Ilya Kovalchuk had his media conference before his contract was made official. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It’s been a relatively quiet off-season in terms of big-name free agents swapping sweaters – no Marians signing big-money, long-term contracts with big-city squads and no future Hall of Famers traded for the second time in three years a la Chris Pronger. And there haven’t been any monster RFA re-signings or offer sheets inked as in the past few summers, either.
But that’s not to say a number of headline-grabbing happenings haven’t taken place. In fact, for some players and teams they’ve been the most important in recent memory. After a quick brainstorming session we came up with our 10 most important – this is THN’s Top 10 off-season moves.
10. Nabokov to Russia
When the season ended, a great goalie carousel was expected to begin. The biggest UFA name on the list was Evgeni Nabokov. But he didn’t go to Philly or Washington to try to win a Cup, he went to SKA St. Petersburg for four years and $24 million.
9. Jokinen returns to Calgary
Flames fans offered a not-so-fond farewell to Olli Jokinen last year after 11 goals and 35 points in 56 games, but Jokinen was signed to a two-year, $6-million contract by Calgary earlier this month. GM Darryl Sutter defended the move by saying “important people” thought it was the thing to do, so how could we not include it on this list?
8. Boston nets Horton
The B’s went from second overall in scoring in 2008-09 to last overall in ’09-10, so they needed an injection of…scoring. Boston shipped Dennis Wideman to Florida for the perennially frustrating Nathan Horton, who, no doubt, will continue to frustrate Florida fans with his best season to date now that he’s out of Miami. He and No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin could account for 50 goals, which would vault Boston back into the league’s top third.
7. Sharks re-sign Marleau
Much was made about Marleau being stripped of his ‘C’ last summer before heading into his UFA year; the trade talk swirled all season. Turns out it was much ado about nothing. The versatile forward went out and posted the most goals and best plus-minus of his career, won a gold medal and helped the Sharks to the conference final. Then he signed a four-year, $27.6-million extension without even testing free agency.
6. Canucks bolster the blueline
It was said Vancouver’s defensemen once again couldn’t handle the physical Blackhawks in the post-season. Enter Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, one a UFA the other via trade. Both are defense-first players signed through at least 2015. They represent the Canucks’ present and future on the back end and have made the team an even more legitimate Stanley Cup favorite.
5. Pittsburgh signs M&M
Speaking of D-corps makeovers, did anyone expect Pittsburgh to be front and center at the makeup counter come July 1? Losing Sergei Gonchar to Ottawa will hurt the power play, but adding Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek makes the Pens more mobile and defensively responsible. If its young offense-minded blueliners can mature, the Pens will be a top team in East once again.
4. Chicago weathers the storm
With all his counterparts knowing Chicago was up against it, GM Stan Bowman did well for himself in netting THN’s 49th-, 50th- and 51st-best prospects in our 2010 Future Watch issue (Jeremy Morin, Viktor Stalberg and Ivan Vishnevskiy). He managed that along with gaining a first and two second round draft picks, and a couple other decent prospects, all without moving any of his top-five scorers or top-four D-men. There’s still work to do, but so far so good for the reigning Cup champs.
3. Blues bag Halak
Everyone and their mother knew Montreal couldn’t begin the season with a goalie controversy on its hands, so the Habs created one during the summer instead. It was shocking when playoff hero Jaro Halak was traded to St. Louis for Lars Eller (THN’s No. 46 prospect) and a 20-year-old project named Ian Schultz. The Blues didn’t even surrender a roster player and added a 25-year-old No. 1 netminder to their fold of top 20-something NHLers.
2. Yzerman joins Lightning
Tampa Bay received the jolt of respectability it needed with new VP and GM Steve Yzerman. Without him, it’s not likely the hottest young coaching prospect, Guy Boucher, would have joined the fold. Now, once ‘Stevie Y’ comes-a-callin’, just wait for all the older free agents remaining to join the Stamkos-St-Louis-Lecavalier-Gagne-Hedman core that has this team on the fast-track to the post-season.
1. NHL nixes Kovalchuk contract
$102 million and 17 years; how’s any small-market team supposed to compete with that? Although the NHL hasn’t said exactly what the Devils and Kovalchuk did to contravene the salary cap, we expect it has something to do with the sheer lunacy of the contract’s length. The NHL’s action gets the No. 1 spot here because no other off-season maneuver has the implications of what the league has done – stand up for the cap and the spirit of what it is meant to achieve.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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