It's time Bleacher Report had a hockey roundtable, where the best and brightest hockey writers on the website gather around and give their two cents on a particular subject.
In this article, seven of the best NHL writers on Bleacher Report gave us their input on this NHL off season's winners and losers.
I want to thank them all for putting the time in to make this roundtable possible. I hope you enjoy...
Greg Caggiano (New York Rangers Community Leader)
Since this article is going to be long enough, I'll only give the analysis of one team, the team I know best, the New York Rangers. I believe that they were one of the many winners in this off-season, mainly because they said good-bye to captain Jaromir Jagr. No longer do they have to cater to his needs of what he likes and dislikes. Instead, Tom Renney is free to roll four lines without worrying about matching up.
The acquisitions of Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev will help up front with guys like Aaron Voros, Dan Fritsche and Patrick Rissmiller helping on the bottom two lines. The last big signing comes in the name of Wade Redden. Maybe this change of scenery will turn him into the offensive power house he once was. If not, it's going to be a long six years.
Ken Armer (NHL & Anaheim Ducks Community Leader)
Tampa Bay: I think many will disagree here, but read the entire section before freaking out. The Tampa Bay Lightning came out a champion in the free agency, signing great players all over the forward positions, new coaches, and new owners. A season ticket owning source says regardless of wins, the Lightning have new life with fans. "Hockey Bay" may not win now, but they may not be far off either. Signing Vinny Lecavalier to a lifetime contract is a good choice for this program, and Stamkos will be an instant star in Tampa. The team has confidence in its goal and defense, even though the league itself doesn't.
San Jose: San Jose has built one of the most exciting defenses in the Pacific Division, and probably one of the top blue lines in the conference. Blake, Boyle, and Lukowich add much needed life to a team that couldn't afford to keep Brian Campbell. I don't think anyone in the Bay area is missing his expensive contract now. Moreover, a new coach brings new excitement. Hell, I'm excited for these guys and I'm a Ducks fan! Any comments from MJ and Danielle on this topic should be ignored.
Chicago: During the off season they built a team that will continue to inch further and further towards making the playoffs. It wouldn't surprise me if this is the season they do.
Toronto: The most exciting team in Canada right? The team God made to play hockey? Then why does another free agency period go by and this team goes deeper and deeper into the depths of nothingness. The loss of Mats Sundin may not emotionally hurt this team, but they didn't seem a huge draw to any free agents. There are probably financial and other issues I am not aware of for not following the team, but I would expect more out of a team under pressure like the Leafs are. To the Leafs fans who jump me for "knowing nothing about the team" you're right, I don't live in Canada, nor follow them, but It hurts as a fan to see a team so historic be a joke in the NHL. Bottom line is the small moves made wont help this team.
Tampa Bay: How can a team be both a winner and a loser? For a team that built up like Barry Bonds this off season they did overlook defense and goaltending. With plenty of big name D-men they never seemed interested (I could be wrong) and moreover the only goalie they pursued was Kolzig as a backup. Personally, Kolzig would be my starter and would prepare Smith to be the starter in a few years, and have the two split time, not Kolzig ride the pine. Moreover, as much as I don't care for him why not make a play for Emery? You could have gotten him cheap, and when he's focused he is damn good.
Bryan Thiel (NHL Community Leader)
To be completely honest, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings are the biggest winners.
To be a winner, you have to look at who the team lost, and who the team was able to pick up. Neither team lost a key component that was relevant to their past season's success, but both added to strengths. Detroit was able to retain Brad Stuart and Andreas Lilja, while they only lost Dallas Drake and Dominik Hasek to retirement. They were also able to add Marian Hossa, who will only make Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Filppula and Samuelson more dangerous—whether it's from him making them better directly or indirectly (ie. drawing the oppositions top defenders during his shifts).
Chicago won because they were able to add a good (not great) starter in Huet, which made Nikolai Khabibulin expendable—offering them the chance to parlay him into draft picks or players if need be. They also picked up Brian Campbell, and we all know what he brings to a team—a great, crafty, puck-moving defenseman.
A team who may go under the radar as improved will be the Phoenix Coyotes, who will be able to allow Daniel Carcilloto score a little more with the addition of Todd Fedoruk and Brian McGratton, while Oli Jokinen can provide some extra scoring for Peter Mueller, Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal and Kyle Turris, and they replaced the defensemen they deal to get Jokinen (Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton) with the underrated Kurt Sauer and David Hale.
Toronto hasn't done too bad of a job either, but then again I'm biased.
The two worst teams in my opinion this off season have been the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
I once wrote about how the Lightning's moves were starting to resemble the Philadelphia Flyers' attempts to improve themselves last season—then the Lightning traded away their only competent defensemen (Well...aside from Filip Kuba and Paul Ranger) and sign 16 more forwards. Steven Stamkos can only do so much if he's playing six minutes a game, and with Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata, Adam Hall, Ryan Craig, Chris Gratton, Vaclav Prospal, and Brandon Bochenski signed to contracts, ice time is a premium for the Lightning.
That and a may-as-well-be rookie head coach in Barry Melrose.
The New York Islanders meanwhile, were last in the league in goals for, and 23rd in goals against, so they signed Mark Streit and Doug Weight. Streit will definitely help out, but adding an aging Weight to this team doesn't make sense, when one of their younger guys could be getting ice time.
If the Islanders plan on competing next season, they're going to have to rely on Trent Hunter stepping up his play, Blake Comeau performing like he did in Islanders rookie camp, and Kyle Okposo and Jesse Joensuu doing more than just "earning their stripes" in the NHL this season.
That and they need a backup goalie or two—I'll believe it when I see Rick Dipietro and his glass hips make it through a season.
Alan Bass (Philadelphia Flyers Community Leader)
I think that Tampa Bay made the best moves this off season, yet Tampa did not make all the right moves. They signed and drafted many forwards, yet they are still very weak on defense. They did trade for Matt Carle, which will pay off in a few years, I think. Also, getting a goalie in Kolzig to play if and/or when Mike Smith fails to hold the starting job was a great move by the team. Malone, Roberts, and Prospal will all be great acquisitions for the Lightning, as Prospal proved he could play the game still when he was with Philly, Malone is
a great two-way player, and Roberts does still have some left in the tank.
St. Louis, however, had the worst off season in my mind. They made almost no signings, and the few that they did make were not ones that will greatly help themselves. If a team like Washington does not make any moves this off season, it is fine, because they have great potential. The Blues, though, have almost no true potential on their team outside of Erik Johnson and a few other draft picks. They still need drastic changes to be made to their team, and John Davidson has not helped the team nearly enough since being named President and GM.
Chris Hoeler (Unofficial Phoenix Coyotes Community Leader)
Phoenix Coyotes: When looking at the off season the biggest trade was made at the draft when the Phoenix Coyotes sent a 2nd round pick, Keith Ballard, and Nick Boynton to Florida for number 1 center Olli Jokinen. Olli bring in a presence that has not been in Phoenixsince their hey day. Adding prospects like Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, and Jared Staal to the pool will help the team in the future. Look for Turris, Boedker, and other highly touted prospects to crack the lineup. Adding Todd Fedoruk and Brian McGrattan will help protect the young kids while allowing Dan Carcillo to focus more on offense while adding Kurt Sauer and David Hale to the blue line will provide some needed depth and shutdown abilities.
New York Rangers: Overpayment? Yes. But the Rangers filled needs and finally realized they needed to go in a new direction. Letting Jagr go was a the best move made while adding Markus Naslund and Wade Redden will spark the offense. A trade that sent Tyutin and Backman to Columbusfor Zherdev and Fritsche is a huge steal for the Rangers. Re-signing Michal Rozsival andPaul Mara, along with adding Dmitri Kalinin vastly improves the Ranger defense. A good draft with steals such as Evgeny Grachev and Mitch Gaultonin later rounds, along with top pick Michael Del Zotto make this off season a very good one for the Rangers.
Detroit Red Wings: How could these guys not be winners. They win the Stanley Cup and then they go out and get top free agent Marian Hossa without losing other big names. They also add Ty Conklin to shore up the backup role. The Red Wings always draft well and this year was no different.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues may have been quiet in the free agency department but at the draft they got some very good players. Alex Pietrangelo leads the list along with Phillip McRae, Jake Allen, and Kristoffer Berglund. They will probably add top prospect TJ Oshieto the roster along with Chris Mason who was acquired from Nashville, giving them a goaltender to help push Manny Legace. Adding Andy Wozniewski will help bolster their defense. They didn't add big names but that doesn't mean anything. The draft is more important than free agency.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks certainly lost players this summer without replacing. Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund certainly hurts an already anemic offense and even with the team's addition of Steve Bernier and Pavol Demitra, they haven't done enough to help the team now. Even in the unlikely event Sundin goes to Vancouver, it won't be enough.
Toronto Maple Leafs: I tried so hard to not put these guys on the list because of their draft but then I remembered they traded for Ryan Hollweg and that automatically puts them on this list. Huge overpayment for a guy like Jeff Finger is a bonehead move by Cliff Fletcher (at this point) and the handling of Bryan McCabe is dragging the Leafs' off season through the mud. Luke Schenn is the biggest bright spot.
New York Islanders: It was a tough off season for Islander fans as the team decided to trade down twice from the 5th spot. They still had a good draft but giving up on potential franchise players like Luke Schenn and Nikita Filatov is too much. They added another old man in Doug Weight and the recent firing of Ted Nolan doesn't do much to help this team's stability. Mark Streit was a bright spot but that comes no where near outweighing the dark.
Tampa Bay Lightning: These guys as losers? Yes. Despite a major overhaul, this team has gone about things the wrong way. The signing of Barry Melrose as head coach was a big mistake. He hasn't coached since the early 1990s and is a sub 500 coach. The handling of Dan Boyle was absolutely atrocious and stockpiling on forwards while leaving the defense a gaping hole does not help their situation. Despite getting Stamkos, the Lightning's off season has not been a good one. Not to mention completely disregarding the job of Jay Feaster and having the new owners control the moves of the club has led this team down a dark way. Bye Bye Mullet Bolts.
With the free-agent frenzy slowing down and June's Entry Draft a distant memory we can no begin to speculate how the '08-'09 season will turn out. While some teams have kept their identities many others have altered theirs. Some teams have taken a step forward, while some have taken two steps back.
My so-called 'winner' of the off-season so far would have to be the Chicago Blackhawks. The team already has its core assembled with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, and now they have added Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet to the fray. However they do sit over the salary cap at the moment, it looks like goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin will be moved. He has one year remaining on his contract at a value of $6.75 million. Huet's signing more than likely will spell the end of the Bulin Wall in the Windy City.
The team that I see with the most trouble heading into next season is the Nashville Predators. The Preds have over $15 M in cap space but the team has made no moves to acquire any significant players who can help the team. After establishing Dan Ellis as the starting goalie, the organization doesn't have a stable back-up which could prove to be a problem if Ellis is injured or in a slump. They have Jeremy Smith and Chet Pickard in the system, but they are years away from wearing an NHL jersey. And if that's not enough to show for the lack of passion of playing in Nashville, look at the Alexander Radulov situation. The jury has spoken.
With certain teams changing their rosters does not ensure that they are going to have success next season. The Tampa Bay Lightning are leading many fans to second-guess their approach, and will be under the microscope when the puck drops in Prague on their two-game opener with the New York Rangers. But when all is said and done, the Detroit Red Wings have my vote to take the Stanley Cup again next season. After adding Marian Hossa to the mix this team can really convince analysts that this is the team to beat.
MJ Kasprzak (San Jose Sharks Community Leader)
San Jose Sharks: The one thing this team was missing was an elite blue line, and in a conference chalk full of them. They lacked experience in that unit, and they lacked championship experience throughout the roster. They ended all those things in just over a day, signing Rob Blake (1 Cup) and trading for Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich (1 and 2, respectively). Blake may be diminishing in talent but is still a good defenseman; Boyle is lacking defensively but fits the needs of the style favored by new coach Todd McLellan; and Brad Lukowich has all the defensive skill his former teammate does not. Losing a defenseman who only occasionally plays and another who may not be as good as any of the three picked up is a nice upgrade.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Despite losing Boyle and still having no bonafide #1 goalie, they added an innumerable caravan of talented forwards to bolster their team. They should be able to make the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.
Chicago Blackhawks: Despite paying almost $13 million to their goaltenders and basically forcing themselves to trade Khabibulin for less than his value, they have solid goaltending, a tremendously upgraded defense, and young developing forwards. they almost made the playoffs with only one of those assets, and their division got weaker with the fall-off of Nashville...they'll be in this year.
New York Rangers: The players lost are less than those gained. Jagr is past his prime and not a two-way player to begin with; Marcus Nasland is at least his equal. Adding Wade Redden (albeit to an overpriced contract) will make the Rangers already solid blueline one of the ten best in the league, and by adding Kalininas well, they are unquestionably the best blueline in the East. The loss of Avery is mitigated somewhat by the signing of Rissmiller (a solid role-player and energy guy) and Aaron Voros.
New Jersey Devils: They added depth and missing scoring talent to their forward lines with Holik and Rolston.
Nashville Predators: They have lost their best defenseman, one of the best back-up goalies in the league, and a couple role-players to boot. This after losing an all-world goaltender and a couple players last year and barely making the playoffs. They struggle to make the salary FLOOR, so why again did that idiot Bettman insist the team stay in TN?
Buffalo Sabres: They lost the player that they had gotten in return for Brian Campbell (Steve Bernier), two defensemen (Teppo Numinnen and Dimitry Kalinin), and were unable to lock up Ryan Miller who may be next to go. They replaced him with Craig Rivet, a very solid defenseman, but hardly compensation for all they lost.
Ottawa Senators: They lost Redden and Emery and replaced them with Jason Smith, Jarko Ruutu, and Alex Auld. That's at least a wash, but they were one of the worst teams in the league at the end of the season and backed into the playoffs in a division that is going to get tougher.
Colorado Avalanche: They lost the goaltender who carried them through the first round of the playoffs, and Raycroft is not going to compensate. Darcy Tucker is a nice pick-up, but the team lost Andrew Brunette who is better. And they still don't know if Sakic is returning.
Maple Leafs: This is mostly because Toronto showed it has not learned how to make shrewd moves. Niklas Hagman, Jeff Finger, Curtis Joseph, Mikhail Grabovski, Jamal Mayers, and Ryan Hollweg will not even combine to make up for the loss of Mats Sundin (who looks pretty sure to be lost one way or another), much less also Darcy Tucker and Raycroft, who they are not likely to miss too badly. Plus they spent too much money to not get any better.
One of the biggest winners from this year's NHL off-season has to be the Columbus Blue Jackets. This organization is desperate to end its playoff drought next year and with that in mind, the Jackets entered the summer looking to remake themselves as a sound defensive squad with power down the middle.
The additions of Fedor Tyutin, Christian Backman and Mike Commodore give Columbusa much deeper and more reliable blueline, which will make Pascal Leclaire's job a lot easier.
The Jackets got rid of perennial headache Nikolai Zherdev and replaced him with the highly-sought Kristian Huselius; while the loss of young two-way centre Dan Fritsche is more than offset by R.J. Umberger.
Throw in feisty Raffi Torres and skilled Russian Nikita Filatov, the sixth overall pick in the draft, and Columbus is well on their way to respectability.
Staying in the Western Conference, the Detroit Red Wings also had an excellent summer, keeping their Cup-winning roster intact and bolstering it in just the right places.
The highlight of Detroit's summer was landing marquee free agent Marian Hossa for a relatively cheap $7.4 million. The Slovak makes the Wings' top six unit downright scary. Another key move was locking up UFA-to-be Brad Stuart, acquired from L.A.at the deadline, for the next four years.
To me, Stuart was the piece that put the Wings over the top, and keeping him around means that they'll continue to have the best top four in the league. Detroit also added depth in goal, bringing in Ty Conklin to compete for the backup's job and drafting Tom McCollum 30th overall.
Looking at losers now, the New York Islanders have to be at the top of the list. This is a team stuck in a holding pattern near the bottom of the standings with few bright prospects on the way.
Instead of getting a stud like Filatov or Schenn to build their team around, the Isles traded down to ninth at the draft and took centre Josh Bailey, who was rated in the mid-teens.
Then, instead of going with youth for the coming season (since the playoffs are clearly not an option), New York brought in ancient centre Doug Weight and 30ish defenseman Mark Streit as free agents.
This will ensure that the Isles don't get the first overall pick OR a sniff of the playoffs. Top it all off with the firing of Ted Nolan and the Islanders have had an off-season from hell.
The Pittsburgh Penguins would also like to forget the summer of 2008. The hockey world was shocked at the full-fledged exodus of talent from a Stanley Cup finalist and the league's brightest young team. Hossa, Malone, Roberts, Hall, Laraque, Ruutu, Conklin, the list of losses goes on and on and on.
The Penguins were robbed of their entire toughness quotient in one fell swoop. And while Matt Cooke is a fine two-way player, he can't replace what they've lost. Nor can Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko fill the shoes of Hossa or Malone. About the only thing that went right for Pittsburghwas locking up Marc-Andre Fleury and Brooks Orpik.
Derek Harmsworth (Toronto Maple Leafs Community Leader)
Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes,
LA Kings, New York Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers
Detroit Red Wings
The game's best team, adds the game's best available player. It's impossible to give Detroit anything but a passing grade in this year's free agency, and in fact it's partly due in fact to free agent frenzies of the past.
Adding Hossa to an already potent line-up which features every member of last year's Stanley Cup team (save Dominik Hasek and Dallas Drake) and Detroit appears to be on course for a second straight cup.
Ken Holland, GM of Detroit, is able to work his magic like no other GM around him. While other teams shell out big money, long term deals, Holland is almost always convince players to take pay cuts in order to keep a championship core together. It's no different with Hossa. While some are angry he spurned a bigger offer from Edmonton, Pittsburgh, and maybe Boston as well, it's hard to not have a little respect for Hossa, taking a pay cut to win the big one.
They overpayed for good (not great) defenseman. They also paid too much for a goalie who has never won a playoff series. But still, Chicago makes the list of free agent winners as far as I am concerned.
Ever since the new CBA was ratified, there has been lots of talk about how rebuilding a team doesn't take as long as it used to. Teams can build a championship contending team in just a few years.
Unfortunately on the flipside, once you reach that potential, the window of opportunity to win the Cup is much smaller now. Teams really may only have a timeframe of two or three years to win it all before free agency tears them apart.
That is why the urgency was there in Chicago. With young, homegrown stars on forward and defense, the Blackhawks looked at the success and game plan of the Penguins and made the decision that the time was right to go for it.
Adding Campbell and Huet has put them over the salary cap, and clearly something has to give. And still, once that trade, whatever it is, gets done, it could make them that much better.
A young team with a whole lot of potential, the Oilers were aggressive this summer.
Despite being spurned (reportedly) by Marian Hossa and Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Lowe was still able to work some trade magic and bring in some valuable players who will add experience, while at the same time possibly hitting the prime of their careers.
Joni Pitkanen ws swapped to Carolina for power forward Erik Cole. Oilers management and fans alike got a good look at Cole back in 2006 when, despite being injured just a few months before with a serious neck injury, Cole returned to the Stanley Cup finals, helping Carolina defeat the Oilers.
Adding Lubomir Visnovsky could turn out to be a great deal for the Oilers as well. Trading Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene to tinsel town for "Lubie" the Edmonton Oilers added another Pitkanen type player, who can perform at both ends of the ice, but was stuck wallowing in L.A. (who isn't, to be honest.)
Moving Stoll and Greene will also make some roster spots for even more talented youngsters in the Oilers organization. Guys like Rob Schremp, Liam Reddox, and J.F. Jacques will be looking for full time work with Edmonton this season.
Honourable Mention: Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes were not real active in the free agent market, adding only Kurt Sauer. But the things they have done since they last played a hockey game have been nothing short of impressive.
Adding Oilli Jokinen to an already impressive stable of centres that includes, Peter Mueller, Steve Reinprecht, and Kyle Turris, the Coyotes are one of those Penguin-esque teams that appear maybe a trade deadline deal away from pushing them over the playoff hump and into championship contention.
They're only at $38 million as it stands, meaning they will have to add a little to hit the cap floor, but will have plenty of money kicking around in February to be deadline day players.
New York Islanders:
Doug Weight? Seriously? Don't get me wrong, I am sure Doug Weight is a great guy, but the Islanders are a team in transition to be sure, which makes this signing kind of suspect.
I wasn't alive during the Islanders dynasty days, but it makes me sad to see a once proud, dominant franchise in the shape it is in. The management is in somewhat of a disarray, they have no head coach, and they don't appear to be really doing anything that resembles a game plan.
They are rebuilding, I will give them that. And they do have some solid young players to look at. The only one that really jumps out at you though is Kyle Okposo, which makes you scratch your head as to why they would trade down in this June's draft.
They paid a lot of money for Mark Streit, maybe a little too much, but defenseman are at a premium.
Try as they might, the Islanders just can't get it right, and this year was no different.
Los Angeles Kings
Another team that is rebuil...well, they're in trans....you know, I'm not too sure what L.A. is doing these days.
They have some young guys who are going to be good for them. Guys like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Patrick O'Sullivan. However, unless they turn out to be the best three players in the world, or unless LA gets players to work alongside them, they will wallow in the city of angels. Until they likely get fed up and sign elsewhere.
Still, it's not all doom and gloom for L.A. Aside from those mentioned above, goalie Jonathan Bernier is developing nicely, Jack Johnson is going to be a good defenseman, and Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene can be serviceable players for the Kings.
But as for this year's free agency, they didn't do much to help themselves out. They've lost Rob Blake. Brad Stuart was given a ticket out at the deadline and ran as far, and fast as he could. Mike Cammalleri was also shipped to the Flames for a few draft choices whick may be alright down the road. They also raised ticket prices for the upcoming season.
As for next season, it looks like Drew Doughty could be joined by Team Canada world junior teammate John Tavares in L.A.
The Thrashers didn't address nearly any of the needs that were staring them in the face following a disappointing last season.
The club grossly overpaid for Ron Hainsey, who although was solid for Columbus, is $4.5 million dollars that could have been better spent elsewhere (like on Jeff Finger..just kidding.)
Adding Jason Williams was a solid move, but losing Jason Krog and Darren Haydar were bad mistakes. The two were integral in the Chicago Wolves run to the Calder Cup.
The defense corps for the Thrashers isn't a bad group. The forwards, save of course Ilya Kovalchuk are lacking.
I don't see Atlanta making the playoffs again this year, and free agency was a big reason why.
I want to thank you all for reading the first ever Hockey Roundtable on Bleacher Report. I hope you enjoyed it and now have a clear understanding of this offseason's winners and losers, if you didn't have one already.
If you weren't contacted to take part in the round table, keep doing what your doing and writing good articles. Who knows, you may be selected to participate in the next one.
I had a lot of fun with this and hopefully with you support we can have more of these in the future.
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