Every year on Canada Day, hope springs eternal. While the majority of NHL teams have the bulk of their roster in place, some see this period as an opportunity for huge advancement. Here is a look at the early winners and losers, along with the best of the remaining free agents…
Pittsburgh Penguins: Ray Shero is a tremendous general manager. That much is clear. However, even Shero outdid himself with the signings of former New Jersey Devil Paul Martin as well as former Phoenix Coyote Zbynek Michalek for a combined $45 million. Martin was one of the most sought-after defensemen in free agency and Michalek is a shot-blocking machine. Michalek’s defensive ability makes him an ideal partner for the offensively-gifted Kris Letang. While the Penguins did overpay a bit for Martin, it was a luxury they could afford. The combination of Letang, Michalek, Martin, Brooks Orpik, and Alex Goligoski offers Pittsburgh what may be the best defensive corps in the league. Re-signing agitator Matt Cooke to a three-year deal for less than $5.5 million total was another shrewd move.
Philadelphia Flyers: If Pittsburgh doesn’t have the best set of defensemen in the league, then Philadelphia does with the acquisition of Andrej Meszaros, the underrated signing of Sean O’Donnell, and the re-signing of Braydon Coburn. Meszaros exemplifies the style of defenseman that Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren likes. Big, tough, and nasty and he’s the ideal No. 3 defenseman in Philadelphia. O’Donnell is a terrific fit as a sixth defenseman. Paying $1 million for a sixth defenseman who will be a plus player and net about 15 points is a steal. The Flyers will be the clear off-season winners if they eventually get rid of Simon Gagne’s contract in exchange for a solid goaltender.
Calgary: The majority of the hockey world was absolutely stunned, to say the least, when Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter decided to bring Olli Jokinen AND Alex Tanguay back for a combined $7.7 million. To make matters worse, Jokinen finagled a no-movement clause into his contract. What makes the move so questionable is that the Flames dealt the underachieving Jokinen to the New York Rangers for cap space and now seemed poised to add a slew of young players to a rebuilding team. Instead, they brought Jokinen and Tanguay back for another run at the eighth spot in the Western Conference and a five-game first round exit instead of putting young pieces for an eventual contender. Questionable to say the least.
New York Rangers: Derek Boogaard signed with the Rangers for four years and $6.5 million. Ponder that thought for a minute. A player with a combined eight points in the past four seasons signed for an average of $1.625 million per year. SERIOUSLY? It’s understood that Boogaard isn’t a sniper by any stretch of the imagination and that’s not his role, but the fact that players like Matt Cooke and Tomas Holmstrom both re-signed with their teams for nearly the same amount is enough to make fans wonder at what exact point in time Glen Sather lost his mind.
TOP REMAINING FREE AGENTS
Ilya Kovalchuk’s rumored new deal with the Devils would take him off the market and leave a mediocre class of free agents still available.
Evgeni Nabokov is arguably the top dog left, but with his age (34), history of sub-par play in big games (Playoffs- pick a year, Olympic quarterfinals vs. Canada) and high price tag (rumored to be north of $6 million), he could be waiting for a while before he finds a suitable offer.
Lee Stempniak scored at least 27 goals in two of the past three seasons, including 28 goals last year in a season split between Toronto and Phoenix. He fits best as a complementary option to a bigger name, but for roughly $4 million per season, teams could do a lot worse.
Alexander Frolov: As maddeningly inconsistent as they come, Frolov’s rumored to be getting a ton of interest from the KHL. While Frolov’s numbers have been on a steep downswing since his career year in ’06-’07 (35-36-71), he would still be an attractive option to a contender as a second-line winger.