Friday, July 5, 2013
The frenzy was kind of freaky this time
By Scott Burnside
We often describe the first day of free agency as a frenzy.
Friday, they finally got the frenzy part right.
From the moment the marketplace officially opened at noon ET, there was a non-stop acquisition of horseflesh from virtually every corner of the NHL map.
And in the wake of a five-year deal for Valtteri Filppula worth $25 million in Tampa and the five-year deal Stephen Weiss signed in Detroit for essentially the same amount and the $36.75 million the Toronto Maple Leafs committed to David Clarkson over the next seven years -- and a total of 63 deals worth a record $411.9 million -- remind us again why we had a lockout?
If that doesn’t confound your puzzler, well, more than a few things did on this most active of free-agency days.
Herein a look around the league at the events that made sense, made little sense and made no sense after the dust had cleared.
The Senators said goodbye to their venerable captain, Daniel Alfredsson, who signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. But within a couple of hours, GM Bryan Murray had landed an elite top-six forward in Bobby Ryan from Anaheim. Ryan will be a great fit on and off the ice in this Canadian market. It cost Murray big-time in the form of Jakob Silfverberg, a first-round draft pick, and former first-round pick Stefan Noesen. But the Sens, who also signed Clarke MacArthur to a two-year deal, are well-armed for a playoff battle in what looks now to be the toughest division in the newly realigned NHL.
Detroit Red Wings
It was a curious day for the Wings as they signed an aging Alfredsson to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million, evoking memories of the disastrous turn in Detroit by an aging Mike Modano, and then signed Weiss to a big five-year deal at $4.9 million a season, even though Weiss has toiled in relative obscurity in Florida his entire career. He’s played in just seven playoff games, all in 2012. The Wings also failed to immediately re-sign veteran Daniel Cleary or bring back impressive first-year player Damien Brunner or center Valtteri Filppula, who signed in Tampa. In other words, a few steps in a circle.
Tampa Bay Lightning
And since we’re on a Red Wings kick, let’s look at the Filppula signing. Five years at $5 million a year is a lot for a guy who had 17 points in 41 games this season (he did register 66 points in 2011-12). As a second-line center in Tampa who will ostensibly replace Vincent Lecavalier, is Filppula up to the task, or were those 66 points a mirage and will he settle back to his career norm of 40 or less? Let’s put it this way, for GM Steve Yzerman’s sake, Filppula better be on the ascending arc of his career or this is going to look pretty ugly in the wake of the Lecavalier buyout.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Still don’t quite get why Nathan Horton was in such a hurry to get out of Boston but guess all those trips to the finals must have been annoying somehow. Horton signed a whopper seven-year deal worth $37.1 million with the Blue Jackets, who are trying to build off last season’s dramatic if ultimately unsuccessful run to a playoff berth in the Western Conference. Still, is Horton really ready to be the guy in Columbus after being able to exist in the shadows for the most part in Boston? Streaky doesn’t really describe Horton’s history offensively and that won’t cut it for a team that has made the playoffs just once in its existence and has never won a postseason game.
Good bounce-back day for GM David Poile after just missing out on Daniel Briere as he added versatile veteran center Matt Cullen and hardworking Matt Hendricks along with Viktor Stalberg to bolster the Preds’ anemic offense. The Preds will, seemingly, always be about success by committee and these three additions should make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Cullen shortly after he signed his two-year deal worth $7 million told us it was difficult to leave his home state of Minnesota, but that the Preds’ hardworking style was attractive to him. Although injuries slowed Cullen at the end of this season, he can do it all, including taking important draws, working the power play and killing penalties.
How rich is this? Two days after nearly having to relocate, with new ownership assured for at least the next five years, the Phoenix Coyotes were major players, snagging the top-producing free-agent forward, center Mike Ribeiro. The skilled Ribeiro signed a four-year deal worth $22 million and will rejoin head coach Dave Tippett, for whom he played in Dallas. The Coyotes have long been lacking depth down the middle. No more. Phoenix also signed Thomas Greiss to back up Mike Smith.
Just when you think GM Ray Shero is all out of cards up his sleeve, he pulled out "The Piece" -- or rather repatriated "The Piece," defenseman Rob Scuderi, who was a key part of the Pens’ runs to the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup finals. Scuderi, who also won a Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012, signed a four-year deal with the Pens for a total of $13.5 million and will help solidify the blue line of a team that once again looks Stanley Cup-ready with Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis all re-signing deals in recent days.
On a day when lots of bigger names were signing a lot bigger contracts, we liked the additions in Carolina of defenseman Mike Komisarek, who was bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs and who has a ton to prove as he tries to get his NHL edge back. And then there was the signing of backup netminder Anton Khudobin, formerly of the Boston Bruins. Lots of folks believe Khudobin, the former ECHL goaltender of the year, has NHL starter stuff. Pending Cam Ward’s durability, Khudobin might be among the steals of the free-agent market.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Few players were pursued as vigorously as former New Jersey Devil winger David Clarkson. Edmonton, Ottawa and Boston were among the teams interested in the rugged winger with the scorer’s touch. But the Toronto native ended up coming home and signing a whopper seven-year deal with the Leafs worth $36.75 million. With the addition of Jonathan Bernier and Dave Bolland, the Leafs look to have better depth than a year ago (they also re-signed Tyler Bozak to a five-year deal on Friday worth $21 million). They are still thin down the middle but Clarkson will give Randy Carlyle the tools to ice three potentially potent scoring lines, which will be crucial to the Leafs' efforts to return to the playoffs for a second straight year.
New Jersey Devils
Speaking of the Devils, their big signing of the day, Ryane Clowe for five years for a total of $24.25 million, seemed to illustrate the difficulty the franchise continues to have in attracting top-end talent. Clowe, like Clarkson, is a rugged forward with a nose for the puck, but he is also coming off a series of concussions, so his durability -- especially given his brand of game -- has to be suspect. Bottom line is the Devils needed someone to help fill the void created by Clarkson’s departure, and they had to overpay a player with health issues to get that done. Not sure how that strategy sustains itself long-term. The Devils did add another proven scorer in Michael Ryder, who signed a two-year deal worth $7 million late Friday afternoon, joining fellow Newfoundlander Clowe in New Jersey. This is a lateral move, the Devils being Ryder’s third team in the past four years having gone from Boston, with whom he won a Cup in 2011, to Dallas and now to New Jersey.
It didn’t turn out to be much of a surprise when the Flyers signed Ray Emery to a one-year deal worth $1.65 million. Emery wanted a chance to earn back a starting job and the Flyers represented one of the few teams with that kind of dynamic. The fact Emery had played for the Flyers was a bonus. But the big question is whether Emery, who was so good as Corey Crawford’s backup with the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks -- going 17-1 with a .922 save percentage during the regular season, has the durability to become a starter again. Emery will split time with Steve Mason, and given Mason’s up-and-down career, there’s no reason to think Emery can’t be the man, as long as his body goes along with the plan. And, oh yeah, the Flyers remain over the salary cap so GM Paul Holmgren still has a little work left.
New York Islanders
Weird day for goaltenders. With Ilya Bryzgalov and Tim Thomas still looking for a place to land late Friday, the Isles re-upped netminder Evgeni Nabokov for one year at $3.25 million. Apparently no one in the Islander front office bothered to look at tape of the Isles' first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps GM Garth Snow has a Plan B that will reveal itself at some point, but right now the Isles do not possess enough goaltending to get in the top four of their division despite adding character forwards Cal Clutterbuck at the draft and signing Pierre-Marc Bouchard on Friday.
Loved the Oilers' addition of veteran defenseman Andrew Ference to a four-year deal worth $13 million. If it’s one thing the Oilers need, it’s some maturity on the blue line. Ference won a Cup with Boston in 2011 and was part of the Bruins’ run to the finals this spring, logging more than 24 minutes a night in the postseason. Not sure about Boyd Gordon signing at $3 million a year for three years, but someone had to take on the departed Shawn Horcoff’s role (the former Edmonton captain was dealt to Dallas). Jason LaBarbera was inked to a one-year deal to come in to back up Devan Dubnyk, which is fine if you believe Dubnyk is the guy to lead this team out of the wilderness, but right now the Oilers look to have no better than the sixth-best goaltending in their new division.
You can’t beat the irony of this one. The Bruins were spurned by Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline when Iginla waived his no-trade clause and joined the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then the Bruins waxed the former Calgary captain and the Penguins in four games in the Eastern Conference finals, allowing just two goals in four games and leaving Iginla without a point in the series. Of course, Friday afternoon Iginla signed a one-year deal worth a $6 million cap hit (the final compensation is dependent upon bonuses) with the Bruins because, well, why not? The Bruins, shut out of the Alfredsson talks, among others, as they tried to plug the holes that have opened up on the right side of their lineup, are actually a nice fit for Iginla. As was the case at the trade deadline. And would it surprise anyone if the rugged winger lights it up after having a difficult time with the Penguins especially against the Bruins? Of course not.
Interesting afternoon for GM Chuck Fletcher, who unloaded salary in Devin Setoguchi, essentially giving the winger away to the Winnipeg Jets for a second-round pick, and then picking up rugged winger Matt Cooke, signing him to a three-year deal worth $7.5 million. Setoguchi has one year left on his deal worth a $3 million cap hit. He started slowly with the Wild this season but playing with Matt Cullen ended up with 13 goals and 27 points but Setoguchi was never the perfect fit in Minnesota and so he joins a Jets team that continues to collect other teams’ castoffs. Cooke, a part of the Penguins’ Cup-winning team in 2009, will ostensibly replace Cal Clutterbuck, who was dealt to the New York Islanders at the draft. Cooke is well-known to Fletcher and to head coach Mike Yeo, both of whom were with the Penguins during that Cup run.