Thursday, November 8, 2007
Which offseason moves have worked out best (so far)
By David Amber
Special to ESPN.com
Just hours after the offseason shopping spree began on July 1, the New York Rangers dished out more than $86 million to sign free agents Chris Drury and Scott Gomez.
Adding two skilled, gritty leaders like Gomez and Drury had many hockey pundits, myself included, choosing the Rangers to make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Of course, that was then and this is now.
One month into the season, the Rangers are hovering around .500 and dead last in goals scored (26). So far, those moves haven't paid off. What offseason moves have already proved their worth? We count down the best, in reverse order, in this week's 10 Degrees.
10. Peca signs with Columbus
|Ryan Smyth signed a five-year, $31.25 million deal with the Avalanche this offseason.|
You could hear the groans in the press box last season when Michael Peca suffered a broken leg in a collision with Chicago's Jim Vandermeer. It was widely thought that Peca's career could be over. But just days before training camps were set to open, the unrestricted free agent signed a contract with Columbus.
The move has paid instant dividends for first-year GM Scott Howson. Peca, who is one of the game's premiere defensive forwards and faceoff specialists, has the Blue Jackets leading the league in penalty killing. Last season, Columbus was in the bottom third of the league while short-handed. The former captain and two-time Selke Trophy winner has already become a team leader and fan favorite as the Jackets look to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Peca signed a one-year, $1.915 million deal with the Blue Jackets.
9. Kariya and Tkachuk sign with St. Louis
After missing the playoffs (again), Blues GM Larry Pleau had to make a decision -- get younger and wait or get better right now. He chose the latter by signing 33-year-old unrestricted free agent Paul Kariya and trading for the rights to 35-year-old free agent Keith Tkachuk. These two signings meant the rebuilding phase was over and the playoffs were the immediate goal. Kariya and Tkachuk are the Blues' two leading scorers and have given the team the instant leadership and credibility needed to form an identity.
8. Smyth signs with Colorado
Kariya signed a three-year, $18 million deal and Tkachuk signed a two-year, $8 million deal.
It's not fun standing in front of the opposing team's net with pucks flying by you at 100 mph and goalie blockers smacking you upside the head and 220-pound defensemen crosschecking you in the middle of the back. Only a handful of players will do it on a regular basis. One of them is Ryan Smyth.
So, when Colorado had the chance to add the gritty forward, it did. Smyth is on pace for a third-straight 30-goal season. The 31-year-old has taken pressure off of captain Joe Sakic and is helping to mentor rising star Paul Stastny. The Avs missed the playoffs by one point last season. With Smyth in its lineup, Colorado could make noise again in April.
Smyth signed a five-year, $31.25 million deal with the Avalanche.
7. Ottawa names Bryan Murray GM and John Paddock coach
When Ottawa was outplayed and beaten by a better Anaheim squad in last season's Stanley Cup finals, there was a temptation to make drastic changes in Canada's capital city.
Instead, the team chose continuity, with one exception. Just days after the season ended, coach Bryan Murray replaced the dismissed John Muckler as GM and then promoted assistant John Paddock into the head-coaching role. This management shuffle effectively shook things up for the Senators without blowing things up.
Paddock, who coached the Winnipeg Jets in the early 1990s, already worked with both Ray Emery and Jason Spezza in the AHL. Paddock was a new voice, but one Ottawa players already respected. Murray, previously a GM with the Red Wings, Ducks and Panthers, has already locked up Dany Heatley and Spezza to new long-term deals, keeping the cornerstones of the franchise in place.
Paddock is the only coach to lead three different teams to AHL Calder Cup championships. As a GM, Murray led Florida (1996) and Anaheim (2003) to the Stanley Cup finals.
6. Kane drafted by Chicago
|In Detroit, Brian Rafalski is picking up where Mathieu Schneider left off.|
He still can't legally drink alcohol, but 18-year-old Patrick Kane has Blackhawks fans drunk with giddiness about the prospect of another Denis Savard-type player on their team. Before the draft, the detractors said the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Kane was too small and brittle to be an offensive force in the NHL. Many believed 6-foot-3 forward James VanRiemsdyk, the second overall pick, had more upside than Kane, but the Hawks didn't sway. Kane has already shown his worth, proving he can handle the rough stuff and be just as productive as he was in Junior. Kane is averaging more than a point a game with five goals and 12 assists in his first 15 games. Only two Chicago players had more than 40 points last season.
Kane was selected first overall by the Blackhawks at the 2007 draft.
5. Senators hang on to Gerber
Sometimes, the best deals are the ones you don't make. Just ask Bryan Murray. With the emergence of Ray Emery last season, Ottawa fans and media types alike were calling on Murray to trade Martin Gerber. Hearing the criticism and seeing a reduced role, a distraught Gerber also asked for a trade, but the Senators weighed their options and held on to the 33-year-old netminder. Now, Gerber is clearly a backup in name only. He leads the NHL in wins (10), including a 1.88 goals-against average in his first 10 starts. Yes, the Senators have about $7 million tied up in Emery and Gerber this season, and maybe that cost them re-signing Mike Comrie. But, remember, the Ducks (Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov in 2006-07) and the Hurricanes (Gerber and Cam Ward in 2005-06) rode a two-goalie system all the way to the Cup.
4. Rafalski signs with Red Wings
Gerber is in the second year of a three-year, $11.1 million deal with the Senators.
With all the coveted free agents last summer, it's no surprise Brian Rafalski received little fanfare. It's been that way his entire career. Fortunately for Red Wings fans, GM Ken Holland was shrewd enough to make a solid offer to land the three-time All-Star defenseman. With great puck skills and mobility, Rafalski has been a perfect fit for the Wings' transition game and power play. The Michigan native has been an improvement over the departed Mathieu Schneider and complements perennial Norris Trophy candidate Nicklas Lidstrom. Signing Rafalski looks like a big step in the right direction to get Hockeytown Cup crazy next spring.
Rafalski signed a five-year $30 million contract with the Red Wings.
3. Comrie, Fedotenko and Guerin sign with Islanders
The Islanders took a huge hit this offseason after losing three of their five top scorers (Jason Blake, Alexei Yashin and Viktor Kozlov) and failing to re-sign Smyth. With 40 percent of their offense gone, GM Garth Snow had some work to do. On July 4, the fireworks began as free agents Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin were all signed within a 24-hour period, and Snow did it without having to destroy the team's salary cap by getting locked into long-term deals. In the Isles' first 10 games, the trio combined for 14 goals and 33 points. Comrie and Fedotenko are proven scorers who are both playing for contracts next season, while Guerin is coming off a 36-goal season and provides leadership to a young team.
Comrie signed a one-year $3.375 million deal; Fedotenko signed a one-year $2.9 million contract and Guerin has a two-year, $9 million deal.
2. Briere signs with Philadelphia
So far, it's a worst-to-first scenario for the Philadelphia Flyers. The Atlantic Division-leading Flyers are making last season's league-worst 48-loss campaign a distant memory. The No. 1 reason: Daniel Briere. The little spark plug, who was brought in as a free agent in July, leads the team in points (16) and anchors a power play that now ranks within the top 10 in the league. Considering that Briere even produced without linemate Simon Gagne in the mix speaks volumes about his talent and leadership. Even the most cynical Flyers fans are warming up to their team's new leader.
Briere signed an eight-year, $52 million contract with the Flyers.
1. Ducks decline to match Oilers' offer sheet for Penner
after one year on the job, a competing company offers you a salary 10 times more than what you currently make. Too good to be true? Well, thanks to Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, that dream scenario came true for Dustin Penner.
Ducks GM Brian Burke could either match the offer or walk away. Considering that Penner, who had 45 points last season, was set to be paid more money than proven NHL stars like Jonathan Cheechoo, Mike Cammalleri and Rod Brind'Amour, it didn't take long for Burke to let Penner go to Edmonton. So, while Lowe and the Oilers dish out nearly $100,000 per point for Penner, the Ducks have three high draft choices in compensation to plan around.
Penner signed a five-year $21.25 million deal with the Oilers. Penner is the first player to switch teams by offer sheet since Tampa Bay declined to match an offer Philadelphia made to Chris Gratton in 1997.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.