All the big free agents are off the board and the trade dominoes have fallen. While some players still need homes for next season, the difference-makers are gone: Ryan Kesler, Jason Spezza and Matt Niskanen among them. Will a David Legwand or Dany Heatley turn a team’s fortunes? Probably not. So while it’s very early, let’s take a look at one of the more intriguing subplots of the upcoming season: The Connor McDavid Derby.
You’d hope by now it wouldn’t need to be said that the real winners of the NHL’s annual first day of free agency are at least as often as not the teams that don’t throw lavish contracts at every flavor of the summer. Today’s impulse buy can become tomorrow’s cold-blooded buyout quicker than ever – ask former Rangers captain and new Blackhawks center Brad Richards – and nobody can predict with absolute certainty how any player will fit into his new environment.
Nevertheless, when all teams come away from this first day spinning it as working in their favor, somebody has to try and make sense of it all. That’s what this free agency winners/losers column is all about: one opinion on which teams can realistically claim to have improved, and which ones you can argue have hurt themselves with their activity – or, as the case may be, their lack of action:
The Stars signed winger Ales Hemsky to a very reasonable (three-year, $12-million) deal and added worker bee forward Patrick Eaves and backup goalie Anders Lindback via free agency, but their best acquisition Tuesday was the trade with Ottawa for center Jason Spezza. Nill made his team significantly better up front at very little cost to the roster – and, just as importantly, he’s given up virtually no contract flexibility (he’ll have some $35.4 million in cap space to spend next summer) to do it. In this day and age, that’s as much as you can ask for on free agent day.
The question was put to Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill in late 2013: with the GM role having the potential to eat up every waking moment and most of the unawake moments of a man’s life, is delegation of duties a crucial part of his decision-making? His answer was the first thing that came to mind when news broke that the Carolina Hurricanes had hired as their new head coach Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Bill Peters.
“It’s the key to your success,” Nill told The Hockey News. “That’s one thing I learned from (longtime Red Wings executives) Jim Devellano and (current GM) Ken Holland: you have to hire the right people. I talked to my staff about this the other day: the real reward is going to be when my phone starts to ring in a few years and it’s other teams wanting to hire the people we’ve hired.
“I remember (Wings owners) Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch talking about that. That’s what makes them so proud of their organization: they’ve got a coach in San Jose (Todd McLellan), a coach in Ottawa (Paul MacLean), a GM in Tampa Bay (Steve Yzerman), and a GM in Dallas. It shows you’re doing the right things as an organization and that’s what I want to build here. I want good people to do a good job, and I want them to be rewarded not only on the ice, but in the future.” Read more
For a brief span in the early 2000s, the NHL had two European coaches. Ivan Hlinka ran the bench in Pittsburgh, while Alpo Suhonen was in charge of Chicago. It didn’t last long; 168 games combined, to be specific. But with New York Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson in the running for the position in Carolina, perhaps NHL teams are willing to look at hockey minds who weren’t born on this continent once again.
NEW YORK, NY – For a city that boasts so many people, New York is surprisingly poor when it comes to developing hockey players. Sure, Joey Mullen has a great legacy, but in recent years, there haven’t been too many NHL prospects from the area.
Carolina pick Brett Pesce comes from Tarrytown, where the Rangers practice, while New Jersey prospect Steven Santini hails from the exurb of Mahopac. In the 2014 draft, fans can look for high-flying left winger Sonny Milano of Long Island, but there aren’t a ton of other big names.
Hall of Famer Mark Messier is beloved in New York thanks to his play and leadership in 1994, when he steered the Rangers to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 54 years. Now, he’s helping the grassroots in the city by working for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center project, which would bring nine rinks to a new complex developed from an old armory in the Bronx.
In choosing former Hurricanes architect Jim Rutherford to replace Ray Shero, the Pittsburgh Penguins have opted for experience over a more youthful, longer-term solution. The 65-year-old Rutherford is a well-respected NHL executive, but he’ll face intense scrutiny from anyone who looks at the Pens’ major issues on the blueline, compares them with the at-best-mediocre defense corps Rutherford built when he was running the Canes for the past two decades, and comes away skeptical he’ll be able to adequately address them.
Any GM who has won a Stanley Cup as Rutherford did in Carolina in 2006 accumulates a cachet of the benefit of the doubt. But the fact is, after the Hurricanes won a championship, they’ve made the playoffs only once. And their defense has been a mess; if Joni Pitkanen is your best blueliner in the past eight years and you’ve brought back Joe Corvo for a second tour of duty, you’ve got a lot of room for improvement. If Rutherford is to have any success in Pittsburgh, he has to do a better job of building his back end. Read more
It’s time for the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different. I’m reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. This week it’s time to tackle the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pending UFAs – Manny Malhotra, Radek Dvorak, Joni Pitkanen, Ron Hainsey, Mike Komisarek, Brett Bellemore, Justin Peters, Mike Murphy, Chris Terry
Pending RFAs - Aaron Palushaj, Zach Boychuk, Jiri Tlusty, Andrei Loktionov, Drayson Bowman, Nathan Gerbe
Not returning - Kirk Muller (Coach) Read more
By Andrew Heliotis
1. Wayne Simmonds
RW, Philadelphia Flyers
This past season Simmonds hit career highs in all three scoring categories and his 60 points were good enough for a top 50 scoring finish. Simmonds really excelled on the power play, however. Scroll down the special teams list of top goal scorers and it won’t take long to hit his name. Only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and San Jose’s Joe Pavelski finished with more than Simmonds’ 15 power play goals. With 209 shots all season he scored at the same rate as Sidney Crosby and finished with a better shooting percentage than six of the top 10 point-getters of the season.
2. Alexander Steen
LW, St. Louis Blues
Early in 2005-06, two rookies for the Maple Leafs made their team’s scouts look like geniuses. Steen and Kyle Wellwood combined for 90 points and the Toronto faithful began salivating. But 20 games into 2008-09 Steen would forever be an afterthought in Hogtown when he was sent to the St. Louis Blues for Lee Stempniak. Oh, how things have changed. This season Steen, who built a reputation as a consistently underrated, solid two-way forward, led the Blues in goals (33) and points (62), recorded in just 68 games. Steen’s 0.49 goals per game was seventh in the NHL. Read more