Well it’s about time for a final report card of the Atlantic Division since trades and signings have significantly come to a halt. Let me first start off by saying that this is probably the most boring offseason of my lifetime, but due to the economy it can be expected.
Although some very good names are still on the market I am confident that these will pretty much be your Atlantic Division teams at the start of the 2009-10 season. The report cards are in order according to the team’s respective finish in last season’s standings and are based on what they did this offseason, not how the overall team is assembled.
The Devils were one of only two teams in the Atlantic to not acquire one new player in the skater department. They made two re-signings and that was all. The only new face of importance they brought in was head coach Jacques Lemaire. People will rip this signing from heaven, through purgatory, and all the way to hell but to be honest, this was the right move to make. Lemaire is the defensive wizard, the “Father of the Trap”, and although the days of playing a successful trap are over, he has shown that he can keep a relatively bad team competitive, which is exactly what Lou Lamoriello wants.
In Minnesota he had Brian Rolston and Marian Gaborik (not as often has he would have liked) and in recent years Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. It’s safe to say that Zach Parise is just as good as if not better than Gaborik and Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias are more skilled than the other three forwards mentioned so it may not be all that bad for this Devils team. They will be boring to watch no doubt, but weren’t they boring when then won three Stanley Cups in the span of ten seasons in the 90’s and early 2000’s?
Now to the free agent signings; the only new face this team brought in was backup goalie Yann Danis. I only have one comment to make regarding that, which is if Brodeur gets injured again this season, best hope it’s a deep draft next summer.
Management completely screwed themselves over regarding Scott Clemmensen because this team was burnt toast when Brodeur was injured last season and he single handedly kept this team in it and led them to an Atlantic Division title, but when the playoffs rolled around he was sent to the AHL in favor of Kevin Weekes. He saves your season and you reward him by telling him to ride the bus in the minors. That’s just very appealing to an oncoming free agent, Lou.
Regarding the re-signings they made which include Travis Zajac and Johnny Oduya; first to the blue liner, who registered a career high of 29 points but is rewarded with a three year contract at $3.5 million per; not terrible but a slight overpayment.
The real overpayment on this team comes with Zajac’s contract. At four years and a $3.8 million cap hit, how is it that a player who has never eclipsed 20 goals in a season makes more money than Zach Parise who was just shy of 100 points last season?
The defending Stanley Cup Champions did what most teams do after winning it all and that is standing pat. They made no significant moves and that could go both ways. By not bringing in any new forwards, with the exception of Mike Rupp, they will be relying solely on Crosby and Malkin to do the scoring. It has worked so far but they would be much better off had they re-signed Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan; two players who have the potential to be 20 to 30 goal scorers, especially when playing with a skill level as high as Pittsburgh has.
Bill Guerin was a nice signing after many thought he would retire after getting his name on the Cup one final time. Many people had him going back to Long Island if he did decide to play one more season, but why would he do that? Here in Pittsburgh he provides that veteran voice in the locker room and can provide some grit on the ice. Guerin, along with Chris Kunitz help this team by driving to the net and creating havoc in the crease while Crosby and Malkin go to work.
The Penguins also made one small signing on defense, by bringing in Jay McKee. This is a very underrated signing and it may prove to be more than that. After losing Hal Gill, McKee will step right up and fill the void of a solid, stay at home defenseman. He is also a much better skater.
Finally, we have a transaction in the goaltending department by bringing in the experienced and reliable Brent Johnson. Should Fleury get injured, Johnson will be a welcome sight in the crease as he has successfully backstopped the Washington Capitals for the last four seasons.
After seeing what the Flyers have done thus far over this summer, If I were Paul Holmgren I would seriously consider having this team’s name changed to the Broadstreet Bullies, because that is right down the alley they are headed. Already stacked with a team of tough players that include Scott Hartnell, Daniel Carcillo, Arron Asham, and Riley Cote, this team goes ahead and adds one of the better fighters in the league, Ian Lapperierre.
Not only can he fight but he can skate and play the game as well. Other than that, the team made no more moves in the forward department, but they didn’t need to as their crop of six 20 goal scorers is still intact.
This report card was going to be a very positive one until I have to mention Chris Pronger. One of the most feared defenders in the league, it’s not he himself that brings down the overall grade, it’s his contract. I personally love the 34 -year-old Pronger and being that he had only one year on his contract it made sense that Anaheim would trade him.
The Flyers jumped at the opportunity and grossly overpaid by sending top prospect Luca Sbisa, potential 20 goal scorer Joffrey Lupul along with two first round draft picks. When looking at it, in the end I could live with it but then the Flyers went out and gave this 34 year old a seven year extension that carries a cap hit of over $6 million per season .
He will still be making that when he is 41 years old and I think it is safe to say that Pronger committed the biggest steal since the Brink’s Robbery. I want his agent.
Finally, the Flyers cleaned house in goaltending. Martin Biron and Antero Nittymaki were shown the door as rumors of Robert Esche returning died down. Old face Brian Boucher was brought back as well as the head case and former Senator Ray Emery. If he can return to the form he played in when he led Ottawa to the finals three seasons ago, the Flyers are in luck. If he melts down like he did the year after, then all the offense may go to waste in Philly.
New York Rangers: B+
Those that follow my writing regularly know how I felt about this team prior to the off-season. This team was handicapped due to the four major contracts that had this team in a stranglehold. Then the end of June came and I got the phone call of my life; Scott Gomez had been traded. I couldn’t tell you how happy I was and even though I had no idea who was acquired in return, the move in itself made the offseason a success.
The Rangers needed a complete and utter salary dump and they got one, but it isn’t that simple. When a team has a horrible contract they normally have to pair it with a top prospect just to get rid of him, but it was the Rangers who got the top prospect in return from Montreal, Mike McDonough. The Rangers also got back perennial 20 goal scorer and New York native Chris Higgins. New York turned into a normal team again as Montreal turned into Les Smurfs.
Then came July 1 and as all Ranger fans know, Sather usually sleeps in until the late evening but he must have awoke from his nap as he signed Donald Brashear pretty early in the day. The move was alright but the payment was a little high, at two years, $2.8 million. This team lacked an enforcer, a player to instill fear and they got one in Brashear. Fans ripped it apart from the very beginning mainly because of his cheap shop of Blair Betts in the playoffs; but the second he knocks someone out while wearing Broadway Blue, he will be loved.
Now comes the signing that can prove to be the greatest or the worst, and that man is Marian Gaborik. I personally label him as top-5 talent in the league but he can never stay healthy. Although he has never played a full season, he has still put up amazing numbers that include a 42-goal season two years ago while playing in Jacques Lemaire’s defensive trap. Under John Tortorella in an up tempo playing style, it’s scary to think of what numbers he could put up.
Finally, we have a lower tier signing of Ales Kotalik, who has one of the hardest shots in the league. He also had his best numbers while playing with Chris Drury in Buffalo. His acquisition along with Higgins is solely to keep the Captain happy and you can be sure that this trio will be the team’s second line come October.
The one gap this team has is a lack of a number one center and unless a trade is made, I will guarantee that spot will go to Brandon Dubinsky. Lastly, fans are wondering what is happening with Nikolai Zherdev whose arbitration hearing is this week. It is speculated that he will ask for close to $5 million, and when Sather is done laughing he will let him walk.
Where do I begin with the team who finished dead last a season ago? After constantly complaining that their decrepit arena keeps free agents from signing there, they continually bring negative attention to themselves and that has never been more apparent than this offseason.
They did not make one signing in the forward or defense department and the only new face fans will see this season is their No. 1 draft pick John Tavares. I personally felt that Victor Hedman would have been a better move but this team needed a big name to help lure fans out to the Island.
That and the fact they had a draft party for the sole purpose of taking Tavares; the fans of this organization was revved up and ready to do damage had he not been signed. Two friends of mine who attended the party were scouting out the nearest exits had Garth Snow gone against fans will and took Hedman or Duchene.
For defense, Mark Streit continues to prove himself to be the biggest steal of last summer but other them him, this department sorely lacks. Andy Sutton and Brendan Witt who are both horrible skaters with an edge carry a cap hit of $3 million each. Expect the latter to be dealt at the deadline to a contender.
If there is one thing I must compliment the Islanders on it is how they are handling their goalie situation. They sign Dwayne Roloson who is a veteran starter that can eat up games and also be a valuable backup if Rick DiPietro were to somehow stay healthy and actually play this season.
But then with the signing of Martin Biron (which was a steal) they now show the world that they have no confidence whatsoever that Dipietro can carry the team, let alone even play. The front office likes to show things to be all fine and dandy but sometimes I wonder if they aren’t hiding something. If they announce that DiPietro won’t be returning for another full season, or if he is done altogether, I won’t be surprised.
Greg Caggiano is a writer on Bleacher Report covering the New York Rangers. He has a New York area sports teams blog called Metro-Sports, where you can read great articles about all professional sports teams that play in the area by a dedicated team of young writers.