Analysis: July 1
You hear that? The sound of cash registers….…..it’s Pink Floyd’s Money song. It should be the theme song of this year’s NHL free agency market. What a day it was!
After Joe Thornton re-signing and the reports that Jerome Iginla would in the near future re-sign with the Flames for about the same price, and when Daniel Briere signed with the Flyers, I was waiting for the flurry of signings to start.
Did they? No. So as I was refreshing web pages, listening to the radio, I knew something was fishy. The market was pretty much set between $6.5M and $7.5M for top free agents, and yet nothing. I ended up telling my father “Hey, something is not right. Either there is a team waiting to slam dunk two big free agents or there are just so many teams battling over the structure of the contracts.” I even posted how the Rangers made a splash a few years ago when they signed Bobby Holik and Darius Kasparaitis at night and that who knows, something like that can happen.
Moments later, Scott Gomez signed with the Rangers. The reaction from the Rangers fans I post with on the message boards? ENRAGED! They wanted the Swedish Gretzky (Nylander), and they hated the money thrown at Gomez. I said wait! It could be a way to sway another free agent to sign with the team. I said I wasn’t going to judge the acquisition until I saw Sather’s next move. Shortly after, Chris Drury to New York. Ahhhh….now it all made sense. So, it was an interesting day, mostly in the evening, but interesting.
I think everyone got overpayed, except for Jason Blake. How do I feel about the salary cap? You know what falks….it does not matter. The simple way to look at the idea of the salary cap is to look at….say the Flyers and Rangers, the two big free agency spenders this year, so far. Now, take away the salary cap and you look at their payrolls and both are under $50M. Do you honestly think that without the cap the Rangers and Flyers would stay under $50M? No. You could have seen either one of those teams grab Ryan Smyth as well, probably even Sheldon Souray, or Rafalski. These teams used to spend around the $70M mark, folks. The Detroit Red Wings used to spend $80M. You would have seen the Wings get Smyth, Bertuzzi, kept Schneider, sign Hannan, possibly Slava Kozlov and so on.
So, yes…the players are getting overpayed, but the teams are not buying every good player out on the market either. There is almost always a pro and con to everything. The salary cap works just fine and the CBA proves to be a fair deal for both players and teams. The NHLPA cried over it, thinking they got screwed over it. Doesn’t seem to be that way now does it?
Anyway, right down to business and let’s go over every single free agent acquisition of July 1, 2007. My grades reflect on the player, the contract, and the kind of role that the player fills in. It varies from who the player is and what he means to the team.
Tom Poti, Washington Capitals
Way overpayed. I don’t think Poti is a horrible defenseman, he’s been okay the past two years and did well offensively with the Islanders scoring 44 points. Is he worth $3.5M a season though? Far from it. But, his salary is of no concern to the Capitals because they actually NEED to increase their payroll in order to meet thei floor cap. Poti brings a very mobile defenseman with nice on-ice vision, very smooth passing skills, and another good power play man. Defensively, that’s where he shows his weakness, but he can still make good plays because of his pokecheck, is useful on the penalty kills, and is actually quite good defending odd-man rushes. Grade: B
Richard Zednik, Florida Panthers
Financially it is worth every penny and Jacques Martin wasted no time in checking out how much money he could have spent on the bigger name. He directly called up the second tier players and found himself with a very affordable skilled winger. Zednik has had a good career, but the past two seasons have been on a downward spiral. Risky? Yes, but it would not be much of a concern since Zednik is tradeable, waiveable, and buyout-able. The Panthers were looking to add speed, Zednik brings that, and help on offense, Zednik COULD bring that. Not a bad signing, not great, but quite okay for now. It’s just that it’s anyone’s guess how many goals Zednik can score Grade: C+.
Brett McLean, Florida Panthers
GM Jacques Martin has been really conservative about spending his money, especially since he wants to extend Jay Bouwmeester’s contract, and needs to re-sign Stephen Weiss. Tod White was on his radar, but he was too expensive. Was he really? Not really for Atlanta. But for JM, yes. So, he still managed to find a good third line center who can put up 35-40 points and has a nice set of hands. Brett McLean adds good depth for the role he is expected to play. Grade: B
Todd White, Atlanta Thrashers
He was one of my favorite players in free agency. He is an occasional second line player, but mostly a very good third liner. I love his game, it’s speedy, responsible, very smart, and versatile. He can play in any situation. Stick him with Kovalchuk and Hossa, he can have 40 assists. Stick him on the second or third line, he can net you 17 goals or so and 40 points with good all-round hockey. Loved this signing for the Thrashers because you know that White can step in as the center for Kovalchuk and/or Hossa, and he can put up points that make him a steal with the salary he is getting. Grade: B+.
Mathieu Schneider, Anaheim Ducks
Honestly, I would never pay a 38 year old defenseman that much money, but Schneider can still be one of the best in the game. I was really expecting Brian Burke to get Brian Rafalski, but he found a cheaper solution. Everyone knows what Schneider brings to a team, and if Scott Neidermeyer retires, no problem. If he does not retire, HUGE problem. For the Ducks? No, for the rest of the league. Who the hell wants to play against Pronger, Neidermeyer, and Schneider? Yikes. Excellent signing. Grade: A.
Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers
Daniel Briere can end his NHL career as a Flyer. He will be 38 years old when his contract runs out. Wow, that will be a long way. The salary is fair, $6.5M. Not too fond of the length of the deal as Briere may not be such a key player in his later 30′s and not much the Flyers can do about it. But, who cares? The Flyers are setting themselves up as Cup contenders. Yes, you heard me. Looking at the recent moves, this team is ready. Briere may not be a 90+ point player, but he will be a point a player game with the Flyers and bring that level of skill and polished finish. Enough with the physical slow skating image for the Flyers. It’s all about speed and skill. Briere defines that and gives the Flyers what they desperately needed. People can say he is overrated, but whatever. The guy is an excellent player, great signing, and he is a major step in the right direction for the Flyers. If it wasn’t for the length of the deal, I would have added a plus sign here. Grade: A.
Yannic Perreault, Chicago Blackhawks
Not a big move, and I am expecting more from Chicago. He is not overpayed, and what are the Blackhawks paying for then? It’s $1.5M for key face offs, possibly 20 goals, and good offensive depth. Yeah, I say it’s a good deal. He will the the guy to put on the ice in crucial moments, and have Marty Havlat and Sergei Samsonov on his wings, he wins the face off, and wingers do the rest to score the goal. Such a smart acquisition. Some of these low profile players you want to sign right away before other teams start making offers to them later on. Good signing, but it does not improve the team much. Grade: B-.
Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings
The Wings coul
d not have done a better job than this. They lose Schneider, but they get Rafalski who is younger. Sure, he is more expensive, but it’s Rafalski. This defenseman plays good hockey in his own end and has got to be one of the smartest defensemen out there. He is not big in size, but he knows how to stop a big forward and take the puck away. Offensively, he rushes up the ice fairly well, but it’s his vision that is key. The Wings are going to love what Rafalski will bring to them. Maybe not as many goals, but the plays he starts, with those key first passes out of the zone, will be key. Grade: A
Cory Sarich, Calgary Flames
Not exciting and way overpayed. The guy is good defensively, not great, has a nice shot but guess how many goals he had last season? NONE! Zero! $3.6M for this guy? A waste of money. There is nothing special about his game, he is just a good defenseman getting overpayed to just be a good defenseman. Grade: D
Shawn Thornton, Boston Bruins
Boston definitely needs some character on the team and Shawn Thornton brings that. He has good experience and is a good depth guy. Terms of deal unknown, but probably not much either. The Bruins were looking to get these kinds of players, so for the role they wanted to fill they signed a good one. Grade: C
Radek Dvorak, Florida Panthers
They wanted speed, speed, and speed, and after losing Martin Gelinas, Dvorak replaces that kind of speed. Dvorak has lost a lot of his offensive abilties, but he still brings a good two-way game and can still put up 14 goals or so. A good addition and once again JM was fiscally responsible. Grade: C+
Jeff Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Mostly a sleeper pick up as Hamilton can really help out the offense a bit, but consider it just added depth. Still, harmless and good chance it turns out to be a good signing for what Hamilton can give. Grade: C
Michel Ouellet, Tampa Bay Lightning
Very smart to get this youngster right away, though I am shocked he is only signed for two years. I was surprised that the Pens let him go, and we don’t know what Ouellet is getting paid next season, but it can’t be THAT much. Ouellet is a goal scorer, always around the net, has an excellent shot, and this guy was a steal as he will thrive with the likes of Lecavalier, Richards, and St. Louis. Grade: B+
Jason Blake, Toronto Maple Leafs
I expected Blake to get $5M a season, but good bargain for the Leafs. Blake brings so much speed, energy, and the potential to score 40 goals. He is exactly what the Leafs needed. Age can be a slight concern as we don’t know how long Blake can score goals. He takes some weight off Tucker as far as agitator role. He is a PP guy, PK guy. If the guy scores 35 g’s, a bargain. A bit risky as it may have been a fluke season this past hockey year. Nonetheless, very good move by JFJ. Grade B+
Scott Gomez, New York Rangers
Financially, this acquisition is outrageous and Gomez will prove to me the most overrated and overpayed center in the NHL. Do Glen Sather and the Rangers really give a damn though? Pfffft, of course not. The length and the financial aspects of this deal prevent me from giving it an excellent grade, but I do think that Gomez was a MUST for the Rangers. Sather tried to re-sign Michael Nylander, 35 years of age, and when teams offered four years, Slats said no way. He was right. So in the end, Sather had to think Gomez, 27 years old, at $7M a season or Nylander, 35 years old, for four more years when Jagr will not stay here that long either. He had to do it. The Rangers are pushing for the Stanley Cup, so you had to see this coming. Gomez’s age is the key as he is still in his prime, very good skater, experienced, in desire of setting foot on a big stage, and is a very good playmaker who has a nose for the net. Good player, but overpayed yet fills a major need. Grade B+.
Chris Drury, New York Rangers
So without Nylander the Rangers needed to replace that position and got Gomez. But, if you go back a few weeks ago everyone knew that the Rangers needed a second line center. So not only did the Rangers HAVE to get a sub for Nylander, but they still had to take care of the original task, which was the second line center. Chris Drury filling that role? Two thumbs up. I have some worries that he may clash with Jagr, maybe, since Drury is a strong leader type, but with Shanahan coming back I think he will be okay. The length of the deal is okay as Drury is an ingredient for Cup success and will be a factor for future prospects, and possibly the future captain as well. The financial terms? Yikes. Overpayed, but some other team was going to do the same anyway. Drury is a hell of a hockey player and he brings such good identity to the Rangers. This is not like the old days where the Rangers overspent on players that lacked desire, Gomez and Drury are the kind of players that build a Cup winner. Grade: B+.
Eric Perrin, Atlanta Thrashers
Just a decent addition. Adds speed, decent two-way game. No harm done but nothing special either. Where are the Thrashers prospects that should be able to fill this role? Grade: D.
Viktor Kozlov, Washington Capitals
Very good addition. They needed a playmaking center who can score a bunch of goals as well. Now we can really expect Alex Ovechkin get on a role and Kozlov possibly having a career high season. He is big, strong, skilled, smart….and the contract is extremely fair. Very good. Grade: B
Danny Sabourin, Pittsburgh Penguins
I am not sure if this guy is for the minor league team or really the back-up. If he is the back-up, horrible decision. Not to knock on Sabourin, he is decent, but the Penguins really need to have an insurance policy behind M-A Fleury. This is not an insurance policy. Grade: D
Jon Sim, New York Islanders
This team is bleeding big time. But, I like Sim. I wished the Panthers never let the guy walk, but he does a good job and the guy can actually find ways to score 15-19 goals, maybe even hit the 20 goal mark. If so, he’s a bargain. He brings good attitude, a great agitator, since they lost Blake. For the kind of role that Sim will provide, he is a good signing for the Isle’s and the fans will enjoy his energy.Grade: C+.
Scott Hannan, Colorado Avalanche
I value skilled defensemen, a lot. I also think that defensive, physical defensemen are valuable to a team, but they are not worth more than $3M a season for me. What do these guys do? They sit back and do the job defensively. That’s it. They are one dimensional players in their own zone. I think Hannan is great at what he does, but overpaid? To say the least. $4.5M for a guy who plays good defense and clears the front of the net is too much. Nonetheless, Hannan will be like the Adam Foote of years before, that kind of image, and that’s much needed in Colorado. Very good signing but the contract contradicts my personal opinion. Grade: B.
Ryan Smyth, Colorado Avalanche
Smyth got the kind of salary he was expected to get, and the length as well. No issues there with me. I am a huge Smyth fan, love his game, his style, the versality, his energy on the ice, the work he puts in. Talk about a guy who will completely change the Avs, and I think he will get a career high in points as well. If you looked at my other column from last week, I predicted Smyth to Colorado before reports came out making that speculation. Like I knew anything? No, it was a total guess, but Colorado was ideal and like I said in my last column, Colorado will be big spenders. Just a wonderful addition, a pe
rfect addition. Grade: A+.
Tomorrow I will update this column adding in my thoughts on July 2nd’s free agent signings.
Thank you all for reading,