NHL Free Market: Evaluating Every Team Two Weeks Into Free Agency

Reed KaufmanCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2009

Since July 1, every day for me has started out the same.

I wake up, I log on to NHL.com.

Then TSN.ca.

Then Sportsnet.ca.

Then Hockeybuzz.com.

This continues throughout the day whenever I get the opportunity.

In today's NHL, with salary cap constraints and perhaps the most parity the league has ever seen, the transactions in the NHL are both abundant and significant.

Of course, with the same teams in the Stanley Cup Finals in consecutive seasons, some might say this parity concept is a myth, but looking at the difference in the rest of the teams that graduated to postseason action between the two seasons supports the argument fully.

That said, let's take a look at which teams have taken the best advantage of the free agency period, and which teams are still left wanting.



Chicago Blackhawks

The 'Golden Goose' this year was Marian Hossa, and as Dale Tallon did last year for D-Man Brian Campbell, he made it rain on the Hos. Wow that was lame but I couldn't resist.

Chicago signed Hossa to a DiPietro-like 12-year deal worth just over $59 million. The reason for these long-term contracts is not just to keep the player in the desired uniform for a lengthy duration; it's to lower the yearly salary cap hit. Hossa's comes in at $5.233 million annually, which many would consider a bargain.

The other two highly sought after free agent wingers this season might be more flashy, but they can't touch Hossa's durability, which also helps explain the decade-plus deal length.

In his 10 year career, Hossa has played 80 games or more six times, and the other four played at least 70.

Marty Havlat, one of the two other free agents and the man Hossa is replacing, hit the 80-game mark for the first time in his seven year NHL career last season.

Marian Gaborik, Hossa's Slovakian International teammate, has also only hit the 80-game plateau once in his eight year NHL career, and last year was his worst showing yet with only 17 appearances.

The Hawks also nabbed another Red Wing in Tomas Kopecky, a grinder who has played a significant role with the trophy rich Detroit.

Chicago also took care of some in-house duties by resigning the second wave of the youth movement in Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg to three-year deals. Both of these players would have been hot commodities on the free agent market, but thankfully for the Hawks, it did not come to that.



Toronto Maple Leafs

You've gotta give it to him. Brian Burke does what he says he will do.

Brian Burke has started the rebuilding process in Toronto with a fury. As he did in Anaheim, he is strengthening his team from the back out.

Burke locked up coveted defenseman free agent Mike Komisarek from the neighboring province, and then lured former Duck Francios Beauchemin.

Add young Luke Schenn and 29-year-old Jeff Finger to this equation and the Leafs are finally starting to look like they can play some defense.

Burke also stuck to his tough strategy and signed brawler Colton Orr to a four-year deal.

The Leafs somehow managed to lure the Monster, Jonas Gustavsson, from Sweden as a legitimate backup, and perhaps more as he develops, to Vesa Toskala.

It is rumored that he will try to move Tomas Kaberle for a scoring winger, and if he does, the Leafs look like they can make a legitimate run at a playoff spot, something that looked like a far cry just last season.


Made some serious noise

(In no particular order)

New York Rangers:

It should be assumed that the front office in New York learned their lesson after signing Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to a $7 million plus per season multi-year contract, followed by Wade Redden to a $6 million plus per season multi-year deal. None of these three players have lived up to their respective salaries, and I'm sure any Ranger fan has an opinion on which one is doing so the least.

The point here is that in the salary cap era, GMs need to be very concerned about frivolous spending, especially when the return is potentially disappointing.

Enter Marian Gaborik.

Gaborik probably packs the most talent of the 2009 free agent class, but that talent is supplemented by the dreaded injury bug.

As a Kings fan, I was hoping Los Angeles would offer him $7 to 8 million per year in a one- or two-year deal, but was also fearing that some naive GM would offer him more.

Enter the New York Rangers.. Shocker.

To the Rangers' credit, Gaborik claims that his injury problems are behind him, that he was being misdiagnosed in the past and he is free and clear now.

They also were supposedly in on the Heatley saga after somehow moving one of their monstrous three contract issues in Scott Gomez to Montreal. Not sure how that fell apart but credit to New York for not waiting around and making something happen.

The Rangers received Chris Higgins for Gomez, replaced Colton Orr with Donald Brashear, and signed winger Ales Kotalik to a very reasonable three-year contract.

If Gaborik does stay healthy, he could turn into the best decision they have made, outside of locking up Henrik Lundqvist, for the last decade. I'd say he would have to play about two-thirds of four out of five years and average about .5 goals per game within that time for his contract to prove worthy. Seems slightly unlikely, but maybe I'm being cynical.

If Gaborik comes through and provides the scoring Yin to Lundqvist's back-stopping Yang, watch out, Atlantic.


Anaheim Ducks:

The Ducks started off the free agency period by taking care some in-house business. They asked Scott Neidermayer to actually let them know what he wanted to do in a timely fashion this year so they could figure out their financial situation in a reasonable manner.

He opted to return, so the Ducks shipped their other defensive leg in Chris Pronger to Philadelphia, but in return received an offensive arm in former Duck Joffrey Lupul, as well as a leg, a foot, and a kneecap and a set of toes in 2008-2009 18-year-old defensive breakout Luca Sbisa and two first round picks. Holy fright. I thought the Flyers were also trying to shed salary?

They capped this deal off by signing free agent and Montreal living saint Saku Koivu to play with his Finnish pal Teemu Selanne to see what kind of 'flash' they can make together in Anaheim.

The Ducks have also recently signed free agent defenseman Nick Boyton.

The Pacific Division will again be a competitive division and the Ducks again look to be very competitive within it as well as in the rest of the NHL.


Montreal Canadiens:

I wish I had written this article yesterday because I kid you not, I'm either psychic or a genius. Here's why:

The Montreal Canadiens have made it public that they were going to shake things up this year. They started it by firing coach Guy Carbonneau in March, then by telling mainstay forwards Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev that their services would no longer be needed.

GM Bob Gainey followed this up by acquiring center Scott Gomez from New York, without giving up too much, then by signing perhaps the fourth-rated winger of the free agency class in Mike Cammalleri and then little-engine-that-could, former Devil Brian Gionta.

All three players are very talented and can definitely bring a lot to the Canadiens. Just not a lot of size.

Gomez is listed at 5'11", Cammalleri at 5'9", and Gionta at 5'7", and we know what they say about the official listings.

These three are perhaps the smallest potential first-line forwards in the NHL with the exception of Martin St. Louis and Patrick Kane. Having them all on the same team could be slightly concerning; putting them on the same line would be suicidal.

Now to the prophetic part: I've been saying that the Habs will sign Travis Moen, as he is the most noteable free agent available that combines size with ability. OK so maybe it wasn't quite as genius as it was obvious, but thank goodness they did.

Gainey has also been busy adding on to the back-end, signing Hal Gill to help the Hab height average, as well as Jaorslav Spacek and Paul Mara.

So far the Canadiens have come through on their promise to shake things up, but the question that always remains after new blood comes to Montreal, "Can they handle the pressure?" Only time will tell.


Calgary Flames:

The Calgary Flames have actually been fairly quiet this summer, but spent most of their effort acquiring the rights to and signing the most rumored D-man of the last two seasons, Jay Bouwmeester, to a five-year deal.

The speculation is that Calgary may now try to move Dion Phaneuf who plays a very similar brand of hockey and also comes at a high price tag, but if not, this is the best overall one-two blue line punch in the NHL bar none.


Los Angeles Kings:

I've been waiting for years to be able to include the Kings in a list like this. I know, it's because the Kings have been developing from within and well at that, but it is exciting to see the ownership willing to spend some extra cash as well and bring in some outside help.

The Kings signed shut-down defenseman and shot-blocking specialist Rob Scuderi to a four-year deal.

Then, after missing out on the free agent wingers available, the Kings made a trade for Ryan Smyth from Colorado, for diamond-in-the-rough Detroit castaway Kyle Quincey, and financial (and otherwise) liability Tom Preissing, as well as a fifth round draft pick.

No one has asked him yet, but at some point there has to be a conversation between Smyth and Jack Johnson about the incident that wore out my TiVo last season.

Based on what this cost Dean Lombardi and what one of the 'higher-end' wingers would have cost, this is a pretty solid move and brings in the epitome of a 'character guy' that Lombardi has been talking about all year.

These moves give the Kings a legitimate shot to get into the playoffs for the first time in seven years.


Vancouver Canucks:

The Canucks didn't really have a chance to make a splash in the free agency market because they had to bend over backwards to re-sign the twin redheads that Vancouver fans have come to know and love.

That said, they did actually bring in perhaps the fifth most sought after winger in Mikael Samuelsson to add some legitimate scoring support to the other Swedes. I assume he'll fit in well on the top line with Daniel and Henrik and they could prove to be a formidable trio.

Add that to Captain Roberto Luongo and new backup Andrew Raycroft and the Canucks will again be a tough team to beat by anyone.


Ottawa Senators:

Man alive, the Dany Heatley Saga could easily be re-written for an episode of 'Days of Our Lives.' Heatley has put GM Bryan Murray in a tough spot and to his credit, has not backed down from his claim that he will not give Heatley up for cheap.

It would be hard to imagine that almost every team did not at least inquire as to the price of the repeated 50-goal scorer, but it is reported that only Edmonton has made an acceptable offer. Only problem is that Dany Heatley has a no trade clause and must also agree to his destination. That's where it gets ugly.

Nonetheless, Murray has gone out and signed his neighboring rival's dearly departed Alex Kovalev to a two-year deal, while the Heatley Negotiations are ongoing.

The Sens also re-signed tough guy Chris Neil.

It would be nice if Ottawa can move Heatley for them to be able to spread the wealth off of just one line, as they have three forwards making about $20 million dollars annually.


Edmonton Oilers:

Likewise, the Oliers have made the most noise this offseason just by being the only team to come up with a satisfactory (in Bryan Murray's eyes) offer for Dany Heatley. This is rumored to have included Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, and Ladislav Smid. Pretty much a blockbuster deal.

If that were not enough, they signed former Blackhawk Nikolai Khabibulin to a significant pay decrease, but a steady job in net for four years. Khabibulin revitalized his career with a sparkling playoff performance for Chicago last year, and might have even found himself in a backup role this year had he not.

Who knows what will become of the Oilers this season, but if they do end up acquiring Heatley they could be a force to be reckoned with.


Works in Progress

Atlanta Thrashers:

It was rumored that due to the ownership issues in Atlanta, there would be little to no free agency involvement. This was not the case.

The Thrashers signed behemoth forward Nik Antropov to a four-year contract and could fit in nicely along side countryman franchise winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

Atlanta also made a move to help their struggling defensive corps by acquiring Pavel Kubina in a trade from Toronto.

Some young forwards showed signs of life last season in Atlanta and if Kari Lehtonen can stay healthy for once, the Thrashers can be competitive next season.


Colorado Avalanche:

The Avs addressed perhaps their biggest issue this offseason by signing goaltender Craig Anderson in what could be a bargain of a contract.

Anderson battled with veteran Tomas Vokoun for the starting job in Florida last season and at times actually edged him out for the job. He should be able to handle the duties as a starter in Colorado.

Colorado also signed enforcer David Koci after losing the services of Ian Laperriere to the Flyers.

Don't forget about moving Ryan Smyth to the Kings, which will hurt on the offensive front but at 23, Kyle Quincey is a responsible puck-moving defenseman that will be a mainstay on the Colorado blue line for years to come.

With Joe Sakic announcing his retirement, however, this could be a long season for Avalanche fans.


Columbus Blue Jackets:

After the franchise's first playoff birth, I doubt they would want to mix it up too much.

Following so many years of bottom feeding, the high draft picks have paid off in spades, with Columbus boasting young gems Steve Mason, who in his rookie year was nominated for the Vezina, and Derrick Brassard, who unfortunately missed most of the year with a shoulder injury.

This offseason, the Blue Jackets added shut-down forward Sami Pahlsson, as well as a veteran backup for Mason in Mathieu Garon.

Coach Ken Hitchcock has his work cut out for him to see playoff life again with so many other Western teams improving as well, but this team definitely has potential.


Minnesota Wild:

Some might argue that the Wild did make some serious noise by signing Martin Havlat to a six-year deal, but he has some big (albeit rickety) skates to fill replacing Marian Gaborik.

The Wild haven't done much outside of that and after not making the playoffs last year, one would assume they'd be looking for more help.


Tampa Bay Lightning:

Last summer, Tampa made the biggest splash in the free agency market, and were somewhat quieter this year, but made some nice moves to fit with the rest of their group.

The Lightning's biggest acquisition was that of Mattias Ohlund to their shaky defensive corps. Not only does Ohlund provide a big immediate boost to their blue line, he also serves as a mentor for future defensive juggernaut Victor Hedman who is also Swedish.

The Lightning also signed an apparent backup to Mike Smith in Antero Nittymaki, another able-bodied defenseman in Lukas Krajicek, and a checker with offensive upside in Stephane Vellieux.

This is one team that seems to have so many pieces, but are struggling to make them all fit. If Tocchet can, this should be a playoff team.


Washington Capitals:

The Capitals actually have been fairly quiet, and for good reason. They have one of the best young core groups of any NHL team, and they are all still under contract through next season.

They have, however, acquired some outside help, by adding gritty veteran Mike Knuble, as well as Brendan Morrison.

If the performance of Simeon Varlamov in the 2009 playoffs was no fluke, I'd say the Capitals are just a top-tier shut-down defenseman away from a serious Stanley Cup run.


No Need to Panic

Boston Bruins:

The Bruins aren't too worried about searching for outside help, and for good reason. Despite a disappointing playoff defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, Boston did finish with the most points in the East in the regular season.

They have signed Dany Sabourin to a one-year deal, though I'm not sure where he will fit in, and brought in Steve Begin on another one-year contract.

They have enough to worry about with Phil Kessel as a restricted free agent, and the fact that he's still around leads me to believe that they are trying to work out a deal. If they can, there's no reason to assume they can't at least repeat last year's performance.


Carolina Hurricanes:

It looks as though the Hurricanes are going with the idea 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Though they came up short in the conference finals vs. Pittsburgh, the Canes did take down the Boston Bruins juggernaut in a nail biting seven game series.

Most of the team is still young and should be improving.

The Canes were able to re-sign playoff performer Jussi Jokinen as well as Eric Cole and Chad LaRose.


Florida Panthers:

It is a shame the Panthers keep acquiring superstar caliber players that they have to get rid of. First there was Roberto Luongo. Then there was Olli Jokinen. Now it’s Jay Bouwmeester.

The important thing to remember is that the success of a hockey team depends on team play more than perhaps any other sport, and one player can definitely not do it on his own. Thus, it is necessary for a team to grow as one.

This fits in with the current philosophy in Florida. The Panthers did receive the likes of Jordan Leopold from Calgary and brought in Scott Clemmensen, perhaps in another tandem situation with Tomas Vokoun.

They also smartly re-signed David Booth, who will likely be a cornerstone of that franchise for many years, as well as Radek Dvorak.

They might be a couple years away from some playoff success, but better hockey in Miami is certainly on its way.

New Jersey Devils:

The Devils were the surprise winner of the Atlantic Division in 2008-2009, but came up short in the playoffs against none other than the Carolina Hurricanes.

Nonetheless, they have a great young core of players and strictly took care of in-house business this offseason by re-signing Andy Greene and Johnny Oduya.

I'm surprised they let Clemmensen go but I'm sure Marty has a few stellar years left in the tank.


Pittsburgh Penguins:

There's no more obvious team that this statement applies to than the Stanley Cup Champions.

Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury are all locked up for many years and they are working on the rest. Management was able to bring back Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko for another year and newcomer Jay McKee, who unfortunately will probably not be able to replace the departed Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, but it's a start.


San Jose Sharks:

I know, Sharks fans may disagree, but the fact remains that the Sharks took home the President's Trophy. It is understandable that at this point San Jose locals are tired of regular season success when it is followed by postseason disappointment.

There have been rumors that the Sharks might entertain a big trade involving one of their two big-name centermen, but this has yet to happen.  I'd say it's 50/50 at best; I could see it happening, as both of them have been continually outplayed by their opponents in the postseason, and both would still command a lot of value in return.

Either way, the Sharks have smartly re-signed elite utility man Ryan Clowe, who can eye-to-eye with the toughest of NHLers as well as put away 30 goals.

They are also bringing back Rob Blake for what could and should be his final NHL season.


St. Louis Blues:

I know that the Blues didn't necessarily accomplish a lot last year, but some might say they did.

Without three of the highest paid individuals on their roster for most, if not all, of last season, the Blues were able to make a late season push and slip into the very competitive Western Conference Playoffs. This was a feat in itself.

With all of these players returning and a great young group ready to improve even further, the Blues definitely have no reason to panic.

They have, for some reason, brought in two potential backups for Chris Mason in Ty Conklin and the returning Hannu Toivonen. They have also re-signed veteran Keith Tkachuk to another year.


Say It Ain't So

Buffalo Sabres:

The Sabres had a decent '08-'09 campaign, missing a playoff spot by just two points.

They were perhaps one of the most up and down teams of the year, playing well in spurts, looking like they can either beat or lose to anyone.

Buffalo does boast a solid crop of youngsters, but the pieces haven’t quite come together yet.

I can only assume that fans were hoping for some kind of offseason acquisition, but they haven’t seen a significant signing yet. The Sabres have picked up Steve Montador to a two-year contract, but that is nothing to write home about.


Dallas Stars:

The Stars had their most disappointing season of recent memory in 2008-2009, which was mainly due to the injuries of Sergei Zubov and Brendan Morrow.

Zubov’s future is still up in the air, and a stench still looms from the front office from the Sean Avery deal.

Perhaps that and the hefty Brad Richards contract are the main reasons that the Dallas Stars haven’t made any significant offseason moves.


Detroit Red Wings:

First Hossa, then Kopecky, now Jiri Hudler has signed with a team in Russia (though this action has been contested). The Red Wings forwards are dropping like flies. Is this the end of the Dynasty?

Take notice that the front office is not panicking.

Detroit still has a full roster of some very well paid (and deservedly so) players. It is no secret that the Red Wings scouts are considered by many to be the best in the league.

With the emergence of players like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Jonathon Ericsson, it’s no wonder they aren’t panicking.

Still, it is out of character to not see the Wings make a free agent splash, and I could understand if fans are sad, but they should not be too worried.


Nashville Predators:

Nashville re-signed the re-emergent Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward, who reminds me of Ryan Clowe light.

I can never tell if the Predators are rebuilding or if they are a playoff team. Somehow they seem to be able to take a rag-tag group of nobodies to the playoffs under the leadership of Jason Arnott.


New York Islanders:

Excluding the fact that the Islanders made one of the biggest additions to their team of any this summer by drafting John Tavares, they haven’t done much to improve upon their last place finish except for signing 40 year-old goaltender Dwayne Roloson. What role he takes on will be determined both by his play and the health of Rick DiPietro.

It was hoped that GM Garth Snow would try to bring in some veteran talent to help play with and help mentor Tavares, but it looks like for now, that role will be Doug Weight’s.

The Isles have plenty of cap room and I’m sure fans are hoping that another acquisition will be made before training camp starts.


Philadelphia Flyers:

Most teams are in this section of this article because they haven’t been very active. Perhaps the Flyers jumped the gun a little.

I do like the signings of Brian Boucher, a very reliable back up with the potential upside to even become a solid starter; and Ian Laperriere, a guy that teammates always love for his tenacity and willingness to drop the gloves.

Ray Emery – not so sure. Why is reliable goal-tending so tough for Philadelphia to find?

The Flyers made one of the biggest acquisitions of the summer in trading for Chris Pronger and locking him up until he reaches the defensively prime age of 41. But at what cost?

In return, Anaheim received former Duck Joffrey Lupul, who provided some much needed secondary/tertiary scoring for Philadelphia; 18 year-old defensive standout Luca Sbisa, who may one day be just as reliable defensively as Pronger, if not as offensively talented, and TWO, count them, two first round picks. Essentially it was four first rounders for one.

It should be noted that the Flyers are very close to the salary cap, so perhaps this move was made to shed cap spa—this move cost them $1 million more per year? Holy fright.

Well the only possible explanation is that the Flyers are determined to make a run for the Cup here and now. If they are able to hang on to everyone else, they certainly have the makings for it. It is speculated that they may have to trade one of they’re top six, unfortunately. You can bet it won’t be Richards or Carter, but rumors have it that Briere, Hartnell, or Gagne may be on his way out.

Thus, Pronger might eventually cost Philly five first round picks. Hope he’s worth it.


Phoenix Coyotes:

It’s obvious that the Coyotes couldn’t make too much noise this offseason on the player transaction front, considering they have enough to worry about regarding where the team’s future lies, both financially and geographically.

They made a few moves, signing solid D-man Adrian Aucoin, and re-signing Petr Prucha, notably. Former Predator Vernon Fiddler is also a nice acquisition.

And I love the signing of Jason LaBarbera—as a Kings fan; Coyotes fans have to cringe at that thought.

The immediate future looks fairly bleak for the ‘Yotes, as they really need to get their legal situation figured out quickly. Shane Doan has never expressed any interest in hearing offers from other teams until recently, so you know there’s some turmoil in the desert.

All in all it has been an exciting summer thus far. August is just around the corner and that means training camp is as well. Preseason will begin before we know it. At least, these are things I tell myself every night to help me get to sleep.

Somehow these always end up longer than I originally envision. As always I thank anyone who got through it and look forward to hearing your opinions.


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