We’re a week removed from the mania of NHL free agency and the draft and the summer can take many twists and turns from here, so take this for what it’s worth – but the rejigged Tampa Bay Lightning are earning an increasing amount of respect from THN staffers. In an informal poll of editorial employees in our palatial North Toronto offices Tuesday, more than a few of us spoke about how impressed we were with what Bolts GM Steve Yzerman has done thus far in the off-season.
Full disclosure: I was one of those more-than-a-few. In fact, barring some unforeseen multi-team blockbuster that sees Patrick Marleau, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Quick traded to the Penguins for Marcel Goc and Craig Adams, I’m ready to say it: I think the Lightning are going to be the Eastern Conference’s most dangerous team next season. Read more
The Senators dipped into the unrestricted free agent pool Friday when they signed center David Legwand to a two-year, $6-million deal. There’s no question Legwand will make the Sens better – indeed, after captain Jason Spezza was dealt to Dallas earlier this week, Ottawa needs all the help it can get – but if you’re expecting him to remain in Canada’s capital for the duration of his new contract, you might want to reconsider. Because it may well turn out that, like many veterans changing teams at this time of year, Legwand only sticks around for a season – or less.
Legwand isn’t the player he once was – the quiet-but-effective cornerstone in Nashville for 14-and-a-half of his 15 NHL seasons – but he showed he still had something left in the tank after he was dealt to Detroit at the trade deadline last season (four goals and 11 points in 21 games as a Wing). That said, he’s no Spezza and if he produces at above a .5 points-per-game pace, Sens management will be overjoyed. Not because his contributions are going to turn Ottawa into a playoff team, but because it will make him more attractive as a trade chip either at the next deadline or next summer.
He’s not alone in that regard. Read more
It’s always fun to be taken behind the scenes of an NHL team’s operations. And when the Nashville Predators put a mic on GM David Poile during the draft, we caught a glimpse of the thought process behind the James Neal trade.
What’s always a little funny when you watch something like this, is how similar the negotiations can be to your own fantasy league. Asking for a second, or even third, opinion. Trying to come up with a way to get the player you want, without giving up a certain piece you’d rather keep. And casually talking with the other GM, trying to get in his head space and wiggle some negotiating room.
This video leading up to the Hornqvist-Neal trade (and Nashville’s pick) is a neat over-the-shoulder look at how the blockbuster went down: Read more
First thing’s first: the New York Islanders overpaid Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin Wednesday, but they’re hardly alone in that regard. The Panthers handed out eye-bulgingly generous contracts as if they were those annoying handbillers who plague the Vegas Strip; the Capitals gambled in a big way on a pair of former Penguins defensemen; and the Calgary Flames gave Deryk Engelland a deal that’s triggered a bidding war among Hollywood movie studios interested in making it into a blockbuster comedy. With supply almost always dwarfed by demand, there’s virtually no way to avoid forking over more money than you’d prefer.
The additions of Kulemin, Grabovski and goaltender Jaroslav Halak make the Isles a better team than they were last season – and given their good fortune of residing in the NHL’s weakest division, they’ve improved their odds of making the playoffs. But until GM Garth Snow addresses his franchise’s sub-par blueline, there’s every chance they could be on the outside of the post-season picture once again next spring.
With Grabovski and Kulemin in tow, the Islanders’ top two lines (which will include captain and superstar John Tavares and winger Kyle Okposo) have speed and skill. They’ve also got a terrific two-way force in center Frans Nielsen and enough youngsters in the system (Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart, Calvin de Haan) to make fans feel great about the future. Yet even the most optimistic Isles fans would have to admit the quality of their defense corps isn’t comparable to any playoff team. Read more
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.
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
At 36, Daniel Briere is in the waning years of his NHL career and now he’ll have to start over again in a new city. The charismatic center was shipped off to Colorado in exchange for P-A Parenteau and a fifth-round pick as Montreal got better in the short term.
After a couple years of trade rumors, Sam Gagner is finally on his way out of Edmonton. Coming in to the Oilers is another offensive winger in Teddy Purcell.
In terms of scoring, Edmonton gets the more productive and more healthy player over the past few seasons. And Gagner’s days as Edmonton’s second line center were all but over after another season without improvement and with his no-trade clause about to kick in. But the acquisition of a top-six winger is curious. The move creates a convenient roster hole for center Leon Draisaitl, who the team picked third overall in Friday’s draft. Not that they would make a trade like this to create an automatic opening on the second line for an 18-year-old (at least, we don’t think so), but without many other acquirable centers available, the opportunity will be hanging there for the German. Read more