NHL: Free Agents All Smoke and Mirrors Through 2010-2011 Quartermark

James CriderCorrespondent INovember 12, 2010

NHL: Free Agents All Smoke and Mirrors Through 2010-2011 Quartermark

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Buy, buy, buy.

    At noon on July 1st, that's what fans want the general manager of their favorite hockey team to do. Many got their wish.

    Unfortunately for most, the elation of signing high salary players players has faded, and been replaced by feelings of vexation, confusion, and despair.

    In a team by team run down of how each NHL franchise has fared with the signings they made in the 2010 off-season through the quarter mark of 2010-2011, I'll prove what I implied months ago: sometimes, they're free agents for a reason.

Anaheim Ducks: B

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    In an attempt to replace the loss of defensemen Scott Neidermayer, the Ducks signed former Buffalo Sabre Toni Lydman to a three year, $9 million contract.

    Though Lydman missed four games due to double vision, he's looked great in the 13 games he's played. The defenseman has averaged over 24 minutes per game, and has scored seven points with a +9 rating.

    However, the Ducks traded RFA James Wisniewski to the Islanders, and his replacements—Paul Mara and Andy Sutton—have been mediocre.

Atlanta Thrashers: C+

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    The Thrashers made alot of trades in the 2010 offseason, but the only significant signings were that of forward Fredrik Modin and goaltender Chris Mason.

    Modin has been decent with four goals—but a -8 rating—while Mason has been worth his modest paycheck (two years at an average of $1.85 million per), going 6-5-1.

Boston Bruins: A-

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    The Bruins get points for avoiding the free agent market and showing faith in their roster. They have exploded out of the gate with an 8-4-1 start.

    Granted, past free agent mistakes like Michael Ryder put the Bruins too close to the salary cap ceiling to really go out and spend, but we'll over-look that.

Buffalo Sabres: F

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    The decision to let long-time defensemen Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder leave via free agency has cost the Sabers dearly, as they've stumbled to a 5-9-3 start.

    Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller has played considerably worse, and the loss of Lydman as his defensive partner has caused 2010 Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers to struggle immensely, with a -10 rating through 17 games.

    Free agent defenseman signing Jordan Leopold has played well as an individual, with 10 points in 17 games, but his solid play hasn't helped the team improve as a whole.

Calgary Flames: C-

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    The decision to bring back cast-off forwards Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay isn't any less head scratching as it was on July 1st.

    Tanguay has played well, but Jokinen has only two goals through 14 games, and the offense as a whole has continued to struggle. However, Flames GM Daryl Sutter gets bonus points for taking a chance on journeyman Brendan Morrison, who's second on the Flames with 11 points.

Carolina Hurricanes: C

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    The reunion between the Carolina Hurricanes and defensemen Joe Corvo and Anton Babchuk has been a mixed bag through 15 games, with both players playing well in spots but neither playing great overall.

    Signing Edmonton cast-off Patrick O'Sullivan has turned out to be a bust, as he's been a healthy scratch more games than not.

Chicago Blackhawks: D

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    Goaltender Marty Turco has been a fairly good signing by the Blackhawks, as the veteran has gone 7-5-1 with a respectable save percentage.

    However, the Hawks poor grade stems from years of poor salary cap management that caused them to lose a lot of good players over the summer. In hindsight, they shouldn't have matched the four year, $14 million contract the San Jose Sharks signed RFA defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to, as he's pointless and a team worst -8 through 16 games.

Colorado Avalanche: B

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    The Avalanche didn't sign anyone over the off-season, and while they haven't played as strongly as they did to open 2009-2010, they're the youngest team in the NHL and their young players have played well, despite an NHL high 10 injuries.

Columbus Blue Jackets: B

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    The Jackets were inactive in the free agent market during the off-season, and so far it's paid off. Through 14 games, Columbus has seemed to regain part of the magic that helped them make the playoffs in 2008-2009, as they're off to a 9-5-0 start.

Dallas Stars: B

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    Letting Mike Modano go was tough to see for many Stars fans, but with only two goals through Detroit's first 14 games, he hasn't been missed much.

    Other than depth signings like Adam Burish, the Stars didn't do much. But like Columbus, they've found new life with the players already on their roster, starting 8-5-0.

Detroit Red Wings: B

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    The Red Wings most significant signing of the off-season was veteran Mike Modano, who, as mentioned, has been lack luster. Ruslan Salei has been competent after being forced into big minutes due to an injury to Brian Rafalski, but the aging veteran will likely see less ice time as the season progresses.

    Regardless, both signings were low risk, high reward. Individual production aside, Detroit is off to a great 10-3-1 start.

Edmonton Oilers: C

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    The Oilers played it smart by not signing any big free agent forwards and allowing young stars like Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall to get sufficient ice time.

    However, giving the Oilers anything more than a "C" is simply impossible, as free agent signees Jim Vandermeer and Kurtis Foster have only contributed to an absolutely putrid defense.

Florida Panthers: D

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    The Panthers decided on depth signings like Chris Higgins and Mike Weaver to tide them over, but this is one team that could have benefit from taking a risk on a bigger name player. The team hasn't made the playoffs in a decade; at least give the fans some incentive to show up to games.

    Florida has started the season 6-7-0, likely en route to another bottom five finish.

LA Kings: B+

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    Before a recent injuries, free agent signings Willie Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky were playing well, and the Kings 10-3-0 start is one of their best in years.

    But perhaps their best move—or luckiest—was when Ilya Kovalchuk rejected their long term contract offer in favor of the New Jersey Devils.

Minnesota Wild: B

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    Even though it's unlikely that he'll be worth his three-year, $10.5 million contract long-term, center Matt Cullen has played well to start his Minnesota Wild career, scoring 12 points in 13 games.

    However, the Wild are off to another shaky start (7-5-0), and one must wonder if years of questionable signings—like Marek Zidlicky and Martin Havlat—are a big reason why. 

Montreal Canadiens: B+

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    The Habs only made two signings of note in the off-season, goaltender Alex Auld and forward Jeff Halpern.

    Auld has only played one game—a win—but the 34-year-old Halpern has been a pleasant surprise, producing 10 points in 15 games.

    Following the Jaroslav Halak drama, Montreal's decision to give Carey Price the full work load has paid dividends, and the Habs are off to a 10-5-1 start.

Nashville Predators: C

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    It's hard to assess the signing of center Matthew Lombardi, as he's only played two games in which he was pointless before sustaining a concussion.

    But I guess it's never a good thing when a player who signs a $10 million contract gets injured right away.

New Jersey Devils: F

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    To shore up their defense, the Devils signed defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov to four-year contracts. The oft-injured Volchenkov has only played four games, while Tallinder is -8 through 16 games.

    They also signed some guy named Ilya Kovalchuk.

    It's way too early to tell if the decision to sign Kovalchuk was a good one, but there's no denying the offseason the New Jersey Devils had in 2010 has to be one of the worst by any team in the history of the NHL.

    From the Kovalchuk drama, to losing draft picks and being fined by the league, then being unable to dress a full line-up due to an onslaught of injuries en route to a terrible 4-10-2 start, all have turned the Devils from respected franchise to laughing stock.

    It doesn't help that the 100 million dollar Kovalchuk has three goals in 15 games.

New York Islanders: B

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    Islander's GM Garth Snow made a sneaky signing in forward P.A. Parenteau, who has four goals and 10 points through 15 games. James Wisniewski, a sign-and-trade from the Ducks, has been the Islanders best defenseman thus far, though he does sport an ugly -11 rating.

    Defensemen Mark Eaton and Mike Mottau have eaten up a lot of minutes, but unfortunately the Islanders couldn't land a bigger name like Paul Martin.

New York Rangers: C-

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    When do the Rangers ever have a good off-season?

    Brian Boyle has been a bright spot, as he's somehow managed to score seven goals through 15 games, but the Glen Sather blue print of signing past their prime talent was evident again, as forwards Alexander Frolov and Ruslan Fedotenko have been decidedly lackluster.

    And once again, the Rangers are a high-priced, mediocre team.

Ottawa Senators: C+

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    Sergei Gonchar, who signed a three-year, $15 million contract has had a good start with the Sens (12 points in 16 games), but unfortunately the rest of the team hasn't.

    The Senators are off to a fairly poor 8-7-1 start, and it's evident that they should have have signed a goalie with some of their cap space.

    And while Gonchar has played well, he's very injury prone. Senators GM Brian Murray has a knack for acquiring players following their best years (Cory Stillman, Alexei Kovalev, Martin Gerber) only to get lackluster production. I'm willing to bet Gonchar's contract will be a problem two years from now, when he'll be 38.

Philadelphia Flyers: A-

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    The best under the radar signing of the offseason goes to the Flyers, who've found a gem in young goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

    The 22-year-old is the leading candidate for rookie of the year after starting the season 9-2-1, and will likely keep the starting job, even when Michael Leighton returns from injury.

    However, the Flyers off-season wasn't perfect, as the Nicholai Zherdev experiment is off to a bumpy start, the former New York Ranger a healthy scratch at times.

Phoenix Coyotes: C

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    Signing free agent left wing Ray Whitney to a two-year, $6 million contract seemed like a savvy move at first. However, the 38-year-old is coming off of off-season surgery, and has no goals in 13 games this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: F

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    Defensemen Paul Martin has been good after signing a five-year, $25 million contract—but it's still debatable if he's worth it.

    And sadly, he's been the bright spot of the Penguins off-season.

    Zbynek Michalek, who also signed a five-year deal, has only played a handful of games due to injury and is a -5, while Mike Comrie has been a bust, going goal-less through 14 games.

    The 7-8-1 Penguins offense has stalled, largely due to the decision to let go defenseman Sergei Gonchar, as well as ignoring the need for top six wingers to play with Crosby and Malkin. And for all the money they invested in Martin and Michalek—two "stay at home" defensemen—the Penguins have given up the eighth most goals in the NHL.

San Jose Sharks: C+

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    After letting go long-time goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, the Sharks decided to sign the more affordable Antero Niittymaki two a two-year deal worth a third of the $6 million Nabokov made last season.

    And Niittymaki has played great, going 6-1-2 to start the season.

    Unfortunately, the Sharks also signed goaltender Antii Niemi, who knocked them out of the playoffs en route to leading the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup.

    In addition to creating an unnecessary goalie controversy, Niemi has been awful, winning only one of his first five starts with a goals against average of nearly 4.

St. Louis Blues: B

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    The big story of the off-season for the Blues was their acquisition of goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the Montreal Canadiens.

    But free agent wise, the team did very little, and led by young players like T.J. Oshie and Erik Johnson, have started the season 9-2-3.

Tampa Bay Lightning: B+

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    In Steve Yzerman's first off-season as an NHL GM, the Lightning were very active, signing over five players.

    On defense, 2004 Stanley Cup alumni Pavel Kubina was re-signed to a two-year deal, and has played in big situations for the Lightning. Avalanche cast-off Brett Clark, signed to a two-year deal, has also had a decent start.

    In goal, Dan Ellis has started the season 4-2-0 while splitting time with Mike Smith (also 4-2-0), and forward Dominic Moore has scored an impressive five goals in nine games.

Toronto Maple Leafs: C+

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    Clarke MacArthur has been a great signing with the Leafs, leading the team in goals (7) and points (12) through 15 games.

    Unfortunately for Leafs fans, MacArthur was the only offensive player Brian Burke signed.

    Colby Armstrong was non-existent offensively in the eight games he played before sustaining an injury, and the signing of defensemen Brett Lebda is looking like a very poor decision. The former Red Wing a -6 in only eight games played.

    For 2010 to have been a successful off-season, the Leafs needed to get more offense, and Burke failed to deliver.

Vancouver Canucks: A-

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    Unfortunately, defenseman Dan Hamhuis has missed a lot of the season due to injury, but has looked good when in the line-up.

    Meanwhile, checking line forward Manny Malhotra is off to a great start with 10 points in 14 games. Raffi Torres, also expected to be a third-line player, has also joined in the offense with 7 goals to start the season.

Washington Capitals: A-

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    After an ugly defeat at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Washington Capitals had a sure-handed offseason, making no major signings.

    Once again, they're the best team in the regular season, opening 2010-2011 with a 12-4-0 record.