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THN.com Blog: 2008 UFA blueliners provide little bang for big bucks

Wade Redden earns $6.5 million per season for the Rangers, but has only 24 points in 72 games. (Getty Images)

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Wade Redden earns $6.5 million per season for the Rangers, but has only 24 points in 72 games. (Getty Images)

Every summer, NHL GMs fall all over themselves to woo unrestricted free agents. And every summer, NHL GMs fall on their faces by wooing unrestricted free agents. I understand the pressure to do so, but it always amazes me how many poor decisions are made.

This past summer was no exception, but was one that saw what can now (and, by many, at the time) only be described as undeserving blueliners beefing-up their bank accounts.

To put the defense corps blunders into perspective, the New York Islanders of all teams made the best decision of the summer when they hoodwinked Mark Streit into joining their perennial battle for the NHL’s basement.

Streit, 30 at the time, was locked-up for five years at an annual cap hit of $4.1 million. As of today he is the fourth-highest scoring defenseman in the league with 15 goals and 53 points and leads his team in scoring by 18 points – which says as much about the Islanders as it does about Streit.

Not surprisingly, the Islanders’ urban cousins led the way in poor decision-making when it came to putting pen to paper over the summer. The Rangers – always the richest and chicest of the New York franchises – have never seen an expensive free agent they didn’t like. GM Glen Sather seems to relish in paying more for players than he should or, even, needs to and the summer of 2008 was no exception.

It began with the re-signing of Michal Rozsival. He’s currently “leading” the Rangers aptly named blueline in scoring with eight goals and 30 points. Rozsival also leads the team in average ice time at 22:33 per game. He has recently been sidelined for 7-to-10 days with a lower-body injury, leaving Sather’s other cap-cuffing signing to lead the Rangers push to remain in the playoffs.

That other signing is the ostracized-in-Ottawa Wade Redden. The Blueshirts inked him to a six-year, $39-million contract – that’s $6.5 million per year, folks. Redden, 31, was purported to be a power play savior, but is languishing in Manhattan with just three goals and 24 points, just eight of which came with the man advantage.

Dmitri Kalinin was also signed, but for just one year at $2.1 million. He was shipped to Phoenix for pending-UFA Derek Morris at the trade deadline as Sather attempted to address his off-season mistakes. Only time will tell how much the GM – if, indeed, he’s still the GM – pays to keep Morris in Manhattan.

The summer’s next biggest D-corps debacle came in Chicago, where Brian Campbell blew into the Windy City and convinced the Blackhawks he should be paid $7.1 million for eight seasons, despite the already deep pool of blueline talent the team had. Now Campbell is no Redden - he’s actually dangerous with the puck and can skate like the wind - but he has still disappointed since signing his big ticket.

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Campbell’s seven goals and 46 points are good for ninth in the NHL this year, but $1 million per goal is probably not what Chicago GM Dale Tallon had in mind on July 1 and neither was Campbell’s 17th overall rank in power play points by a defenseman.

Two lesser-paid defensemen were also curious summer signings. In Toronto, interim GM Cliff Fletcher handed then 29-year-old Jeff Finger – he of one full NHL season and all of 19 points – $14 million for four years. Finger’s name has hardly been mentioned this season around the Leafs, but that’s both good and bad.

Then there was Brooks Orpik’s six-year, $22.5-million deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. At $3.75 million per season, Orpik is a pretty expensive shutdown guy, especially since by many accounts, Rob Scuderi has usurped Orpik as the man in the Pens’ end this season.

All five of these signings are prime examples of GMs getting ahead of themselves, worrying about what their competitors are up to and not looking ahead with any real vision. In this economy, with the cap expected to drop dramatically in 2010-11, these five, especially the first three, will represent huge headaches for their respective teams. And short of buyouts, there’s really no way to get rid of them.

This summer, UFA defensemen available for wooing could include Jay Bouwmeester, Scott Niedermayer, Mike Komisarek, Jordan Leopold and Kurtis Foster, amongst others.

We’ll have to wait and see which are on the market and who’s after them, but you can be sure, each will be overpaid. Just hope it’s not your team doing the paying.

John Grigg is a copy editor and writer with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his Tuesday blog and the Wednesday Top 10.

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