On Tuesday, July 1, free agency opened for the NHL. And while most of the sports media chose to focus on the impending free agent frenzy awaiting NBA fans, there was plenty going on in the National Hockey League. There were winners, losers and some teams that fell in the middle. I present you the losers in this year’s free agent season:
Not unlike Nashville to the east, the now-named Arizona Coyotes have always had a problem with scoring. So this situation took a wrong turn when it was announced that Mike Ribeiro was bought out and free agent Radim Vrbata wound up signing with the Vancouver Canucks. Sam Gagner, newly acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning along with B.J. Crombeen for a 2015 sixth-round draft pick aren’t the answer and Coach Dave Tippett is only going to be able to steal so many games via his acumen behind the bench.
Cap woes loom over the Bruins and as a result, the B’s were unable to hold onto Jarome Iginla and grinder Shawn Thornton. Depth defenseman Andrej Meszaros and backup goalie Chad Johnson also left for the Sabres and Islanders respectively. And while it seems unlikely that GM Peter Chiarelli will make any free agent moves aside from trying to re-ink RFAs Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, the Bruins will have to see if its core is solid enough to weather not signing any new players.
The biggest shakeups for the team formerly known as the Hartford Whalers were on the non-player level with franchise legend Ron Francis becoming the new GM and Bill Peters taking over for Kirk Muller behind the bench. When signing Jay McClement (10 point last year), Brad Malone (five points in 32 games for Colorado) and bringing back defenseman Tim Gleason and left wing Jiri Tlusty are your big moves, playoff aspirations don’t seem that realistic.
Detroit Red Wings
Call it a transition year for the Red Wings despite the fact that the team has extended its playoff streak to an impressive 23rd year in a row. Despite needing to beef up its blueline core, Detroit could only manage to resign Kyle Quincey despite reaching out to the current crop of d-men, only to be turned down by Christian Erhoff, Stephane Robidas, Matt Niskanen and Dan Boyle. The only major signing was the retention of backup netminder Jonas Gustavsson. Otherwise, the Wings need to resign UFA Dan Cleary.
The land of the first-overall draft picks (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov), the Oilers still have a suspect defensive core despite shoring its goalie situation up somewhat by acquiring Ben Scrivens and Victor Fasth late last season from the Kings and Ducks respectively. Jettisoning Sam Gagner to the Lightning for gritty forward Teddy Purcell was a shrewd move, but it was nullified by overpaying for ex-Ranger Benoit Pouliot to the tune of five years and $20 million.
Even though the Panthers were busy on the free agent market, the haul they brought has more of a rotisserie league feel—a lot of recognizable names but no real game-changers. Dave Bolland, (who has a Chicago Blackhawks connection with current Panther GM Dale Tallon who’d previously held the same position in Chi-Town), was brought in and became Florida’s highest-paid forward by way of a five-year, $27.5 million contract. The other high profile players brought aboard were Jussi Jokinen, bottom-six forward Derek MacKenzie, former Rangers draft pick Al Montoya (who’ll be backing up Roberto Luongo), graybeard d-man Willie Mitchell and ex-Bruin Shawn Thornton, who’ll bring some grit to the Panthers lineup.
The Ottawa Senators were in a no-win situation when franchise player Jason Spezza made it clear that he wanted out of Dodge. A lopsided deal with the Dallas Stars was the end result with Spezza and Ludwig Karlsson going to Texas for forward Alex Chiasson (35 points last year), Nick Paul, Alex Guptill (who?….exactly) and a 2015 second-round pick. Retaining Milan Michalek eased the blow somewhat as did the recent signing of former Red Wings/Predators center David Legwand for two years and $6 million.
Struggling with cap issues, ($3 million over the $69 million dollar threshold), the Flyers wound up moving Scott Hartnell, losing Steve Downie, resigning backup Ray Emery and bringing aboard defenseman Nick Schultz (five points in 69 games with the Oilers and Blue Jackets last year). To say GM Ron Hextall has his hands full and the potential for another dismal season in the City of Brotherly Love is an understatement.
San Jose Sharks
GM Doug Wilson has certainly painted himself into a corner thanks to his handing no-trade clauses to so many of his stud players. (The only team Joe Thornton allegedly will waive his clause for is the New York Rangers but until then, Wilson is stuck with him through the end of the current contract.) Speaking of the Rangers, mobile d-man Dan Boyle is headed to Broadway by way of Long Island while blueliner Brad Stuart was shipped off to Colorado after a second stint with the Sharks for a 2016 second-round pick and 2017 sixth-round pick while Martin Havlat became the first player in franchise history to have his remaining contract bought out. Signing lumbering behemoth John Scott (he of the 125 PIMs last year with the Buffalo Sabres) and Jamie McGinn’s little brother Tye don’t stand to improve the situation much for this aging Sharks squad, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl notwithstanding.
Toronto Maple Leafs
By all rights, the Leafs should be better than their most recent showings. Between Toronto having an all-world goalie in Jonathan Bernier, hard-hitting d-man and team captain Dion Phaneuf and a string of guys who can light the lamp that include Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson. Instead, rumors swirled that management was trying to send Phaneuf packing along with the eight overall pick to Florida for the first overall pick while Dave Bolland and Nikolai Kulemin left for greener pastures. There was also a chance to resign Mason Raymond, who played all 82 games, put up 45 points and had his best season since his 2010 campaign with the Vancouver Canucks. Instead, Calgary signed Raymond while the Leafs big move was reacquiring vastly underrated forward Matt Frattin and adding oft-injured defenseman Stephane Robidas, which might prove to be too much of a risk for the 37-year-old blueliners.
The Caps took Matt Niskanen off Pittsburgh’s hands for seven years and $40.25 million. Despite Niskanen having a career 46-point year last season, the last time he cracked 30 point was in 2008-09 with the Dallas Stars. Washington also picked through more Penguins sloppy seconds by ponying up $27.5 million for Brooks Orpik through five years—eyebrow-raising given that he’ll be 34 in September. The team’s greatest hopes come in the fact that the well-respected Barry Trotz is taking over behind the bench.
Whatever bad mojo this incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets has apparently followed them from its prior life as the Atlanta Thrashers. Speedy center Mathieu Perreault, formerly of the Capitals and Ducks), was the major acquisition (three years, $9 million) for a Jets squad that’s got real concerns between the pipes (current starter Ondrej Pavelec) and rumors swirling that the team is actively shopping franchise star Evander Kane.
To see what teams fall somewhere in the middle for the 2014 NHL Free Agent season, click here: