Despite a rather uninspiring crop of UFA’s this year, day one of the free agent frenzy was nonetheless fairly busy with more than 70 players finding new homes. There were a few bargains had, but the overall scarcity of high quality players drove the prices of a lot of middle talent guys through the roof. There’s no doubt that more than a few deals which were inked the last 24-hours will be rued a few years down the road.
Here is how I would grade teams in the Atlantic and Northeast divisions after day one:
Philadelphia Flyers – C+
It’s almost impossible to decipher the Flyers off-season plans this year. After grabbing future assets and youngsters in exchange for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Paul Holmgren added geezers Jaromir Jagr ($3.3 million) and Andrea Lilja ($0.737 million) for a combined cap hit of about $4 million. Jagr has played in the KHL since 2008-09 and will turn 40-years old in February so there’s no telling how much he has left in the tank. As for Lilja, he has been an average third-pairing defender for years. Last year, he averaged just 13:53 at even strength for the Anaheim Ducks and despite playing against mostly third and fourth line players and starting slightly more often in the offensive end, Lilja sported the very worst possession rate of any Ducks defender (-19.64 corsi/60). In short, he’s old, slow and the Flyers signed him for two seasons.
On the other hand, Holmgren did manage to ink RFA Jakub Voracek to a decent one-year contract worth $2.25. The erstwhile Blue Jacket is a good bet to provide value at that price. Philly also added third/fourth liner Maxime Talbot for four years at $1.8 million per year. Talbot doesn’t have a very high ceiling, but he’s a capable enough bottom-six forward and his contract isn’t overly onerous, so the deal isn’t a bad one.
Pittsburgh Penguins – B+
It was a minor shock when the Penguins announced that they would not be qualifying RFA Tyler Kennedy, who at 24-years old has been a better than average third-line, utility forward for the club since he broke into the league. Ray Shero rectified that potential error yesterday, though, signing Kennedy to two year deal worth $4 million total. Considering some of the other contracts doled out yesterday, Kennedy’s salary is an absolute steal of a deal for a youngster who scored 21 goals and regularly out-shot his opponents last season.
The Pens also added the talented but fragile Steve Sullivan for a song ($1.5 million for one year) which is a low-risk, moderate-reward move. Sullivan is older and routinely injured but is talented enough to add some punch to the Penguins forward depth should he remain healthy. Pittsburgh also re-sign Pascal Dupuis for two years at $1.5 million per year and tough guy Arron Asham for a single season at $775,000.
Overall, Shero managed to attract or re-sign a number of under the radar but useful players on very manageable contracts.
New York Rangers – C+
It was announced today that Glen Sather managed to land the Brad Richards white whale this morning with a nine year, $60 million ($6.67 million/year). It’s tempting to crown the Rangers the big winners of free agency for signing the best guy available, but the tale of the New Jersey devils and Ilya Kovalchuk should be a caution against such an impulse.
As Jonathan Willis explained here, Brad Richards is a very good player, although not elite at even strength. He’s 31-years old and the nine year deal carries him past his 40th birthday. The cap hit isn’t terrible given the player Richards is currently, but there’s every chance the deal will turn into an albatross a few years down the road (see: Scott Gomez and Chris Drury). Most NHLers start to see their production fall off in their mid-thirties so there is significant future risk attached to a deal of this price and length. Of course, Sather has forever deferred risk into the future for assumed present gains thanks to the eternal option of buying out or demoting his errors, so this is just par for the course in New York.
The Rags also added former Penguin Mike Rupp, likely as a Derek Boogaard replacement. Rupp is a more functional player than Boogaard as far as actually playing hockey goes, although relative to non-enforcers he’s still below average. Dan Bylsma sheltered Rupp as much as possible last year, playing him against the very softest opposition available and starting him way more often in the offensive zone and he barely broke even in terms of possession. As such, his $1.5 million per year (for three years) is probably about $1 million per year too much.
Finally, the Rangers re-signed Ruslan Fedotenko to a one year, $1.4 million deal (that’s right…Mike Rupp will slightly more than Fedotenko next season). That’s a very nice deal for a high utility player like Fedotenko who can play capably in just about every situation.
New Jersey Devils – C
Lucky Lou wasn’t very active on day one, choosing instead to ink a couple of his own free agents in Andy Greene and Johan Hedberg, Greene is a decent enough rearguard who can play in the Devils top-four rotation. At $3 million per year for the next four years, he’ll probably provide value for his cap hit, although he won’t be a bargain either. Hedberg, on the other hand, is 38-years old and a career .901 SV% goalie. At some point, the Devils are going to have find a guy who wasn’t born in the 1970′s to guard the crease because Brodeur can only hold on for so long.
New York Islanders – B-
Garth Snow mostly stood on the sidelines yesterday. The Islanders only move was to sign defensive specialist Marty Reasoner to a two year, $1.35 million per year contract. The deal is a solid one for a team populated by youngsters trying to find their legs at the NHL level. Reasoner is a seasoned vet who can play tough minutes and penalty kill with aplomb. He may skate with Franz Nielsen to form a capable shut-down line for the Islanders next year.
Boston Bruins – C
The Stanley Cup champions should probably look to firm up their blueline (particularly with the impending departure of Tomas Kaberle) but the only thing they did yesterday was sign Benoit Pouliot to a one year, $1.1 million contract. Pouliot scored a career high 30-points for the Canadiens last year and is mostly a third line player at this point in his career. He might make for a cheap replacement for Mike Ryder, though, who was signed away by Dallas.
Montreal Canadiens – D
The Canadiens lost both top-four defender Roman Hamrlik and useful third line centerman Jeff Halpern to Washington, as well the aforementioned Pouliot to Boston. Their only signing of note was left-winger Erik Cole for $4.5 million over the next four years. Cole is a decent enough top-six option, but given his age (32) and his injury history, the contract is too much for too long. Cole’s career high in points was 61, which he managed back in 2006-07, but he’s probably a 50-point guy at best now. Cole spent most of his time at even strength with Eric Staal last year, far and away the Hurricanes best player, which probably augmented his totals a tad as well.
There’s no doubt Cole will add some size and jam to the Canadiens attack, but the price-tag is excessive.
The Habs also inked mediocre back-up Peter Budaj for two years at $1.15 million per. He’ll likely play 10-games or less for the club next year.
Buffalo Sabres – D-
The Sabres did well in their trade with Calgary at the draft. The club gave up spare parts in exchange for an established, shut-down defender whose $4.05 million per year cap hit suddenly seems like a bargain after yesterday’s festivities.
Unfortunately, the Buffalo organization followed that admirable move up by throwing around dollars like a drunken sailor. First, they signed Christian Ehrhoff to what will probably stand to be the most ridiculous contract of this off-season: $40 million for the next 10 years. The cap hit per year is palatable, but only because the deal is so grossly front-loaded it’s a wonder the league didn’t shut it down for cap circumvention. Ehrhoff stands to pocket an absurd $10 million in real dollars this coming season and will grab $8 million the year after. He will have made more than half of his total, 10-year salary after just three seasons once his salary dips to $4 million in year three.
While the Ehrhoff deal is morbidly admirable in it’s Machiavellian accounting, the length and amount of money committed to a guy who mostly faced third-liners in Vancouver, often played behind the Sedin twins at even strength and spent a ton of time on one of the best PP’s in the league is flat-out ridiculous. Ehrhoff has been an offensive specialist throughout his career and not even a great one – the 50 points he managed last year was a career high. He has only scored more than 40 points three times, and that was playing on offensive juggernaut teams (San Jose and Vancouver). It’s entirely probable, therefore, that Buffalo will pay Ehrhoff $10 million next year to score about 40 points in a sheltered role. Yuck.
The Sabres doubled-down on that error by signing Ville Leino for six years and $27 million. Like Ehrhoff, Leino was put into a position to succeed by his last coach. Few Flyers were more sheltered than Leino last year: his zone start ratio was 62.3% (one of the highest in the league amongst regular skaters) and he faced bottom-six opposition. Nonetheless, he was still under water in terms of possession (-1.71 corsi/60) and only garnered 52 points thanks to some PP time and an inflated PDO of 102.3. Leino is a mediocre third liner who saw ultra soft minutes and got the bounces last year. He has never scored more than 19 goals in the NHL and will turn 28 in October. Nevertheless, the Sabres are scheduled to be pay him top-six winger money for the better part of the next decade.
Finally, Buffalo re-signed pugilist Cody McCormick for three years and $3.6 million total. Like most tough guys, McCormick mostly played at the bottom-end of the rotation, although his 20 points is more than most enforcers usually manage.
Toronto Maple Leafs – C
Despite some needs at both forward and defense, the Leafs were quiet yesterday. Their only actions were to re-sign AHL ‘tweener player Jay Rosehill to a suitably cheap contracts. The good news for Leafs fans is Burke didn’t get sucked into any absurd bidding wars.
Ottawa Senators – C
Ottawa was similarly quiet, inking fringe guys like Francis Lessard and Alex Auld. Bryan Murray has some money to spend after clearing the decks last trade deadline, but either his overtures were ignored yesterday or he’s committed to the full-on rebuilding path and decided not to get overly involved in the free agent market this summer.