NHL Free Agency: 12 Free-Agent Signings Most under the Microscope

Kevin GoffContributor IOctober 11, 2011

NHL Free Agency: 12 Free-Agent Signings Most under the Microscope

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    Anytime a team adds a player via free agency, the staff of the team, the fans and the whole of the hockey world will look at the following season to analyze how things played out for the team and the players.

    It is also true that there will be certain deals and certain players that will naturally draw a more analytical eye because of the player or the amount of money involved.

    There are certainly no shortage of free agents worth talking about this season who will hopefully have a positive effect on their teams.

    Here are the 12 free-agent signings most under the microscope.

Jose Theodore

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    The Florida Panthers were one of the biggest losers from free agency even with the great pickups that they made.

    The reason is because they let Tomas Vokoun get away from them for almost nothing to the Washington Capitals.

    To replace him, the Panthers ended up signing former Vezina and Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore. Sounds great in theory, the only problem with that is that those days are so far behind Jose Theodore that not even the Minnesota Wild wanted him to start for them.

    It's possible that his time as a backup gave him more perspective and time to work on his game, but people will have their eyes on Florida because they may have the worst one-two goalie tandem in the NHL today.

    All those other signings will be meaningless if they can't stop the puck with any consistency, and that's what they're looking at here.

Joel Ward

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    Joel Ward earned himself a big raise with the Washington Capitals after he had an outstanding postseason with the Nashville Predators.

    He'll definitely be under the microscope as the year goes along because of the size of his contract.

    Will he be able to put up the big numbers for the Caps that he did during last year's playoffs? Only time will tell, but Washington and much of the Eastern Conference will be watching this one to see how Ward plays out.

Jamie Langenbrunner

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    Jamie Langenbrunner has a distinguished list of accomplishments throughout his NHL career, and the St. Louis Blues know that a guy like him is a great glue guy for any team.

    St. Louis has a great core of young talent that needs some leadership, and they are hoping that Langenbrunner will help provide that leadership.

    It is definitely going to be a story line people will follow this year to see if Langenbrunner still has the ability he showed earlier to help solidify a very promising young team.

    St. Louis has a lot of potential for this season and it will be very interesting to see how much Langenbrunner helps this team mature.

Tomas Vokoun

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    Easily the strangest story of free agency, Tomas Vokoun ended up in Washington on a steal of a contract after seeming certain that he would go to the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Capitals are always under the microscope in the NHL, especially around playoffs time, and now that they have a goalie that puts up the kind of consistent numbers Vokoun has, a lot more is expected from them.

    It will be interesting to see how Vokoun handles the scrutiny that he will get from the Capitals, since pretty much everybody in the NHL can usually rule Florida out of any playoff contention early in the year.

    Also, the fact that Vokoun didn't start opening night for the Caps made for another interesting story.

    This time, it really is Stanley Cup or bust for Washington.

Tomas Fleischmann

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    Tomas Fleischmann had one of the more interesting contract signings of free agent day when Florida signed him to a four-year contract for roughly $4 million a year.

    The biggest reason that this signing will be under the microscope is Fleischmann's health.

    With Colorado last season, Fleischmann missed a great deal of the season because he was put on blood thinners to fix a pulmonary embolism, a problem that has a tendency to stick around.

    Though he is declared healthy by doctors, how long he'll be able to stay so will be very interesting to see.

    I wish for nothing but the best for Flash and I hope his health stays consistently better. He's a hell of a player that is very underrated.

Erik Cole

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    Erik Cole inked a deal with the Montreal Canadiens on signing day this year.

    Cole's production is going to be something that a lot of people will be following this season for one very specific reason.

    The only time that Cole played for a team other than the Carolina Hurricanes, he wasn't very good.

    Cole has had success for the Hurricanes playing in Montreal and he is hoping that that success will carry over with him as Montreal becomes his new home.

    It will be interesting to see if Cole is able to find success outside of Carolina this time around.

Christrian Ehrhoff

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    Christian Ehrhoff had a fun couple of days right before signing day opened up, having his rights traded twice.

    First the Canucks traded his rights to the Islanders, who promptly turned around and sent his rights over to the Buffalo Sabres who locked him up for a long time.

    Ehrhoff will be under the microscope to see if he is able to provide the same kind of impact on the blue line in Buffalo that he did in Vancouver.

    A lot is expected out of Buffalo this year, and Ehrhoff's production is going to be a big part of their success/failure this year.

Tomas Kaberle

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    After Kaberle and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, the message to Kaberle was pretty simple. "LEAVE."

    Kaberle's production with the Bruins was definitely lacking, and people will be paying attention to Kaberle to see if his brief and rather unproductive time in Boston was an anomaly or not.

    If he is able to start producing again, he could be a big part of Carolina's return to respectability. 

Brad Richards

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    Naturally the biggest free-agent signing of the year is going to end up being one of the most watched players the following season.

    I don't think that this will be the one most underneath the microscope simply because Brad Richards going back to play for John Tortorella is like a big homecoming for him.

    Richards won a Conn Smythe with Tampa Bay under Torts and is familiar with his system and how to play well in it.

    Plus, he's going to be playing with some of the best talent he's had around him since he was on that same Tampa Bay team.

    People will pay attention to Richards and the Rangers because he is expected to elevate them in the Eastern Conference, and if he doesn't, it will be considered a big failure.

Semyon Varlamov

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    The way that Semyon Varlamov got to the Avalanche was part of one of the least expected actions ever to happen on signing day for free agency.

    It had been reported in Denver for days that the Avalanche were going Tomas Vokoun or bust, and then suddenly Varlamov's name comes up going to Denver.

    Varly will be under a ton of pressure this year to prove that he is capable of handling a No. 1 load and can stay healthy for an entire season.

    This will also be a huge season to watch because the Avalanche gave up next year's first-round draft pick in order to get him, and if the Avalanche tank again there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.

    There is a TON at stake for both Varlamov and the Avalanche this season as it will easily be one of the most scrutinized signings of the offseason.

Ilya Bryzgalov

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    Ilya Bryzgalov was definitely the biggest free-agent goalie on the market and though he signed with the Flyers before free agency opened, he will definitely be under the microscope.

    A goalie like him can't possibly go into a situation where there was literally no continuity in goal and not be put under the microscope by absolutely everybody.

    He will be expected to be consistent and to help push the Flyers back into the Stanley Cup Finals. Plus, he will have to win over the very fickle fans of Philadelphia who can turn on a goalie at a moment's notice if he isn't performing up to their expectations.

    There is a lot at stake for Bryzgalov and the Flyers for the next several years.

Drew Doughty

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    Drew Doughty's gigantic new contract with the L.A. Kings could easily be the most scrutinized signing of all of the free agents this year.

    Doughty, who held out for all of camp and the majority of the preseason, ended up signing a huge contract that has him as a $7 million cap hit, just slightly less than Shea Weber.

    This will be under everybody's microscope simply because Doughty is nowhere near the same caliber of defender that Shea Weber is, but is now being paid on the same level.

    The long-term effects of Doughty's contract will be felt very soon as his cap hit has now put the team in a serious bind with the salary cap, especially if it should move down again.

    The pressure is now on Doughty to come out and prove that he is deserving of a contract that size. 

    To me, this is the contract that will be the most watched over by everybody in the hockey world.