most significant departure but nothing they couldn't handle. The team signed no bad free-agent contracts, but it also signed no good ones. 

     

    Grade: C-

20. Carolina Hurricanes

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    Significant gains: Jay McClement, Brad Malone

     

    Significant losses: Manny Malhotra, Justin Peters, Joni Pitkanen, Mike Komisarek, Radek Dvorak

     

    Net shift: Retaining Ron Hainsey at a modest price point was a win for new general manager Ron Francis, and McClement should fill the role of the departed Malhotra, but otherwise this was pretty much status quo for a team that could have used some improvement. 

     

    Grade: C-

19. Arizona Coyotes

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    Significant gains: Sam Gagner, Joe Vitale, Devan Dubnyk

     

    Significant losses: Radim Vrbata, Mike Ribeiro, David Moss, Derek Morris, Thomas Greiss, B.J. Crombeen, Tim Kennedy, Jeff Halpern, Paul Bissonnette 

     

    Net shift: With due respect to the three players the Coyotes added—all decent bets by the club—that's a pretty massive exodus of talent leaving the club. The losses of Vrbata and Moss in particular are going to make an already offensively suspect Arizona team that much more impotent. 

     

    Grade: C-

18. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Significant gains: Nick Schultz, Blair Jones 

     

    Significant losses: Steve Downie, Adam Hall, Chris VandeVelde, Tye McGinn 

     

    Net shift: With all kinds of cap problems, the Flyers are in that awkward position where they really have little choice but to sit back and not do much during free agency. Neither of the guys the team landed is particularly inspiring. 

     

    Grade: C-

17. Boston Bruins

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    Significant gains: None 

     

    Significant losses: Jarome Iginla, Andrej Meszaros, Chad Johnson, Shawn Thornton, Corey Potter

     

    Net shift: For the most part the Bruins lost players they didn't care too much about—and in the case of Thornton performed addition by subtraction—but the loss of Iginla with no obvious replacement hurts. The nicest thing that can be said about Boston is that it didn't further exacerbate an already difficult cap situation. 

     

    Grade: C-

16. Anaheim Ducks

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    Significant gains: Clayton Stoner, Nate Thompson

     

    Significant losses: Teemu Selanne, Jonas Hiller, Daniel Winnik, Mathieu Perreault, Stephane Robidas, Saku Koivu, David Steckel 

     

    Net shift: Anaheim's biggest addition, Ryan Kesler, came at the draft, and so far free agency has mostly seen the team bleed depth players. Thompson came in trade a little later, and the Ducks' lone big free-agent addition was Stoner, who came with a four-year ticket at an average annual value of $3.25 million.

    As the Kesler trade falls outside the timeline we're considering, free agency has at best been a mediocre period for the Ducks.

     

    Grade: C

15. Buffalo Sabres

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    Significant gains: Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros, Cody McCormick 

     

    Significant losses: Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino, Henrik Tallinder, Zenon Konopka, Rostislav Klesla, Alexander Sulzer, Kevin Porter, John Scott 

     

    Net shift: The fresh offence is nice, but it is impossible to overlook the impact of losing Christian Ehrhoff, who was probably the best player on the team last season, and the additions of Gorges and Meszaros don't make up the difference.  Of course, it's also just possible the Sabres are more interested in Connor McDavid than making the playoffs, so it's hard to hammer them too severely. 

     

    Grade: C+

14. Los Angeles Kings

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    Significant gains: Adam Cracknell

     

    Significant losses: Willie Mitchell, Trevor Lewis, Colin Fraser

     

    Net shift: The Kings' big moves came before free agency opened, signing star winger Marian Gaborik to an incredibly cap-friendly deal and retaining No. 7 defenceman Matt Greene on a ludicrous four-year contract with an average annual value of $2.5 million.

    Those deals are all a week old, however; on July 1 the Kings lost nothing they couldn't afford to lose and added nothing of particular import. Status quo is an acceptable approach for a team that just won the Stanley Cup. 

     

    Grade: B-

13. Nashville Predators

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    Significant gains: Olli Jokinen

     

    Significant losses: Michael Del Zotto, Patrick Eaves

     

    Net shift: Nashville made its big move at the draft, adding James Neal from Pittsburgh in a trade that sent Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling the other way. The team had other needs, particularly at centre, but to date has only managed to add Olli Jokinen—though admittedly on a cap-friendly one-year, $2.5 million deal. 

     

    Grade: B-

12. Winnipeg Jets

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    Significant gains: Mathieu Perreault

     

    Significant losses: Devin Setoguchi, Al Montoya, Olli Jokinen, Matt Halischuk, Keaton Ellerby

     

    Net shift: Perreault is a nice little addition and should represent an upgrade on Jokinen at centre, while the Jets have internal options to replace most of the other departures. Kevin Cheveldayoff didn't have a stellar free-agent period (particularly once the multiyear deal for Chris Thorburn is counted), but overall things weren't bad.

     

    Grade: B-

11. St. Louis Blues

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    Significant gains: Paul Stastny

     

    Significant losses: Ryan Miller, Derek Roy, Steve Ott, Brenden Morrow, Adam Cracknell 

     

    Net shift: Stastny is a huge add, and in combination with the newly signed Jori Lehtera (who should have an immediate impact) gives the Blues some wonderful options down the middle. That St. Louis managed to get free agency's most coveted forward on only a four-year term is also in its favour.

    Goaltending is a little uncertain with the (understandable) departure of Miller. 

     

    Grade: B

10. Vancouver Canucks

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    Significant gains: Ryan Miller, Radim Vrbata

     

    Significant losses: Mike Santorelli, David Booth, Andrew Alberts

     

    Net shift: The Canucks made most of their changes via trade around the draft, shipping out and bringing in an astonishing number of players. They saved some powder for free agency, though, acquiring a new No. 1 goalie in Miller and an offensive winger in Vrbata. The price paid for Miller was high but should ensure quality netminding, while Vrbata was a nice get on a short term. 

     

    Grade: B

9. Edmonton Oilers

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    Significant gains: Mark Fayne, Teddy Purcell, Benoit Pouliot, Keith Aulie

     

    Significant losses: Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth, Anton Belov, Ryan Jones, Mark Fraser

     

    Net shift: The Edmonton Oilers threw a pile of money around on July 1, but the bottom line is that the team has been terrible forever, and it landed four solid NHL players while losing mostly chaff. General manager Craig MacTavish's approach involves some risk, but it's a far better plan for a team that needs help than landing nothing for fear of signing a bad contract. The grade is improved by the fact that the worst deal (Nikita Nikitin) came before the draft and thus falls outside our timeline.

     

    Grade: B+

8. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Significant gains: Christian Ehrhoff, Thomas Greiss, Blake Comeau, Steve Downie

     

    Significant losses: Matt Niskanen, Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Orpik, Lee Stempniak, Tomas Vokoun, Joe Vitale, Taylor Pyatt, Chuck Kobasew, Tanner Glass, Deryk Engelland, Chris Conner 

     

    Net shift: A needed purge of awful depth players was made over the summer, but some quality pieces went out the door too. Orpik was likely overrated in free agency, but the losses of Niskanen and Jokinen will certainly sting. The Pens made smart additions, though, with all four of the players they signed being good bets at the price. 

     

    Grade: B

7. New York Islanders

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    Significant gains: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Chad Johnson, T.J. Brennan, Jack Skille

     

    Significant losses: Evgeni Nabokov, Radek Martinek

     

    Net shift: Garth Snow made a big splash on the second day of free agency, overpaying a little for Kulemin but landing Grabovski for the long term in the process. That package deal gives the Islanders a terrifying forward core, the addition of Johnson helps an already improved goalie situation (thanks to the earlier addition of Jaroslav Halak) and Brennan is a potential sleeper signing who could surprise in a big way.

     

    Grade: B+

6. Minnesota Wild

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    Significant gains: Thomas Vanek 

     

    Significant losses: Matt Moulson, Ilya Bryzgalov, Clayton Stoner, Dany Heatley, Nate Prosser 

     

    Net shift: The Wild bled a little in free agency, and the departure of Stoner in particular hurts, but the addition of Vanek on a three-year deal at a reasonable $6.5 million cap hit makes up for that. Minnesota's ability to attract high-end unrestricted free agents remains intact. 

     

    Grade: B+

5. Montreal Canadiens

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    Significant gains: Tom Gilbert, P-A Parenteau, Manny Malhotra, Jiri Sekac 

     

    Significant losses: Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Thomas Vanek, Daniel Briere, Francis Bouillon, Douglas Murray, Ryan White, George Parros

     

    Net shift: The Habs' addition of Gilbert at a modest $2.8 million cap hit was one of the real steals of free agency; Gilbert played top-pairing minutes last year and adds a really nice second pair presence in Montreal. Additionally, stealing Parenteau away from Colorado and inking the undrafted Sekac to an entry-level deal and Malhotra to a cheap one-year contract were all shrewd moves. 

     

    Grade: A

4. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Significant gains: Brad Richards

     

    Significant losses: Michal Handzus, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Sheldon Brookbank, Nikolai Khabibulin

     

    Net shift: Getting Richards on a one-year, $2.0 million contract was a major coup for general manager Stan Bowman and more than makes up for the decidedly mediocre list of departing players. With the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane extensions coming up and a good roster already in place, Chicago's job was to try and add without sacrificing cap flexibility, and it did well. 

     

    Grade: A

3. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Significant gains: Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov

     

    Significant losses: Sami Salo, Tom Pyatt, Mike Kostka, Keith Aulie, Anders Lindback

     

    Net shift: Already having added Jason Garrison via trade, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman went out and locked up the excellent Stralman, giving Tampa Bay an outstanding defence corps to complement Ben Bishop in net and an up-and-coming group of forwards. 

    As the Ryan Callahan signing took place before the draft, it doesn't get consideration here, so there's nothing but good news to report. 

     

    Grade: A

2. New Jersey Devils

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    Significant gains: Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat, Scott Clemmensen 

     

    Significant losses: Mark Fayne, Martin Brodeur, Anton Volchenkov, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta 

     

    Net shift: New Jersey's defence takes a hit with the loss of Fayne, but both the goaltending and the forward group should be better now that the Brodeur crutch has been removed and with the addition of two excellent free agents. The Devils paid a pretty hefty price for Cammalleri but stole Havlat on a one-year tryout at $1.5 million, which is one of the best signings of the free-agent period. 

     

    Grade: A

1. Dallas Stars

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    Significant gains: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Patrick Eaves, Anders Lindback

     

    Significant losses: Alex Chiasson, Ray Whitney, Tim Thomas, Aaron Rome 

     

    Net shift: A year after bringing in Tyler Seguin, general manager Jim Nill was at it again. This time he acquired Spezza from Ottawa with only a minor subtraction from his roster and just for good measure added Spezza's linemate, Ales Hemsky, on a very reasonable three-year deal. This is as good as it gets for an NHL general manager.

     

    Grade: A+