Free agency is here once again and with the NHL salary cap for 2010-11 set at $59.4 million, teams have a bit more room to use to change the makeup of their roster.
Ilya Kovalchuk, traded from the Atlanta Thrashers to New Jersey Devils last season, headlines this year's batch of unrestricted free agents looking for a new contract. Will he get the $10 million he was previously seeking? Will the rumors out of Los Angeles come to fruition? Or will Kovalchuk possibly bolt to the Kontinental League?
The goalie market is full of names, but it's not yet clear where any of them fit in. Evgeni Nabokov will be finding his way out of San Jose for the first time in his career, while Marty Turco looks to regain his form in a town other than Dallas. And how about Chris Mason, who made a name for himself in St. Louis; who will pay for his services?
Sergei Gonchar, Dan Hamhuis and Anton Volchenkov lead the way for an interesting group of defensemen. A mix of puckmoving and puck-blocking, any team looking to add a little character or skill to its lineup has a choice when they turn down the 'D' aisle.
So buckle up and follow along with up-to-date analysis off all the key signings on Day 1.
After the July 1 maddess, keep track of the rest of the signings via our team-by-team/alphabetical free agent lists.
| ||John Scott, D/W||TERM: $1 million per/1 year|
ANALYSIS: With the departures of Ben Eager (traded to Atlanta) and Adam Burish (free agency to Dallas), the Blackhawks needed some muscle to protect the Patrick Kanes and Jonathan Toews of the world and 6-foot-8, 258-pound John Scott is a fitting replacement.
| ||Eric Nystrom, C||TERM: $1.4 million per/3 years|
ANALYSIS: Nystrom is a hard worker, a two-way player and he can line up at all three forward positions. Unfortunately, his total of 19 points last season with Calgary was a career-high for the 27-year-old and the last time I checked, Minnesota already had a lot of forwards who don't score that often.
| ||Johan Hedberg, G||TERM: $1.5 million per/1 year|
ANALYSIS: In the yearly search for Martin Brodeur's backup, New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello has landed a good one in former Thrashers netminder Hedberg. A consummate professional who was beloved in Atlanta, 'Moose' will be a great dressing room presence and proved last season that he can pull his weight when necessary. In fact, the 37-year-old outplayed young buck Ondrej Pavelec down the stretch once Kari Lehtonen was traded. Hedberg's 2.62 goals-against average was his best since before the lockout, while his .915 save percentage was the highest he's sported in the NHL.
| ||Vinny Propspal, LW||TERM: $2.1 million per/1 year |
ANALYSIS: Rangers GM Glen Sather – well, let's face it, most of the Rangers braintrust – may be viewed as crazy in the opinion of the fanbase, but this is a good re-sign for the Blueshirts.
Prospal's 58 points last year was good for second on the squad and represented a nice bounce-back from his terrible campaign in Tampa the season before. On a team with some very ugly minuses, Prospal was a respectable plus-8 last year and he genuinely wants to be a Ranger, something every Manhattan fan should enjoy.
Given the low rate the Blueshirts got Prospal to sign for, there's no worry this contract will come back to bite them. And admit it, when was the last time you could say that about anything the Rangers did? - RK
| ||Andrew Raycroft, G||TERM: $650,000 per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: This is a dicey risk for Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Raycroft is coming in as the backup for Kari Lehtonen, who hasn't proven himself to be the most durable of goaltenders. Should Lehtonen go down to injury again, the Stars will struggle to keep pace in the competitive Pacific Division.
| ||Matt Cullen, C||TERM: $3.5 million per/3 years|
ANALYSIS: Minnesota is in dire need of offensive weapons and Cullen is a nice piece, though certainly not the second coming of Marian Gaborik. A Stanley Cup winner with Carolina in 2006, Cullen hasn't had much luck with other teams, disappointing in Ottawa and with the Rangers. But he's a local Minnesota product who went to St. Cloud State, so this will be a nice homecoming for him.
Did the Wild overpay? VOTE
| ||Adam Burish, RW||TERM: $1.5 per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: Pray for the sanity of those who play in the Pacific Division. The Dallas Stars now boast both Steve Ott and Burish, who signs a reasonable deal with a team not exactly flaunting its wallet lately.
| ||Saku Koivu, C||TERM: $2.5 million per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: In re-signing Koivu, the Ducks not only get their No. 2 center back, but they help shore up a lot of goodwill with another very important Finn.
| ||Jeff Tambellini, LW||TERM: $500,000 per/1 year|
ANALYSIS: Tambellini's dad, Steve, had a great weekend at the draft as Oilers GM, while now Jeff gets a fresh start in Vancouver, where dad used to play. A tweener between the NHL and American League most of his career, Tambellini hasn't shown any sort of consistency as a pro, certainly not the scoring prowess he was known for at the University of Michigan.
| ||Jordan Leopold, D||TERM: $3 million per/3 years|
ANALYSIS: In nabbing Leopold, the Sabres managed the stanch the flow of blueliners exiting Buffalo today, so this was a necessary signing. With Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman leaving, two of the Sabres' top four defenseman were gone before dinner and the squad wasn't deep to begin with.
| ||Chris Mason, G||TERM: $1.85 million per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: Former Blues netminder Chris Mason made the best of a horrible goalie free agent market (from a netminder’s perspective) by signing a two-year, $3.7 million contract with the Atlanta Thrashers.
The 34-year-old Mason had a respectable 2009-10 for St. Louis, posting a 30-22-8 mark, as well as a 2.53 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in 61 games. But after the Blues acquired Jaroslav Halak prior to the NHL draft, it was obvious Mason would be looking elsewhere for employment.
He had to settle for the Thrashers – a team that traded former top prospect Kari Lehtonen to Dallas last year because it was putting its belief in 22-year-old Ondrej Pavelec. Nothing has changed in that regard, meaning Mason will be used as Pavelec’s backup.
Mason is at least as good as former Thrashers No. 2 Johan Hedberg and is three years younger. Another in a series of solid off-season moves by GM Rick Dudley. -AP
| ||Olli Jokinen, C||TERM: $3 million per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: It is a measure of the desperation of both Olli Jokinen and the Calgary Flames that they have renewed their partnership by agreeing to a two-year, $6 million contract for the 31-year-old center.
Flames fans must be incensed to see GM Darryl Sutter looking increasingly frantic – and after last season’s wheeling and dealing, looking increasingly frantic is no easy task – by making this signing. Sure, Jokinen still is capable of posting 50 points per season; that’s the precise amount he had last season, which he split with the Flames and New York Rangers.
Unfortunately, Jokinen has changed addresses four times in the past three seasons for good reason. His best days are behind him – and although he took a pay cut of $2.25 million a season to return to Calgary for the 2010-11 campaign, he will be a lightning rod for dissatisfaction with the team simply because of his past failures with the Flames.
But hey, there’s nothing wrong with the direction the Flames are taking. Just ask Sutter and team president Ken King. Actually, if you’re a Flames fan who wants to be comforted by the answer, ask only Sutter and King. -AP
| ||Dan Hamhuis, D||TERM: $4.5 million per/6 years|
ANALYSIS: The changing of the rearguards employed by the Canucks continued Thursday when former Predators blueliner Dan Hamhuis signed a six-year, $27 million deal with Vancouver.
A B.C. native, Hamhuis was seen as one of the top available unrestricted free agent D-men this summer, so his arrival has to be seen as a coup for Canucks GM Mike Gillis. Along with recently acquired defenseman Keith Ballard, Hamhuis represents an upgrade on the defense corps that couldn’t contain the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of last season’s playoffs.
Neither Hamhuis nor Ballard is going to challenge Washington’s Mike Green for the scoring lead by a defenseman, but both are 27-year-old, intelligent, low-maintenance employees who can stabilize Vancouver’s back end for a long time to come.
That’s why six years for a player like Hamhuis isn’t unreasonable. That will be underscored when Canucks fans get to see his quiet, steady game on a nightly basis. -AP
| ||Anton Volchenkov, D||TERM: $4.25 million per/6 years|
ANALYSIS: Once Paul Martin left the Devils as an unrestricted free agent Thursday, it was only a matter of time before New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello worked his magic to rebuild his blueline. Sure enough, Lamoriello landed one of the biggest blueliners available when he signed former Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov to a six-year, $25.5 million contract.
Volchenkov is just 28 and known throughout the league as a shot-blocking menace. He’s missed 32 games over the past two seasons because of his fearless nature, but gives the Devils a big-time back-end physical presence they sorely lacked during the 2010 playoffs.
Interestingly, Volchenkov’s deal averages $250,000 less a season than Dan Hamhuis’ new contract with the Canucks – a testament to Lamoriello’s shrewd negotiating skills.
There will be those who believe the acquisition of Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder won’t give the Devils an advantage in the tough Atlantic Division. But never count out anything Lamoriello does.
And don’t think he’s finished remodeling the roster, either. -AP
| ||Kurtis Foster, D||TERM: $1.8 million per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: If anybody deserved a good break, it was Kurtis Foster, who had to rebuild his career two summers ago and now is rebuilding his life after losing his infant son. He’ll get a chance to do that with the Oilers, where he’ll take his versatility – he played both forward and defense for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season – and his booming (and we mean booming) shot. The acquisition of Foster would certainly seem to hasten the departure of Sheldon Souray, if the Oilers could somehow find somebody to take that contract. -KC
| ||Henrik Tallinder, D||TERM: $3.375 million per/4 years|
ANALYSIS: Given that Paul Martin played just 22 games for the New Jersey Devils last season, you could certainly argue the Devils have a better blueline than they did last season with Henrik Tallinder taking his place. The same certainly can’t be said for the Buffalo Sabres, who have lost both Tallinder and Toni Lydman to free agency today.
| ||Ray Whitney, LW||TERM: $3 million per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: It’s nice to see the NHL spending the other 29 owners’ money wisely. Ray Whitney on a two-year deal at $3 million is very reasonable for both sides and gives the Coyotes a significant upgrade in offensive skill.
If Whitney had been looking for anything beyond two years, the deal doesn’t look near as good from a Phoenix perspective. But for the next two years, Whitney should give the Coyotes somewhere in the 25-goal, 60-point range. If all the stars align, they could be looking at 30-plus goals and 70 points for a team that is clearly on the rise. -KC
| ||Toni Lydman, D||TERM: $3 million per/3 years|
ANALYSIS: Scott Niedermayer’s retirement may have freed up more than $6 million in cap space for the Anaheim Ducks, but as GM Bob Murray understands, the quality of the people he can bring in with that money almost assuredly won’t be able to match the contributions of his former captain.
That’s not to say Toni Lydman isn’t a decent enough defenseman who can play more than 20 minutes a game. But Lydman is 32 years old and was troubled by a groin injury that sidelined him for 15 games with Buffalo last season. His puckmoving ability was a plus for him in past years, but that skill isn’t what it once was, either.
Given the alternatives, however, the Ducks had to take a chance on some veteran. But the fact that, even in this inflated market for defensemen, Lydman took a $150,000 haircut to sign with Anaheim ought to serve as a sobering slap in the face to Ducks fans expecting the world from the Finn. -AP
| ||Paul Martin, D||TERM: $5 million per/5 years|
ANALYSIS: Well, the Penguins lost one of the top five unrestricted free agent defensemen out there and picked up two of them in Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Neither of those players brings as much offense or power play élan that Sergei Gonchar does, but the sum of their parts could represent an overall upgrade on the Penguins blueline.
| ||Derek Boogaard, LW||TERM: $1.65 million per/4 years|
ANALYSIS: Didn’t Rangers GM Glen Sather say he wasn’t about to overpay for free agents this summer? He must have had another of his patented moments of madness Thurdsay before bestowing a four-year, $6.5 million contract on enforcer Derek Boogaard.
You’d have thought Sather learned his lesson about overpaying enforcers after the Donald Brashear experiment ended in disaster, but apparently not. It’s not necessarily the salary that stands out here – it’s the term. You’re telling me that another goon isn’t going to come down the pipe between now and 2014? Sather, please. -AP
| ||Dan Ellis, G||TERM: $1.5 million per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: Steve Yzerman’s first free agent signing as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning could end up being a home run. Although he had trouble winning games, Ellis did not have a save percentage lower than .900 in three seasons in Nashville and at 30, just might be entering his best seasons as an NHL goalie. Mike Smith certainly wasn’t getting it done in Tampa Bay and this gives the Lightning far more reliable goaltending than they had before free agency. Yzerman is undoubtedly betting the two will push each other to be better and that the Lightning will benefit by the competition. -KC
| ||Jody Shelley, LW||TERM: $1.1 million per/3 years|
ANALYSIS: The Flyers got a whole lot tougher, but not much better up front with their three-year deal to Jody Shelley. Not that they really have to worry about it because the Flyers have plenty of skill up front and Shelley can actually play a regular role, something resident tough guy Riley Cote has not been able to do to this point in his career. -KC
| ||Derek Morris, D||TERM: $2.75 million per/4 years|
ANALYSIS: Derek Morris has gone from an elite prospect to a journeyman defenseman in 12 NHL seasons, but he’s still got some decent hockey left in him and doesn’t harbor any illusions about his place in a team’s payroll structure. That’s why the cash-conscious Phoenix Coyotes re-signed him to a four-year, $11 million deal Thursday.
Morris, who’ll be 32 by the time Phoenix’s training camp begins, returned to the Coyotes organization from Boston at last season’s trade deadline, after splitting the previous year between the Rangers (who traded for Morris at the 2009 trade deadline) and Coyotes.
Yotes coach Dave Tippett knows not to ask too much of Morris – at least, in terms of offensive contributions – but he’ll be a voice of experience in the dressing room. Most importantly, he’s locked up for four years. That’s half the battle for a franchise that has the league watching its financial bottom line. -AP
| ||Sean O'Donnell, D||TERM: $1 million per/1 year|
ANALYSIS: All right, now the Philadelphia Flyers blueline corps consists of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell. With Oskars Bartulis there, you’d have to think that means the Flyers look set on their defense for next season. -KC
| ||Manny Malhotra, C||TERM: $2.5 million per/3 years|
ANALYSIS: Yeah, Manny Malhotra was really good for the San Jose Sharks last season. Great team guy, really gritty, tough to play against, good penalty-killer. But good enough to merit a 250-percent raise on a three-year deal with a no-trade clause? Perhaps that indicates he was underpaid at $700,000 in the first place last season, but that’s a lot of money for a player who historically doesn’t play very well when he has the kind of security he’s going to have in Vancouver. He undoubtedly makes the Canucks a more difficult opponent and has enough ability to chip in with a modicum of offense. -KC
| ||Alex Auld, G||TERM: $1 million per/1 years|
ANALYSIS: Dan Ellis would have been better, but he also would have been more expensive. And after dealing Jaroslav Halak, the Canadiens knew they needed a dependable backup for Carey Price. They probably got one in Alex Auld, a 29-year-old who finds himself with his sixth organization in the past six seasons. It’s doubtful, however, whether Auld will be able to handle the job in Montreal if Price falters. -KC
| ||Antero Niittymaki, G||TERM: $2 million per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: When the San Jose Sharks bowed out in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, it was a given that their relationship with goalie Evgeni Nabokov was over. That said, very few pundits – if any – believed GM Doug Wilson would turn to Antero Niittymaki as Nabokov’s replacement. So when the 30-year-old Finn agreed to a two-year, $4 million contract with Wilson, more than a few eyebrows raised.
In fairness, Niittymaki had a better-than-average 2009-10 season – including a 21-18-5 record, 2.87 goals-against average and .909 save percentage – for a Tampa Bay Lightning team that had more than its share of distractions. Wilson must be convinced that Niittymaki would perform even better when he became part of San Jose’s very stable organizational dynamic.
Of course, Niittymaki’s relatively cheap salary entered into the equation for Wilson as well. He still has nearly $7 million in salary cap room to play with (and probably use to fill the blueline hole created by Rob Blake’s retirement), but remember, the Sharks usually don’t spend to the cap ceiling.
So it looks like Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss will be San Jose’s duo to start the year. There will be plenty of skepticism that duo can do the job until they actually do the job, but the same can be said of the entire Sharks organization at this point. -AP
| ||Colby Armstrong, LW||TERM: $3 million per/3 years|
ANALYSIS: The big question with respect to Colby Armstrong is: Will he be near as effective as he was before now that the NHL is attempting to clamp down on blindside hits to the head? Armstrong is one of the most predatorial headhunters in the league and was one of the prime examples in the league’s crusade against head shots against vulnerable opponents. But he certainly makes the Leafs more truculent and belligerent and he’s a very good team guy. Does he make the Leafs any better? Discuss amongst yourselves. -KC
| ||Zbynek Michalek, D||TERM: $4 million per/5 years|
ANALYSIS: Minutes after veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar left the Penguins to sign with the Ottawa Senators, Pens GM Ray Shero filled his empty slot on the blueline by agreeing to terms on a five-year, $20 million deal with Zybnek Michalek.
The 27-year-old Michalek – a Czech native who gets a $2.6-million raise on the $1.4 million he made last year in Phoenix – is regarded as one of the league’s premier shot-blockers. He led the Yotes in blocked shots last season and also was their chief minute-muncher, averaging 22:38 of ice time per game.
Once Gonchar departed, the move was absolutely necessary for Shero to make – especially after Penguins fans watched blueliners Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi leave as free agents last summer. Signing a shot-blocker always is a risk, but it appears Michalek is a smart shot-blocker, as he’s missed just 17 games due to injury in his five years in Phoenix.
The loss of Michalek means the Coyotes take a hit on the defensive end. However, management had to know the hit was coming to the cash-conscious franchise; they’ll be forced to pick through the leftovers of free agency, or look within the organization, to replace their best D-man. -AP
| ||Martin St-Louis, RW||TERM: $5.625 million per/4 years|
ANALYSIS: The Tampa Bay Lightning may rue the day they’re carrying Martin St-Louis on their roster for a $5.625 million cap hit, but it’s a credit to St-Louis that he could get such a big-money, long-term contract extension with the Lightning knowing full well there is no way they’ll be able to get themselves out of that contract.
In the short term, there’s no doubt St-Louis is worth the money and cap hit (he still has one year left on his previous deal) and the chemistry he had with Steven Stamkos last season was something to behold. Now that St-Louis has become the veteran face of the franchise, is it possible Vincent Lecavalier’s days in the Lightning organization are coming to an end? Owner Jeffrey Vinik tried to get rid of the Lecavalier contract when he bought the team and may very well try again. -KC
| ||Anton Babchuk, D (RFA)||TERM: $1.4 million per/1 year|
ANALYSIS: A year in the Kontinental League was enough for blueliner Anton Babchuk, who returned to the Carolina Hurricanes organization by signing a one-year, $1.4 million deal Thursday.
The 6-foot-5 Babchuk played 49 games with Avangard Omsk in 2009-10, leading the team’s defensemen in goals (9), points (22) and plus/minus (+17). The year before that, the 26-year-old set personal NHL bests with the Canes by posting 16 goals and 35 points in 72 games.
He left for the Russian league after a contract dispute with team management and squabbled with the organization prior to that clash, but clearly, both sides have made up. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford realized he needed depth and Babchuk’s bulky frame for his blueline; Babchuk realized the only way he was getting back into the NHL was by mending fences.
Overall, a typically understated Rutherford move that will help Carolina. -AP
| ||Braydon Coburn, D (RFA)||TERM: $3.2 million per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: If the Philadelphia Flyers have given up all hope in finding a legitimate, reliable No. 1 goaltender – and all indications are they have done just that – they’re obviously trying to make sure they construct a defense corps that gives up so few shots sub-par goaltending won’t be a factor.
By re-signing Braydon Coburn to a two-year deal at a cap hit of $3.2 million per year, they now have a top-five defense corps that consists of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Coburn and Andrej Meszaros. Not bad. But anyone who watched the Stanley Cup final knows teams can still get the puck by those guys once in a while and when they do, the results can be disastrous. -KC
| ||Alex Tanguay, LW||TERM: $1.7 million per/1 year|
ANALYSIS: If anyone has any clue what Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter is doing, please drop us a line and let us know. A team that can’t score goes out and reacquires an underachiever who had just 10 goals last season? Of course, when you’re the Flames and you’ve firmly placed yourself in salary cap hell, it’s not as though there are a whole lot of options.
Can Tanguay regain his form and return to being the 70-80 point man he was when he was last in Calgary? Sutter obviously hopes so, but it doesn’t look promising unless he and Jarome Iginla can somehow bring out the best in each other. A first line of Tanguay-Matt Stajan-Iginla isn’t about to scare anybody in the Western Conference. -KC
| ||Sergei Gonchar, D||TERM: $5.5 million per/3 years|
ANALYSIS: The first surprise signing of free agent day came just minutes into the process, when the Ottawa Senators signed veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar to a three-year, $16.5 million contract.
Gonchar’s acquisition immediately makes the Senators smarter on the ice, calmer in the dressing room and perhaps gives Jason Spezza pause to reconsider his hopes to play elsewhere.
Needless to say, it also means the end of Anton Volchenkov’s time in Canada’s capital. And because the former Penguins and Capitals (and Bruins) blueliner is 36, his contract counts against the salary cap regardless of his status with the team or as an active player.
In other words, it is a calculated risk that helps the Sens keep pace with some increasingly tough competition in the Northeast Division – and causes the Pittsburgh Penguins to have to scramble to stabilize a defense corps decimated for two straight summers now. Look for the Penguins to get into the Tomas Kaberle sweepstakes any second.
The contract also should stick in the minds of hockey fans the next time Senators management belly-aches about dealing with a player who possesses a no-trade clause. They needed that clause to complete this deal, so that’s what they did. – AP
| ||Martin Biron, G||TERM: $875,000 per/2 years|
ANALYSIS: A team that spends as much time with the puck in its own end as the New York Rangers do can’t have its No. 1 goalie playing 73 games and that’s why the Rangers went out and got a reliable backup in Martin Biron. To be sure, Biron is an upgrade on Steve Valiquette, Chad Johnson, Alex Auld and Matt Zaba, the four goalies who shared the other nine games last season.