Today is the final installment of our free agent frenzy grades. The Kings are atop the heap in the Pacific division, while the Canucks lead the Northwest.
Vancouver Canucks – B
The Stanley cup finalists concentrated most of their efforts in retaining as many useful pieces on workable contracts as possible. Although he was unable to come to terms with the Christian Ehrhoff, Mike Gillis managed to re-ink Kevin Bieksa (five years, $4.6 million/year), Sami Salo (one year, $2 million) and Chris Higgins (two years, $1.9 million per year) to relatively reasonable deals. The Bieksa contract is the only one bearing any significant risk, although he and Dan Hamhuis did combine to form a very effective shut-down pairing for the club. Bieksa won’t be a bargain going forward, but there’s a good chance he’ll provide value for those dollars, at least in for the first few years.
The Canucks also added Marco Sturm for a so-so deal ($2.25 million for one year). Sturm is a decent enough top-six winger whenever he’s healthy, but that’s an exceedingly rare occurrence these days judging by his TSN profile. Sturm can probably be a 50-point player for Vancouver if he stays in the line-up all year, so the cap hit isn’t outrageous and the term is just right.
Gillis also added a number of AHL depth type players in Andrew Ebbett, Mark Mancari and Steve Pinnizotto. Aside from Ehrhoff, the club didn’t lose anyone of note with tough guys Tanner Glass and Rick Rypien signing in Winnipeg and third-liner Raffi Torres landing in Phoenix.
Calgary Flames – C+
Although Jay Feaster cleared up some cap space with the recent Regehr and Kotalik trade, the Flames stood on the sidelines this past weekend. Most of Feaster’s work was done when he re-upped Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross prior to July 1, although Calgary still has a hole in their top-four rotation on the back-end.
The Flames were rumoured to be in on the Brad Richards derby, but failed to coax him away from New York. Unable to land the whale, Feaster instead concentrated on the minnows, signing a swath of AHL depth players including Carter Bancks, Jon Rheault, Clay Wilson, etc, and generally no one who will have an impact on the big team this season.
As this article was being written, the Flames re-signed PP specialist Anton Babchuk for two years at $2.5 million per year. The cap hit and term aren’t bad, but Babchuk adds to the clubs’ plethora of bottom-pairing defenders (Chris Butler, Brett Carson, TJ Brodie, Cory Sarich) meaning he may be in line for top-four minutes at even strength – a role he has never played in the NHL.
Minnesota Wild – D
The Heatley/Havlat trade may have been spurred by the fact Chuck Fletcher struck out in free agency this weekend, with the Wild doing little more than bleeding talent. Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Brunette and Jose Theodore all fled for greener pastures, while John Madden and Antti Miettinen remain unemployed. Cam Barker was bought out and signed by the Oilers, but he was so bad in Minny his loss is more addition by subtraction.
The lone semi-notable signing by Fletcher so far is the retention of Josh Harding, previously a capable back-up who has battled injuries the last few seasons. He was inked for the bargain basement price of $750,000 for one year.
Colorado Avalanche – D -
What a completely baffling year for Avs GM Greg Sherman, topped by his recent efforts in the UFA pool. He was completely taken to the cleaners by George McPhee in the Semyon Varlamov trade. Then he signed J.S. Giguere for a sizable sum (two years, $1.25 million/year), a goalie whose last decent season came in 2007-08. The addition of third-liner Chuck Kobasew is a nominal one (two years, $1.25 million/year) while the Jan Hejda signing makes some sense given his club’s youth and inexperience on the back-end (four years, $3.25 million), although the term and amount strikes me as overpayment since Hejda is 33-years old.
The best signing by Sherman was retaining Milan Hejduk for another year at $2.6 million. Hejduk is aging, but remains a solid top-six contributor and is a good bet to score 50+ points for the Avalanche again next year.
Edmonton Oilers – C -
The NHL’s worst team didn’t do much to improve for next year, instead choosing to replace prior ineffective pugilists Steve MacIntyre and Zach Stortini with slightly less ineffective pugilists Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk. Eager is the better actual hockey player of the two, although his ceiling is still that of a fourth-line grinder. Hordichuk is a capable scrapper, but can’t do much of anything else. Steve Tambellini also chose to gamble on Cam Barker, the former fourth overall pick and Chicago Blackhawk who fell off the face of the earth for the Wild last season. Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness detailed all the reasons why Barker was a bad bet in this post, an article which included this summary list:
- Offence: No
- Defence: No
- Physical play: No
- Great skating: No
- Puck mover: No
- Crease clearer: No
- Leadership: No
- Emotion: No
- Cheap: Most likely
The only bullet point that isn’t accurate is the last one, since Barker didn’t even come all that cheap ($2.25 million for one year). At least the term is right.
The only move the Oilers made that actually addressed on-ice needs for the club was the signing of Eric Belanger (three years, $1.75 million/year). Although not the most prolific scorer, Belanger is a capable second or third line veteran centre who can take defensive zone draws and help shelter all the kids while chipping in with a couple of points.
San Jose Sharks – B
Doug Wilson has spent most of the summer orchestrating trades rather than get involved with the frenzy. After inking Devin Setoguchi earlier in the off-season he sent him a package to Minnesota for top-four defender Brent Burns. Then the two teams recently renewed acquaintances in the Heatley/Havlet swap.
Wilson payed a relatively steep price for Burns, but the top-end of the defensive depth has been an organizational concern for awhile, and Burn’s cap hit for next season ($3.55 million) suddenly seems like a bargain. Wilson also moved a potential problem/declining asset in Dany Heatley for a comparable, yet cheaper player in Martin Havlat. Both trades have a good chance of working out for the Sharks next year and in the long-run.
Wilson’s only two signings thus far have been bottom-pairing defender Jim Vandermeer (one year, $1 million) and defensive center Michal Handzus (two years, $2.5 million/year). Neither is going to add much in the way of offence, although Handzus should allow Joe Pavelski to slide up the depth chart and take more of an offensive role at even strength next season.
Anaheim Ducks – C
The Ducks have done absolutely nothing so far. Andreas Lilja and minor leaguer Josh Green signed elsewhere. That’s it.
Phoenix Coyotes – B –
Even though financial pressures and ownership troubles continue to plague the club, Phoenix GM Don Maloney continues to plug along as best he can. He has made a number of decent bets in free agency so far, including re-signing useful winger Radim Vrbata for $3 million per year over three years. A 20+ goal scorer, Vrbata is the frequent line mate of Martin Hanzal, meaning he sees the very best the opposition has to offer most nights. His ticket is very competitive given the circumstances he plays in.
Maloney also added bottom-six forwards Boyd Gordon (two years, $1.325 million/year) and Raffie Torres (two years, $1.75 million/year). Gordon is almost pure defence, scoring just five goals last year, but will add an element of sandpaper to the Coyotes fourth line. Torres has more to offer at the other end of the ice and can play in a top-six type role in a pinch.
Probably the most questionable move by Maloney was signing goalie Mike Smith (two years, $2 million/year). Smith is incredibly injury prone and his save percentage the last two years was .899 and .900 in Tampa Bay. That’s not even replacement level puck stopping. This could be Jason Labarbera’s big chance to finally become a starter in the NHL given his far superior save rate relative to Smith the last couple of years. The Coyotes retained Labarbera for $1.25 million per year for the next two years. Oddly, the club also announced the signing of journeyman back-up Curtis McElhinney today, although he’s likely headed to the AHL come October.
Los Angeles Kings – A
It’s been a good summer for Kings fans and management. Dean Lombardi took advantage of the great Philadelphia sell-off, snagging Mike Richards for Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn (the same package that was rumoured to be on the table for Jarome Iginla last November by the way). Simmonds and Schenn are useful assets for sure, but the addition of Richards gives the Kings an enviable depth chart down the middle (Anze Kopitar, Richards, Jarrett Stoll).
Lombardi also managed to land left winger Simon Gagne at a discount (two years, $3.5 million) thanks to his off-season last year. Gagne is an injury risk and probably isn’t a 40-goal player anymore, but is much better than the 17-goals and 40-points he managed for the Lightning. If he can stay healthy and play with either Kopitar or Richards in the Kings’ top-six, 60+ points isn’t out of the question.
The last order of business for Lombardi now is to re-sign RFA Drew Doughty.
Dallas Stars – C+
The Stars’ moves have been a mixed bag thus far. GM Joe Nieuwendyk snagged Adam Pardy (two years, $2 million/year) and Michael Ryder (two years, $3.5 million) to deals that were probably both a little pricey given each players’ limited ceiling. That said, the contracts given to depth guys like Radek Dvorak (one year, $1.5 million), Vernon Fiddler (three years, $1.8 million/year) and Brad Lukowich (one year, $1 million) are decent value.
The Stars also gambled on Sheldon Souray to the tune of $1.65 million, which is probably a worthwile risk. Souray fell out of favor in Edmonton for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his grossly inflated salary. At just $1.65 million he can comfortably play on the point during the power-play and on the Stars’ third pairing at even strength.
Of course, Brad Richards’ contributions have yet to be replaced, but there was little chance of that happening outside of re-signing the man himself. The starss offence is therefore likely to take a big hit next season unless Nieuwendyk can make a miracle trade or two.