Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Free Agent Frenzy

The free agent frenzy came and went, in just a matter of days. Since Sunday at noon, all the big names on the market are now off the market and in new locales all over North America. I am only 21 (22 on Aug. 2), but in my 15 or so years of watching the NHL, I cannot recall so much movement of players in so little time. That being said, the salary cap hasn't jumped like it just did (from about 44 million to 50 million).

The Devils welcomed Zubrus from Buffalo and said goodbye to all-star Scott Gomez (Rangers, seven years, 51.5 million) and defenseman Brian Rafalski, who signed a five year with Detroit worth $30 million. Detroit of course had lost Mathieu Schneider to the Ducks at 2 years, 11.25 million, and needed to rebolster its defense. The Stanley Cup champs weren't done there. They brought in 6-3, 254 pound Todd Bertuzzi, who at age 32 still could wreak havoc but posted only three goals and eight assists in 15 games of the 2006-07 season with Florida and Detroit. I remember the devastation I felt at hearing Boston had traded Joe Thornton for those three guys (only Sturm we still own). I cannot fathom how Panthers fans feel at losing Roberto Luongo for one goal and six assists. I am confident that after Roberto Luongo wins a Stanley Cup or two, the Luongo for Bertuzzi trade will go down as one of the worst in history. For the Ducks, little risk is involved. At $4 million, Bertuzzi at the least will provide this already tough club with added grit up front.

The Ducks must have been heartbroken to lose Shawn Thornton, all two goals and seven assists of him. He averages about eight minutes of ice time but according to Peter Chiarelli is a great, up-tempo physical prescence, so great indeed that Chiarelli said no more free agent signings will be necessary. The Ducks win a championship, they bring in Schneider and Bertuzzi. The Bruins...did sign Manny Fernandez, but I'' save that discussion for my next entry.

The Flyers roster has quickly come together into what I believe will be a very competitive team this year. I didn't think the Flyers looked half bad in the second half of last season. With the additions of Daniel Briere from the Sabres, Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith from the Oilers, Scottie Upshall, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen from the Preds...they can now play a lineup that might look like this:




I didn't mean to place so much emphasis on the Flyers, but there is no way this team won't compete next year. This lineup is big and quick and should excel under the current NHL rules.

Another team that should bounce back this season is the Blues - although the Flyers are far ahead in the rebuilding phase. Tkachuk is returning on a two year deal for 4 million a year and Paul Kariya is the newest Blue, adding to a lineup that already includes Doug Weight, Lee Stempniak, Peter Cajanek and former Bruin Brad Boyes. The Blues are nowhere near competing in the Western Conference but should be able to put out a better starting lineup this year.

Back in the East, as mentioned previously, the Rangers added Scott Gomez from New Jersey and Chris Drury from Buffalo. The Sabres have lost Drury, Briere and Zubrus. That's a combined 93 goals and 131 assists for 224 points. However, not to be forgotten is Tim Connolly who averaged nearly a point per game in the 2005-06 season before missing all but one regular season game in 06-07.

The Caps acquired Tomi Poti and Viktor Kozlov from the Isles and Michael Nylander from the Rangers. Nylander came at 4 years, 19.5 million, not exactly a steal. I've was very dissapointed when the Bruins let Nylander go following their playoff breakdown a few years back, but I've always like Nylander as player. He is a very fluid skates who can control is strong the puck. He also posted a 26-57-83 line and was plus-12 with the Rangers last year. But at 34, Nylander could begin to slow down any year and I don't see the Caps as the best fit for an aging, yet skilled Nylander.

The Canadiens may have the Caps beat, however, on risking a lot of money on an aging player. The Habs signed the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft, Roman Hamrlik, to a four-year deal worth 22 million. Hamrlik was +22 on the Flames blueline last year but he is 33. True, defensemen seem to wear down very slowly, but 5 million plus seems slightly excessive.

The Lightning lost defenseman Cory Sarich to the Flames (five years, 18 million) and forward Eric Perrin to the Thrashers. I don't understand why the Lightning would give up Perrin when he accepted a deal worth just 1.5 million a year. Perrin is probably worth the money - he scored 13 times and added 23 assists, not to mention that he is Martin St. Louis' long time friend from the University of Vermont.

The Avalanche, who down the stretch last season were the league's best team, added Scott Hannon from San Jose (four years, 18 million) and all-star leader Ryan Smyth from the Islanders (five years, 31.25 million). With Sakic and Smyth leading up front and a lot of young depth spread around, the Avs could potentially compete in the playoffs this season, possibly rekindling the Avs/Wings rivalry. The Wings, as always, are going nowhere, with Zetterberg and Datsyuk in the mix.

More bad news for the Bruins in the NorthEast. The Maple Leafs 33-year-old Jason Blake from Long Island (five years, 20 million). Blake has gotten better every year since entering the league and scored a career high 40 goals last season. I like his quick, agressive style of play. The Bruins certainly won't enjoy defending him.

On the other coast, L.A. landed a quartet of newcomers, signing forwards Kyle Calder, Ladislav Nagy, Michal Handzus and defensemen Tom Preissing and Brad Stuart. Not a bad foursome to land. The Kings can only get better and have plenty of youth in Alexander Frolov, Michael Cammalleri and Anze Kopitar.

The Blackhawks should also be better, but no better than the Kings, this upcoming season with faceoff mastermind Yanic Perreault and center Robert Lang...let's end this conversation on the West Coast before we head back east to discuss the impact Manny Fernandez will have in Boston.


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