One of hockey journalism’s true follies is the immediate reaction to the first weekend of unrestricted free agency. Every writer is dying to tell you which teams won and which teams lost before the newly signed player has even put his apartment on the market. It’s foolish, embarrassing and hurts the reputation of the media as a whole.
That’s why today, I won’t give you the winners and losers of free agency.
Today, I will give you the winners, losers and SO MUCH MORE of free agency.
Look, I’m no better than anyone else. I have opinions. Some good, some bad, all pointless. To be honest, it’s the summer, and there’s less and less to write about, so let’s go just go into this fully aware that it’s silly and have fun with it.
So without further ado, here are free agency’s winners, shootout winners, ties, losers, blowout losers and healthy scratches after just three days.
Ottawa Senators – The day started off great, as 40-year-old Daniel Alfredsson decided to leave Ottawa for Detroit. I know that sentimentality washed over the city of Ottawa like a Swedish rainbow of bittersweet Isterband, but it wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened. I know it’s a great punch line, but really, he picked up the puck after losing Game 4 in Ottawa, said postgame the team wasn’t good enough, then went out and laid an egg in Game 5. Your 2013 Mark Messier Leadership Award winner!
That gave the Senators more money to spend, and Bryan Murray pulled off the big deal of the day and landed Bobby Ryan from the Ducks. It came at the expense of Jakob Silfverberg, a prospect and a first-round pick, but it’s worth it if they can lock up Ryan.
The addition of Clarke MacArthur is a sneaky-good move too. The Senators could use someone to replace Sergei Gonchar on the blue line, but even if that doesn’t happen, this weekend was still a win for the Senators.
Detroit Red Wings – I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the Red Wings would miss the playoffs last season. But it turns out they are still pretty good and now they are coming to the East, which means 140 points isn’t out of the question now that they’ve added Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss to the lineup.
That gives Detroit a top-six of Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Alfredsson and Franzen-Weiss-Nyquist with Helm-Abdelkader and either Cleary or Samuelsson as the third line. Yeah, that blue line is scarier than a snake that bites you on the butt while you’re sitting on the toilet, but the Red Wings look really good heading into the season. And with solid veterans in the locker room, they can make sure they prevent Alfredsson from losing focus and quitting when things get tough.
When the cap rises to about $70 million next season, Kenny Holland will have about $20 million in salary coming off the books. Alfredsson at one year for $5.5 million vs. Damien Brunner for three years and $10 million is everyone’s issue here, but the Red Wings have young players coming through the system, making Alfredsson the right play.
Yes, toilet snakes are real.
New Jersey Devils – Look, no one is saying Lou Lamoriello didn’t overpay for Ryane Clowe. That’s a lot of money for a guy who could be at the start of a career freefall. But take away his 2013 debacle and look at what he did in his previous four seasons. Who was better — him or David Clarkson? Clowe is a year older, but it’s well within reason for him to bounce back and be even better than Clarkson.
Michael Ryder is what he is at this point. He’ll show up, score you 20 goals, have sick hair, disappear for 15 games, still have sick hair, and that’s what $3.5 million gets you. Ryder is pretty darn good in the postseason, should the Devils make it there.
Throw in the fact that the Devils retained Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus after having just Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and 32 fourth-line guys signed among their forwards entering the weekend, and it has to be considered a win. Parting with Henrik Tallinder was a necessity with the Devils teeming with defensemen and so close to the cap.
Dallas Stars – Jim Nill became the first GM in NHL history (probably) to solve his center-ice issues all in one day. He acquired Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverely in one trade and Shawn Horcoff in another. No one is saying the loss of Loui Eriksson is a small one, but the work Nill did this weekend was exceptional.
The big key here is if Nill was aware of Seguin’s penchant for not changing his clothes and leaving his phone around homophobic friends. People love to make jokes about how old people are bad with technology, but when it comes to iPhone passwords, Seguin seems to have a similar understanding of that as my grandfather, and he died like 20 years ago. I also don’t remember my grandfather hanging out with bros who couldn’t resist gay jokes, so really, my grandfather was like 100 times better than Seguin but couldn’t skate like him.
Also Dan Ellis is an upgrade as a No. 2 goaltender.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Retaining Sergei Bobrovsky and landing Nathan Horton (yeah, yeah, *contract joke* but this is free agency and this is what players cost sometimes) instantly makes the Jackets better. If you’re Columbus, you have to be fearful of Horton’s health, because while yes, he is 28, with all of his injuries, he may have the body of a 68-year-old. And I don’t mean Hellen Mirren’s 68-year-old body. More like Brian-Doyle Murray’s 68-year-old body.
Just like the Red Wings, the Jackets are moving East and could be a contender if their young players continue to grow and Bobrovsky doesn’t turn out to be a lockout-season wonder.
Carolina Hurricanes – Everyone expected a big move at the draft, but Rutherford made his move to get a defenseman Friday by getting Andrej Sekera from the Sabres for Jamie McBain and a second-round pick. It’s not flashy, but it’s a considerable improvement on a team that may or may not have had more than one defenseman on its roster last season. I only caught a few Hurricanes games and it’s possible fans who won contests were allowed to be the team’s second pairing at home games.
Jim Rutherford took a $700,000 gamble on Mike Komisarek, who is probably the only person in the world happier to leave Toronto than I was after I spent nine hours at the airport before my flight departed, and improved the back-up goalie position by getting Anton Khudobin, which means Cam Ward might play fewer than 68 games for once.
You’re not going to run out and say YES WE GOT SEKERA HERE COMES THE CUP if you’re a Hurricanes fan but these are nice little pickups.
Winnipeg Jets – Kevin Cheveldayoff had a plethora of room under the cap when things got started Friday, but outside of minor signings, didn’t do anything until acquiring Devin Setoguchi for a second-round pick Saturday.
Coupled with trading for Frolik at the draft, it’s been a quietly decent offseason for the Jets. Once Cheveldayoff inks his RFAs – Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little, Alex Burmistrov among others – the Jets could have a playoff team on their hands.
Wait, there is no more Southeast Division. Forget it.
I mean, they’re in the West now. Have you seen that conference? The Jets could wind up looking like a 7-year-old accidentally placed in eighth-grade class, looking around at the other students wondering how they are so good at everything. Still, a good weekend though.
New York Islanders – Travis Hamonic wasn’t a UFA, but getting him under contract for seven years is a great move by Garth Snow. He’s a really good young defenseman who has room to get even better, even if most people haven’t heard of him because they don’t watch hockey for a living despite having a job that requires they watch hockey.
In the UFA world, the Islanders brought back Evgeni Nabokov at a nice price and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is greatly underrated. Count me among the people who believe last season was a fluke and the Islanders would’ve missed the playoffs in an 82-game season, but these were smart moves one season before the team moves to Brooklyn.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Rob Scuderi is an upgrade on the blue line and, unlike the very wealthy Kris Letang, is really good at playing defense as a defenseman. Ray Shero kept Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis and also Craig Adams if you’re into that sort of signing.
The Penguins are in a man-made prison with their goaltending, but a team that was really good in the regular season in 2013 suffered its biggest loss in free agency when Matt Cooke signed in Minnesota. While teams like Chicago and Boston are dismantling, the Penguins are retaining their key pieces.
Chicago Blackhawks – It’s like 2010 all over again. Win a championship, shed salary to get the under cap, hope it works out. Most of Stan Bowman’s work was done long before the weekend, but he found a suitable replacement for the erstwhile Ray Emery and kept Bryan Bickell and Nick Leddy.
Situations in which salary must be chopped are difficult ones, the Blackhawks seem to have made the most of it.
Edmonton Oilers – They had a weird weekend to me. It’s like they did a lot, but it’s like they did nothing. They said goodbye to Nikolai Khabibulin and Shawn Horcoff, but they brought in Andrew Ference. There’s a whole lot of other moves around those – hello, Boyd Gordon and welcome back, Ryan Jones, and fare thee well, Eric Belanger – but it’s like a pitcher with a wild, elaborate windup who can’t break 87 with his fastball.
Mixed sports similes aside, the Oilers seem to be saying, “We have a really good core here, we bolstered the blue line simply by not bringing back Ryan Whitney, so let’s take a run with what we have.” I like that. To me, and I’ve yet to say this, the Oilers are finally going to be a playoff team in 2014.
Minnesota Wild – At first glance, they look like losers. Like, the-first-year-of-the-Ottawa-Senators losers. Keith Ballard? Matt Cooke? Mitchell Friedman?
But Chuck Fletcher got jammed up when Dany Heatley couldn’t be bought out. He had to make some tough decisions, and one of them was going with the young guys perhaps more than he wanted. The optics of dealing Devin Setoguchi for a pick are bad, but if that means more minutes for Charlie Coyle or Mikael Granlund, what’s wrong with that? With the cap coming down, this is what has to be done.
Cooke is a bargain as a Cal Clutterbuck replacement. If losing Matt Cullen bothers you, it shouldn’t. The Wild aren’t any worse off now than they were at the end of the season. Heck, they may be even better.
Phoenix Coyotes – A case can be made that no one spent taxpayer money better this weekend than the Coyotes, who landed arguably the best offensive center on the free-agent market in Mike Ribeiro.
Don Maloney still has work to do – the Coyotes have just 10 forwards on their roster now – but adding Ribeiro without losing much is a nice start.
Boston Bruins – Peter Chiarelli was in a situation where things had to happen in order to get the club both under the salary cap and in a position to pay Tuukka Rask a large sum of money over an extended period of time. Everything he did or he even didn’t do raised eyebrows.
Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley were sent packing to the Stars, who sent the delightful Loui Eriksson back to Boston. Nathan Horton was allowed to walk to Columbus, and Jaromir Jagr was never coming back. Andrew Ference? Later, man. Anton Khudobin? It’s been real, brother.
Chiarelli signing Jarome Iginla should make the Bruins winners simply for the comedy of watching fans and media backtrack after slagging Iginla for picking Pittsburgh over Boston at the trade deadline.
There are simply too many moves to assess here, hence the tie. All this dumping of salary and letting players walk is so the Bruins can sign Rask, and if he lives up to his huge contract, this makeover will be worth it.
Montreal Canadiens – It’s not that they didn’t do anything, but Marc Bergevin’s biggest move was signing Danny Briere, and Briere isn’t very big. I’m not a guy who believes a smaller player can’t be effective, but a team of guys under 6-feet are never going to have success in the NHL.
Adding Briere cancels losing Michael Ryder, who did not seem to be a favorite of Michel Therrien. Is it better to stand pat than pay out of the nose for a Nathan Horton or Ryane Clowe to complement the good, young core the Habs have? As I like to say, only time will tell.
New York Rangers – There wasn’t much for Glen Sather to do in free agency except fill some depth holes, which sounds really dirty if you say it aloud. Dominic Moore is a very good fourth-line center who can kill penalties, Benoit Pouliot is great as a 12th or 13th forward, and Aaron Johnson has skates and a stick and can play defense.
The real key will be what happens with RFAs Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin. The Rangers are thin on cap space with the retention of Brad Richards for one more season, so Brian Boyle’s days in New York are likely numbered.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Let’s say you’re Steve Yzerman. You studied under Kenny Holland for four years. You learned at the feet of the master. You studied at the finest GM university in the league.
Now, let’s say your long-time professor says he’d rather have Stephen Weiss than Valtteri Filppula at basically the exact same salary. What does that tell you? Does it raise a red flag? Does it make you think he knows something you don’t? Or, does it make you go out and sign the guy your mentor just cast off?
Well, if you’re Yzerman and are desperate to replace Vinny Lecavalier, you sign Filppula as quickly as you can. I’m leaving this in the tie category for now because the Lightning needed a top-six center desperately, but remember this if Weiss outperforms Filppula in the coming years.
Anaheim Ducks – They were really close to squeaking out a loss, but bring back Saku Koivu and dealing Bobby Ryan for essentially Jakob Silfverberg is about as good as it gets for Anaheim.
Off topic: Did you know Cam Fowler makes $4 million a year for the next five seasons? He does.
The Ducks weren’t working with a lot of cap space and have to keep $5 million available for Teemu Selanne. This was about as well as they could’ve done.
Calgary Flames – Karri Ramo, huh?
Hey, the Flames seem committed to rebuilding and didn’t throw a ton of money at players that would only help them finish 10th in the West instead of 13th. “Jay Feaster didn’t do anything dumb” is perhaps the biggest upset of the 2013 offseason.
Vancouver Canucks – On the whole of the offseason, yes, Mike Gillis is about the loseriest loser to ever lose. He dealt Cory Schneider for the ninth pick in the draft and nothing more, and now he has to placate professional poker player Roberto Luongo, who probably mentally checked out of Vancouver a year ago.
But in terms of free agency, there wasn’t much Gillis could do with the team pressed against the cap. No major signings, no major departures, unless you count Luongo’s will to live as a departure.
St. Louis Blues – Doug Armstong was about as openly desperate for a middle man as a mafia guy looking to launder money. He went after Vinny Lecavalier hard, only to be outbid by the Flyers, who have no concept of money or a salary cap. Mike Ribeiro went to Phoenix, Matt Cullen went to Nashville, Danny Briere went to Montreal and Stephen Weiss went to Detroit.
That left the Blues with Derek Roy and a one-year, $4 million contract.
The Blues appear poised to contend for a Cup, yet Armstrong wasn’t willing to pay the top centers on the market and instead gives Roy a “prove-it” contract. How Roy reacts to being the Blues’ third option (at least) will go a long way in determining the quality of this signing, which doesn’t appear to be very good today.
Philadelphia Flyers – Overpaying for Vinny Lecavalier when you don’t need Vinny Lecavalier is the worst way to add Vinny Lecavalier. They needed a defenseman and added Mark Streit right before the frenzy, but the problem there is Mark Streit isn’t a top-two defenseman and the Flyers needed one really badly. Of course, the market was thinner than Calista Flockhart during a fast (timely jokes) but overpaying Streit isn’t the answer.
I know everyone loves the Ray Emery story, but with Steve Mason as your only goaltender, Emery’s durability is a huge issue. Emery hasn’t played more than 34 games since the 2006-07 season, and he’s going to have to play more than that in Philadelphia. I’d be absolutely grim if I was a Flyers fan right now.
Los Angeles Kings – This makes it two straight offseasons in which Dean Lombardi won’t tinker too much with his team, and with a Stanley Cup and final four appearance in that time, it’s tough to blame him. But the loss of Rob Scuderi is a big one, and will put more pressure on Slava Voynov and leave the Kings with an even smaller margin for error should injuries befall the blue line again.
This would be a shootout loss if I felt like adding one more arbitrary category, but I don’t, so it isn’t.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Dave Nonis chose Tyler Bozak over Mikhail Grabovski, which will be a source of conversation until global warming drowns us all in 50 years, while paying David Clarkson an exorbitant amount of money to play hockey for his team despite Clarkson not being all that great. They are inexplicable contracts that highlight an inexplicable offseason in which the Leafs solved their nonexistent goaltending crisis by trading for a goalie that has never started in the NHL.
I try to look past contract terms and salaries when judging free-agent signings because if you go by that, you will hate every contract. Everyone is overpaid. But Bozak is not very good at hockey unless you put him with very good players. You know how you can put literally anyone (P.A. Parenteau, Brad Boyes) on the right side of John Tavares and that player will have great numbers? That’s Bozak. He’s the center of Tavares right wings.
As for Clarkson, I think he will be a consistent 20-goal scorer but not much more for the Leafs. He’s the right wing of Bozak, who is the center of Tavares right wings, so I feel like the Leafs are slipping down this wormhole to where Bozak and Clarkson will find themselves on a line with Tavares and no one will score.
Where was I? Oh right. The Leafs gave 12 years and $57 million to two players who can’t create their own offense and rely heavily on star players in order to get their numbers. If Judd Apatow represents Patrik Elias and Phil Kessel, Clarkson and Bozak are the Leslie Manns of the NHL, fine in their own rights but finding themselves in great situations because of who they spend a lot of their time with.
Florida Panthers – When Joey Crabb is your big free-agent addition, something did not go as planned in your front office. Two years ago, Dale Tallon did his best impression of Supermarket Sweep, throwing everything he could into his shopping cart with no worry about the price. This year, he sat on his hands with a team that regressed partly because of injuries but mostly because of not goodness.
The Panthers are going to bank on their slew of great young players this season, and that’s a fine plan in a thin free-agent market, but they could’ve used a decent forward or a defenseman better than Mike Mottau.
Nashville Predators – David Poile is in a tough spot, and that spot is Nashville, Tennessee. In the history of the organization, how many UFAs that weren’t Predators at the time has he been able to entice into coming to the Music City? Whether it’s the location, the market or whatever, big-time UFAs don’t go to Nashville.
That doesn’t mean the Predators, who are as desperate for goals as any team in the NHL, have to overpay for bottom-six forwards who can’t score. Two years and $7 million for Matt Cullen? Four years and $12 million for Viktor Stalberg? Four years and $10 million for Eric Nystrom? Four years and $7.4 million for Matt Hendricks?
That’s some wild spending on players who aren’t going to affect too many outcomes of games, but that’s the price of doing business in Nashville. Poile has done a magnificent job of keeping the Predators competitive over the years, but this seems like a lot of money poorly spent by a team that has to spend every dollar wisely. The Predators will have two third lines and two fourth lines for the 2013-14 season.
Buffalo Sabres – Darcy Regier choosing not to spend money on free agents is a symbolic win, sure, but the Sabres didn’t do much over the weekend. Regier re-signed Matt Ellis and Alexander Sulzer and brought in Jamie McBain (and a second-round pick) in a trade for Andrej Sekera. Nathan Gerbe was bought out and Henrik Tallinder was reacquired for a minor leaguer.
What Regier does with Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller will be the real offseason for the Sabres, but for now, this weekend was like lying on the couch and watching the Bourne trilogy; oddly satisfying in a lazy sort of way yet you feel like you could’ve done more.
Washington Capitals – Mike Ribeiro left. He was never coming back. That’s it. The Capitals signed literally no one this weekend. Matt Hendricks also left, but whatever.
If you told me George McPhee didn’t put on pants this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Colorado Avalanche – As they should, Joe Sakic and company watched from the sideline after landing Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick in the draft. Forget about McPhee not wearing pants; I’d like video of Sakic and McPhee in their underwear playing World of Warcraft all weekend.
San Jose Sharks – You know the scene in Office Space where Peter just sleeps all weekend and doesn’t go to the office? That’s my image of Doug Wilson during free-agent weekend. He did nothing, and it was everything he thought it could be.
(I know this isn’t the Bag Skate format you’ve come to love or potentially not care about or know about but if you want to shoot me some e-mails for the next one, it’s always dave111177 at gmail)