NHL Free Agency 2014: Teams That Are Already Resorting to Their Backup Plan

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJuly 4, 2014

NHL Free Agency 2014: Teams That Are Already Resorting to Their Backup Plan

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    After taking some time to analyze what went right and wrong during the 2013-14 season, the period surrounding the opening of the NHL's July 1 free-agency window offers the best opportunity of the year for general managers to make moves to try to improve their clubs' fortunes.

    With 30 teams all striving to reach the same goal—winning the Stanley Cup—the best-laid plans don't always unfold as expected.

    Here's a look at six teams that have made the most significant adjustments to their game plans so far this summer. Some are undoing old damage, some have needed to reset their targets and some appear to be reconsidering their strategies for change heading into next season.

    In this slideshow, player movement includes offseason trades and other roster moves as well as free-agent signings, since they're all interconnected. Each team's list of "Players Lost" identifies players that have definitively moved on to new homes; unrestricted free agents still on the market are not included.

Arizona Coyotes

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    Players Lost: Mike Ribeiro (C), Radim Vrbata (RW), Thomas Greiss (G)

    Players Added: Sam Gagner (C), Joe Vitale (C), Devan Dubnyk (G), Andrew Campbell (D), Mike McKenna (G) 

    Players Retained: none


    What's the Problem?

    The Arizona Coyotes went into damage-control mode last week when they bought out center Mike Ribeiro due to what general manager Don Maloney called "some real behavioural issues", per the Associated Press (via CBC Sports).

    After signing Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million deal just last season, the Coyotes thought they were set down the middle for awhile. Ribeiro delivered a respectable 47 points during his year in the desert, but his output was well below his career average.

    In a savvy move before the opening of free agency, Maloney helped fill the void when he ended up on the receiving end of a three-team transaction. Center Sam Gagner moved from the Edmonton Oilers to the Tampa Bay Lightning before landing in Arizona.

    On July 1, Maloney also added free-agent center Joe Vitale to give the Coyotes some additional depth down the middle.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Players Lost: David Legwand (C)

    Players Added: Kevin Porter (LW)

    Players Retained: Kyle Quincey (D), Jonas Gustavsson (G)


    What's the Problem? 

    The Red Wings tried hard to acquire a right-shooting defenseman to fill the void that's existed since Brian Rafalski retired after the 2010-11 season. As Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports, offers to Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle, Anton Stralman and Stephane Robidas were all rejected.

    As a stop-gap measure, the Wings re-signed their own unrestricted defenseman, Kyle Quincey, to a new two-year deal with a $500,00 per-season raise, despite the fact that he's a left-handed shot. 

    The Red Wings are reeling from their sudden inability to attract big-name free agents after successfully signing top targets like Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss as recently as last season. As St. James says, "While Quincey buys the Wings some breathing room, a pressing question is figuring out why players are rejecting what used to be a premier landing spot."

Nashville Predators

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    Players Lost: Patrick Eaves (RW), Patric Hornqvist (C), Nick Spaling (LW) 

    Players Added: Olli Jokinen (C), James Neal (LW)

    Players Retained: Carter Hutton (G)


    What's the Problem?

    After asking for a trade away from the Ottawa Senators, center Jason Spezza flexed his no-trade clause on draft day, vetoing a deal that would have sent him to the Nashville Predators. 

    Because the Preds lost long-time pivot David Legwand at the 2014 trade deadline, "We need a top center, there’s no question about that," said Nashville general manager David Poile, per Sporting News' Greg Garno. But Spezza would not be their man.

    For Nashville, the backup plan was a different trade, then a free-agent signing. Poile acquired power forward James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for two players, then signed veteran center Olli Jokinen to a one-year deal, $2.5 million deal. Jokinen's not on Spezza's level, but he fills the hole. The Neal acquisition has the potential to make some noise in Music City. 

New York Islanders

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    Players Lost: Dan Boyle (D), Evgeni Nabokov (G)

    Players Added: Mikhail Grabovski (C), Nikolai Kulemin (RW), Chad Johnson (G), Cory Conacher (C), T.J. Brennan (D), David Leggio (G), Jack Skille (RW)

    Players Retained: Jaroslav Halak (G)


    What's the Problem?

    The New York Islanders have come out of the free-agency period with some high-profile new players. General manager Garth Snow signed goaltender Jaroslav Halak after acquiring his rights from the Washington Capitals earlier in the spring. He also added a pair of talented but enigmatic Russian forwards, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.

    But some big fish got away, forcing Snow to resort to his backup plan.

    He acquired the negotiating rights to Dan Boyle but couldn't complete a deal, nor could he lure back Thomas Vanek after bringing him in at a high price last season. According to Brett Cyrgalis of the New York PostBoyle and Vanek each accepted less money than Snow was offering to join the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild, respectively. Cyrgalis also wrote that an offer to Brad Richards was rejected.

    The Islanders can offer good-sized contracts to help get themselves to the salary-cap floor, but they're still a long way from being considered a desirable destination.

San Jose Sharks

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    Players Lost: Martin Havlat (RW), John McCarthy (LW), Dan Boyle (D), Brad Stuart (D)

    Players Added: John Scott (LW), Taylor Fedun (D)

    Players Retained: Alex Stalock (G), Mike Brown (RW)


    What's the Problem?

    Since their crushing first-round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, general manager Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks has been promising to strip down his team and rebuild anew. At the draft, Arpon Basu of NHL.com quoted Wilson as saying that his Sharks were "co-workers, not teammates," and that's what he'd be looking to address.

    The Sharks finished fifth overall in the NHL in 2013-14 and built a 3-0 series lead in the playoffs before falling to the Kings. Because they're not a typical target for a rebuild, Wilson's proclamations took many by surprise.

    But after building up expectations of change, Wilson's deals have underwhelmed. So far, his only new free-agent signings are minor-league defenseman Taylor Fedun and gigantic tough guy John Scott—hardly a significant makeover. Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart have been shipped out of town.

    Unless Wilson is still trying to make one or more big deals, his backup plan may be to try changing his team's chemistry with much of his current roster still in place.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Players Lost: Dave Bolland (C), Mason Raymond (LW), Nikolai Kulemin (RW), Tim Gleason (D), Jay McClement (C), T.J. Brennan (D), Drew MacIntyre (G)

    Players Added: Stephane Robidas (D), Matt Frattin (RW), Mike Santorelli (C)

    Players Retained: Leo Komarov (LW)


    What's the Problem? 

    When the Toronto Maple Leafs traded three draft picks to the Chicago Blackhawks for local boy Dave Bolland just a week after the feisty center had scored the 2013 Stanley Cup-winning goal, it looked like a match made in heaven. "I’m excited to put on a Maple Leafs jersey in front of ACC fans," said Bolland last June, per the Toronto Star. "It’s great to come back to where my whole hockey career began."

    One year later, after a season where Bolland missed 59 games due to injury, the love affair is over. Bolland refused to take a hometown discount to stay in Toronto, choosing instead to sign a five-year contract with the 29th-place Florida Panthers.

    As well as missing out on Bolland, the Leafs were embarrassed earlier in the week when defenseman Josh Gorges vetoed a trade from the Montreal Canadiens. Because of the rivalry between the two teams, Gorges said on Sportsnet (via Sporting News's Sean Gentille), "I've grown to hate this team." He rubbed salt in the wound by happily accepting a deal the next day to another Leafs rival, the last-place Buffalo Sabres.

    Resorting to his backup plan, Dave Nonis signed Stephane Robidas to fill the gap left by Gorges and added versatile forward Mike Santorelli to eat up some minutes at center. He'll need to bring in a few more bodies and sign his restricted free agents before he can ice a complete roster next fall.


    All player information from NHL.com and TSN.ca. Salary information from CapGeek.com.