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.
All right, so now that (almost) all the dust has cleared in Free Agent Frenzy 2014, here are some thoughts on Day 1 of a crazy off-season:
MOTOWN NO TOWN FOR FREE AGENTS Let me get this straight. Dan Boyle took less money and term to sign with the New York Rangers than he could have received from the Detroit Red Wings. What is this, Opposite Day?
After pretty much ruling the NHL for the past two decades, the Detroit Red Wings have fallen on hard times indeed. Remember the days when free agency would open and the Red Wings would basically open for business, basically telling whichever veterans stars they wanted that playing for the Red Wings was a privilege? The Red Wings never begged and they never got turned down. Read more
When it became known Jason Spezza had requested a move out of Ottawa, the Senators’ asking price was something like a young NHLer, a prospect and a first round pick. Ideally, the trade would have been made at or before the draft so the Sens could recoup the first round pick they gave up to Anaheim in the Bobby Ryan deal. When no deal was struck for Spezza in Philadelphia, we knew for sure the eventual return in this trade was going to come up flat.
And, really, that’s how this was always going to play out. Ryan Kesler was the biggest name and most available center on the market and the Anaheim Ducks didn’t surrender their highest draft pick or any of their blue-chip prospects for him. Meanwhile, the Senators had even less leverage than the Canucks did with Kesler, since Spezza only has one year left on his deal and had already denied a move to Nashville. So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Ottawa was only able to get Alex Chiasson, a second-rounder and no-name prospects for Spezza. Read more
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
Two of them are slam dunks and the other is a very good bet to make the Hall of Fame this year.
When the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee meets Monday to determine the class of 2014, they won’t have to debate for very long on Dominik Hasek and Peter Forsberg. They’ll be automatics. Mike Modano, on the other hand, might spur debate. He’ll need at least 14 affirmative votes from the 18 selection committee members to make the grade.
Here’s a brief look at the careers of these three first-year eligible candidates The Hockey News is projecting to gain Hall approval for 2014.
For the second time in as many years, the Colorado Avalanche appear headed to another round of contentious contract negotiations with Ryan O’Reilly.
The Avalanche recently elected to take O’Reilly, 23, to salary arbitration rather than pony up $6.5 million to qualify his rights. The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater reports the two sides can continue to negotiate up until July 15, but if still unresolved a date will be set for an arbitration hearing.
Dater claims the Avalanche prefer to use his annual average salary of $5 million as a starting point for negotiations, while O’Reilly’s agent Pat Morris believes it should begin at his actual salary ($6.5 million) for this season. Should this go to arbitration, the new CBA stipulates O’Reilly cannot receive anything less than 85 percent of his actual salary, which would be $5.5 million for 2014-15. He can also chose a one- or two-year contract.
Morris indicated O’Reilly hopes to remain with the Avalanche, but as he’ll be eligible for unrestricted free agent status in two years, this could become a year-to-year situation until his UFA eligibility. This prompted Dater to speculate the Avalanche could shop O’Reilly, noting rival GMs can contact all free agents – restricted and unrestricted – starting June 25, plus there’s a five-day window (July 1 to 5) where O’Reilly can sign an offer sheet. He suggests O’Reilly’s trade value could fetch the stud defenseman the Avs need to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Read more
It’s been 15 years to the day that the most infamous game in Buffalo Sabres history began: On June 19, 1999, the franchise squared off in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final – and when it ended in controversy and anguish in the wee hours of the next morning, with Brett Hull’s foot, the rest of him, and his Dallas Stars teammates celebrating their championship on the ice of the then-named Marine Midland Arena (now known as the First Niagara Center), Buffalo fans might have believed they were at their nadir.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, the next decade-and-a-half hasn’t been much better. Sure, they enjoyed a brief resurgence after the 2005 lost lockout season, making two appearances in the Eastern Conference Final. However, in fourteen seasons after playing in the 1999 Cup Final, Buffalo missed the playoffs eight times and made it out of the first round on just three occasions. More often than not, the biggest news coming out of the organization has been about players leaving, ownership changes and management blunders.
That’s the bad news. The good news? Virtually all the circumstances that went on to affect the Sabres in that time have changed. Consequently, the next fifteen years are likely to be much better to Sabres fans. And I mean much better. Read more
The American League’s Calder Cup championship was decided in a similar way the Stanley Cup was at the end of last week.
Tuesday night the Texas Stars and St. John’s IceCaps played Game 5 of the Calder Cup final and it went into overtime. With the Stars holding a 3-1 series lead, they had a chance to close out the championship on the road.
And that they did. The Stars took a 2-0 lead in the game before the IceCaps roared back to take a 3-2 advantage. Texas tied it up again with less than 10 minutes to go in the third period. And, in the dying minutes of the first OT period, Texas’ Patrik Nemeth scored the championship goal with this nifty move. Hey, that looks like a Patrick Kane backhander. Read more