Brad Richards left Dallas for the bright lights of Broadway
The summer of 2011 saw more than 200 National Hockey League free agents sign new contracts. Some elected to remain with their previous teams while others chose to move on to new organizations.
Those who re-signed with their clubs did so because they were either restricted free agents, meaning they could not sign with a new team without that new team providing compensation to the player's former organization.
However, most of the players who joined new clubs did so for a variety of reasons. Players move on because it may be a better fit for their families or the athlete is given the opportunity to play closer to his family. Players like nothing more than to have their parents and siblings be able to watch them play in person just as they did before they were professionals. Of course, there is the issue of compensation which usually means a pay raise is involved, and what person would turn that down?
Of the 200-plus players who signed new deals this past summer, we look at the 10 top (in descending order) free agents and discuss whether they made the best decision for themselves by choosing the new organizations they signed with.
Tomas Kaberle left the Stanley Cup champions for Carolina
Defenseman Tomas Kaberle began the 2010-2011 season as the anchor of the Toronto Maple Leafs defense. After playing in 58 games and amid a myriad of fanfare, he was dealt at the NHL trade deadline to the Boston Bruins. The Bruins believed Kaberle's puck-handling and passing skills would improve the team's power play. The former Maple Leaf would use those skills to feed the puck to Zdeno Chara whose blistering slap shot (which routinely reaches over 100 mph) would overpower opposing goaltenders, making the Bruins power play virtually unstoppable.
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup but the power play was not the success that it should have been. Kaberle and Chara did not become the anchors of a vaunted power play and were split up during the playoffs. When Chara hoisted the Cup in Vancouver, it was in spite of a power play that had scored on 11.6 percent of its opportunities.
Kaberle signed a three-year contract worth $12.75 million with the Hurricanes on July 5, 2011 as an unrestricted free agent.
Upon signing the defenseman, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement issued by the organization, “Tomas is one of the top puck-moving defensemen in the NHL and power-play specialist. He has had a good career and is now a Stanley Cup champion...”
Kaberle is highly skilled and has a Stanley Cup ring. It is hoped he will bring those skills and experience to Carolina in order to lead the club to its second Stanley Cup in franchise history but without the same type of supporting cast he enjoyed in Boston, it is doubtful that will happen.
Daniel Carcillo has taken his agitating style of play to Chicago
With 986 career penalty minutes in 282 NHL games, Daniel Carcillo was signed by Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman to add grit and toughness to a lineup that lost that aspect after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
Carcillo has managed to score 36 goals and 37 assists totaling 73 points over the course of his career which has included stops in Phoenix and Philadelphia. It was in his second season with the Coyotes (2007-2008) that he gained the reputation of a take-no-prisoners enforcer as he amassed 324 penalty minutes in 54 games. After spending the last three seasons with the Flyers, the 6'0", 203-lb winger will be asked to provide protection to Chicago's talented trio of Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Many are predicting the Blackhawks to go deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring of 2012. They have a talented roster and with Daniel Carcillo ensuring that his new teammates will be able to apply their skills and speed as they wish, those predictions may come true.
Raffi Torres took his aggressive game to Phoenix
Raffi Torres was a first-round draft pick (fifth overall) in the 2000 NHL entry draft. The New York Islanders selected the junior scoring star with the expectations that he would continue his scoring ways in the NHL. Torres did not adjust to the pace of the National Hockey League as quickly as the Islanders would have liked and they shipped him to the Edmonton Oilers at the 2003 trade deadline.
With the Oilers, Torres put up three seasons of 15-plus goals. Combined with three seasons of no fewer than 50 penalty minutes, he was beginning to approach the power forward potential that many had been waiting to see. An injury-filled 2007-2008 led to Torres being traded to Columbus where he spent one-and-a-half seasons followed by 14 games with Buffalo. Healthy in 2010-2011, the winger appeared in 80 games with Vancouver where he scored 29 points and sat in the penalty box for 78 minutes. Over the course of his career, the Toronto native has played in 512 games and produced 211 points to go along with 390 penalty minutes.
Torres has made two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, helping the 2005-2006 Oilers and 2010-2011 Canucks play for hockey's holy grail. Both teams came out on the losing end of those series.
When Torres signed a two-year contract with the Coyotes on July 1, 2011, Phoenix general manager Don Maloney told the media, "Raffi is a big, strong winger who is an excellent skater. He is a tough player to play against and will add grit and skill to our lineup."
Torres, as noted by Maloney, will add grit to the Coyotes lineup. How much skill he will add is a question to be answered. He entered the NHL with high expectations of being a scoring wiz. He has failed at fulfilling those expectations and will not become the next Shane Doan anytime soon.
Sean Bergenheim hopes to continue scoring goals in the Sunshine State.
Left wing Sean Bergenheim is entering his fifth full season in the NHL. He was drafted by the New York Islanders in the first round (22nd overall) in the 2002 NHL entry draft after exhibiting a high skill set while playing for Jokerit-Helsinki in his native Finland.
He played in 18 games for the Islanders during the 2003-2004 season scoring one goal and one assist. The 5'10", 205-lb winger spent the next season with New York's American Hockey League affiliate in Bridgeport, Connecticut where he scored 29 points in 61 games. He appeared in 28 games with the Islanders in 2005-2006 and accounted for four goals and five assists. He would see no NHL action until 2007-2008 when he finally appeared to adjust to the pace of the league. In the next three seasons, Bergenheim would score more than 10 goals just once and could not total more than 24 points.
The 2010-2011 season saw Bergenheim sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent. He had moderate success contributing 14 goals and 15 assists in limited ice time in 80 games. Bergenheim's personal breakout party finally arrived during the Stanley Cup playoffs. He led the Lightning to the Eastern Conference finals by scoring nine goals and 11 points in 16 games. An injury forced the 27-year-old to the press box during the series and the Lightning lost the series to Boston in seven games.
Bergenheim became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2011. On that day, he signed a four-year, $11 million contract with the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers improved themselves during the summer however paying first-line money to a player who has never scored like a first-liner shows that Florida has very unrealistic expectations from this player. Bergenheim may fulfill his potential but at his age, the odds are against him.
Erik Cole left laid back Carolina for pressure packed Montreal
Erik Cole is entering his 11th season in the National Hockey League. He has known the pressure of playing in the Stanley Cup Finals having made the trek up hockey's mountain with the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. The Montreal Canadiens are hoping Cole's experience and leadership abilities will get them past arch-rival Boston this season and into the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Canadiens were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in overtime of Game 7 in the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Montreal is a team built on speed and quickness but lacks size and were handled effectively by Boston's bigger, stronger defensemen.
After playing in Carolina for six seasons, Cole was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in 2008. Appearing unhappy in the Great White North, he played in 63 games and scored a disappointing 16 goals and 11 assists. The Oilers traded Cole back to Carolina in March, 2009. In the final 17 games of that year, Cole amassed 15 points. The native of Oswego, New York plied his trade for the next two seasons with Carolina.
Cole became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2011 and signed with Montreal that day. The Habs signed the 32-year-old wing to a four-year, $18 million contract.
At 6'2", 205 lbs, Cole will be in the top three of forwards when it comes to size on the Canadiens. The Montreal organization is hoping the combination of size, toughness and scoring ability (as attested by his 184 goals, 206 assists for 390 points in 620 career games) will be exactly what their franchise needs to have a successful season and in Montreal, if the Canadiens do not win the Stanley Cup, the season is deemed a failure. This is not lost on Cole. He feels up to the task of leading his new club to the Stanley Cup and he has the tools to do so.
If Steve Sullivan can remain healthy, the rich will get richer
Steve Sullivan just might be the best player in the NHL you've never heard of or, at least, heard very little of.
He has faced adversity on and off the ice. In junior hockey with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he was told he was too small to play in the OHL; all he did was score 113 points in his final year in the league.
At the 1994 NHL entry draft, Sullivan had to wait until the ninth round to be selected (233rd overall). This slick, hard-working winger is now embarking on his 15th NHL season. In those 15 years, Sullivan has performed for New Jersey, Toronto, Chicago and Nashville. He has enjoyed his most productive seasons while skating for Chicago and Nashville.
Unfortunately, due to his size (5'8", 161 lbs) he lost the entire 2007-2008 season due to a back injury. He has also missed parts of seasons with groin and other injuries. When healthy, Sullivan has been a consistent contributor. Over the course of his career he has played 890 games and compiled 266 goals along with 416 assists for a total of 682 points. On the plus/minus ledger, he enters the season with a plus-108. There can be no question that he is a clutch player; of his 266 goals, 66 have been scored on the power play. Twenty came while shorthanded. Most impressively, 50 have been game-winners.
Steve Sullivan may be nearing the end of his career but in the right situation, he will be a solid contributor. As a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins (signed for one year) he could find himself in the right place at the right time and earn that elusive Stanley Cup ring.
Ville Leino left Philadelphia to accept a $5.175 million raise from Buffalo
After playing for two teams in three NHL seasons, Ville Leino is hoping that he has found a home for the rest of his career. The native of Savonlinna, Finland, a free agent, was signed to a one-year contract by the Detroit Red Wings in May, 2008. Over the next one-and-a-half seasons (the winger had signed a two-year extension in 2009), Leino appeared in 55 games with the Wings and scored a disappointing nine goals and seven assists for a total of 16 points.
Leino was traded by Detroit to Philadelphia on February 6, 2010. During his two seasons with the Flyers, the 28-year-old left wing saw action in 94 games and amassed a total of 21 goals along with 36 assists resulting in 57 points.
It was in the Stanley Cup playoffs where Leino made a name for himself. The 6'1", 190-lb forward has played in 37 career playoff games. In those games, he has put up the impressive numbers of 10 goals and 18 assists. Those 28 points in the playoffs are what the Buffalo Sabres are banking on.
Over the course of his first two contracts, Leino earned $775,000 in the first year and $825,000 in the second year. On July 1, 2011, Leino signed with the Buffalo Sabres. His new deal's length will be six years. When the contract expires, he will have earned $27 million. The contract calls for him to be paid $6 million this season.
With that contract, the time has come for Ville Leino to show the hockey world he is the elite player two franchises expected him to be. He certainly has the skill and size to join the ranks of the league's best players and with the changes Buffalo made during the summer of 2011, Leino may be the missing link to Buffalo's first Stanley Cup Championship in 2012.
Max Talbot took his Stanley Cup ring from Pittsburgh to arch-rival Philadelphia
If being in the right place at the right time plays a part in a person's life then Max Talbot may experience that in the spring of 2012. He knows about being in the right place when it comes to playing hockey.
After enjoying two offensively productive junior seasons with the Hull Olympiques and Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Talbot spent the 2004-2005 season with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins of the American Hockey League. He made his NHL debut with Pittsburgh in 2005. Over the next six seasons with the Penguins, the Lemoyne, Quebec native played in 388 games. He put the puck home 52 times and assisted on another 56 goals. His 108 total points were good enough for third-line duty.
Talbot's offensive contributions and physical play helped restore Pittsburgh to NHL elite-team status. The organization reached the pinnacle with a Stanley Cup Championship in 2009. While Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury received most of the notoriety, players like Talbot were credited by their teammates for doing the "dirty work" to lead the club to the top of hockey's mountain.
Max Talbot has, statistically, played his best hockey in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As a Penguin, he took part in 66 playoff games. He lit the lamp 14 times and assisted on 19 other goals for a total of 33 points. Those numbers may not rival those of former teammate Crosby, however, if Talbot can continue to succeed in the playoffs, he will add to his jewelry collection by earning another Stanley Cup ring.
The Flyers made big changes to their lineup in the offseason. Signing Max Talbot to a five-year, $8.75 million contract could be one of the steals of the 2011 free-agent signing period.
All Star Tomas Vokoun brings 262 career wins to Washington
Tomas Vokoun had quite an auspicious start to his NHL career. A 1994 draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, Vokoun's first NHL game in the 1996-1997 season saw him give up four goals in the first period against Philadelphia.
He would move on to Nashville in 1998 and become the starting netminder. The Czech native would spend eight seasons in Music City and help build the franchise from a laughingstock into a playoff contender. He would appear in the 2004 NHL All-Star Game as a member of the Western Conference team while he was with the Predators. Vokoun won a team record 161 regular-season games but could not get the Preds to the Stanley Cup as he won only three playoff tilts during his time in Nashville.
Vokoun was traded at the 2007 NHL draft from Nashville to Florida for a first-round and two second-round picks. In four seasons with the Panthers, Vokoun did all he could to help his team qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs but he did not have a strong supporting cast and although he played in the 2008 All-Star Game for the Eastern Conference, he never played in the postseason while in South Florida.
On July 2, 2011, the 35-year-old puck-stopper signed as a free agent with Washington. The Capitals have spent the last two years looking for strong goaltending and may have found their man. As mentioned above, he lacks playoff experience but Vokoun has earned an Olympic bronze medal and also owns two gold medals from the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships. He is with a true Stanley Cup contender this season and he may not only qualify for the playoffs but see his name etched onto the Stanley Cup.
Brad Richards left the Texas ranges, can he deliver a Cup to the Rangers?
Last summer, the hockey world had one collective question: Where would Brad Richards play in 2011-2012?
To say that this 31-year-old center ice man possesses the scoring touch every NHL team looks for, would be a major understatement. Richards, who was drafted in the third round (64th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1998 NHL entry draft, began his high-scoring days before joining the National Hockey League. With the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he enjoyed seasons of 115, 131 and 186 points. Those numbers would most certainly project a player in today's draft previews as a first-round selection, however the knock on Richards was that he was not a skilled skater nor was he considered big enough at 6'0" tall.
In 2000, Richards made the jump from junior to the Lightning and scored 21 goals and 62 points during his rookie season. The native of Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island, Canada did not win the Rookie of the Year award but that point total was a harbinger of things to come.
Richards would go on to experience success with the Lightning for seven seasons including winning the Stanley Cup in 2004. That season he scored 79 points in 82 games then added 26 points in 23 playoff games.
Tampa Bay elected to trade Richards on February 26, 2008 to the Dallas Stars. He became a fan favorite in his first game as a Star by compiling five assists.
In 2009-2010, Richards would produce the second 91-point season of his career (his first coming in 2005-2006 with Tampa Bay). Despite scoring those 91 points, the Stars failed to qualify for the playoffs.
In the four seasons Richards played in Dallas, his clubs made one playoff appearance. In the 2007-2008 postseason, the center scored 15 points in 18 games but the Stars could not win the Stanley Cup. That honor went to rival Detroit.
Upon becoming a free agent in July, 2011, Richards fielded offers from five NHL teams. Richards decided the New York Rangers would give him the best opportunity to win the second Stanley Cup of his career. He may be correct in thinking that. The Rangers have one of the best goaltenders in hockey in Henrik Lundqvist. They also have a good blend of youth and experience in the lineup which Brad Richards greatly enhances. He brings a total of 718 points in 774 career games and with a nine-year, $60 million contract in his pocket, he has all the incentive he needs to produce offensively and bring a Stanley Cup to Broadway.