Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Lots Of New Looks

Yesterday and today, we saw a lot of teams make dramatic moves through free agency to change the looks and make-ups of the rosters that will be iced this season. People will talk about winners and losers after free agency is settled, but the truth is that only one can team can hoist the Stanley Cup and we're about eleven months from determining a winner. There were, however, some teams that made significant improvements upon their roster from last season, so we'll check out who I believe had the best free agency periods... and the more questionable free agency periods.

Those Who Did Well

First off, let's make no mistake that the Central Division is going to be a bloodbath next season for whichever four teams make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We'll start with a few teams in that division.

DALLAS STARS: This one may surprise a lot of people, but the Dallas Stars got a lot better through two moves. The trade for Jason Spezza gave the Stars a good second-line center, but they were still missing a couple of pieces. They added a guy that Spezza had found some chemistry with in Ales Hemsky, signed Anders Lindback as a backup option to Kari Lehtonen, signed Patrick Eaves who can help the Stars' third line, and brought back Vernon Fiddler. Dallas didn't spend a ton of money, but kudos to Jim Nill who added key pieces in making Dallas a very difficult team to defend against after these signings.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: For a team that needs little, they somehow got better. Michal Handzus was a solid third- or fourth-line centerman, but the Blackhawks upgraded in a major way by signing Brad Richards. Richards can play on the second-line as the center as well, but his versatility gives the Blackhawks a whole new dimension. I like this signing at $2 million as well, so consider me sold on the Blackhawks as a favorite once again in the Western Conference.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Garth Snow had some work to do to ensure that Buffalo wasn't going to get close to the top pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and it looks like he got down to business. Sure, he lost out on Dan Boyle, but he added a solid backup in Chad Johnson behind Jaroslav Halak, he added a little grit and scoring to his wingers by signing Jack Skille, and put together some semblance of a competent second line with the additions of former Leafs Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. The Islanders could be a playoff team if this all comes together.

Those Who Took Steps Back

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: For all the talent the Penguins had, I'm not sure that one Stanley Cup parade was the outlook. As a result, the Penguins traded away James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, and then watched Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Jussi Jokinen, Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass, and Deryk Engelland leave. Replacing them will be Steve Downie, Taylor Chorney, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss, and Christian Ehrhoff. Not quite the same sum of the parts as those who left, and Pittsburgh will need to find scoring from more than Kunitz, Crosby, and Malkin next season.

BOSTON BRUINS: The Bruins were near the cap ceiling at the end of the season, so it wasn't rocket science in figuring out that they weren't going to make a splash. However, they watched Jerome Iginla, Chad Johnson, Andrej Meszaros, and Shawn Thornton walk. Iginla was supposed to be re-signed, but that didn't happen. And then GM Peter Chiarelli proceeded to sign no one. For a team that took a step back last year, losing a 30-goal scorer, a solid defenceman, a back-up goalie, and a grinder without any replacements is a swing and a miss.

DETROIT RED WINGS: GM Ken Holland needed a defenceman with a right-handed shot. He needed to upgrade the bottom-six forwards. He needed to add a little grit. Holland made pitches, and came back with Kevin Porter. If you uttered "who?", you may not be alone. Porter's a serviceable forward who will forecheck like a demon, but he's not exactly the second coming of Brendan Shanahan. Holland comes away with Porter and having re-signed Kyle Quincey. Not exactly the kind of free agency period that the Red Wings needed.

Potential Vacant GM Positions

FLORIDA PANTHERS: I know that the Panthers had a pile of work to do, but Dale Tallon seems to be giving out a lot of money to guys who aren't going to dramatically improve the team. I like the Jussi Jokinen signing at the price of $4 million per season for four years if he can continue to score like he did last season, but Dave Bolland for $5.5 million per season for five years? Willie Mitchell for $4.25 million per season for two years? Shawn Thornton and Derek MacKenzie for a combined $2.5 million on the fourth line? I like the young guys that the Panthers are bringing along, but letting Tom Gilbert walk was a mistake when he was the best defenceman the Panthers had last year. Florida may be at the bottom of the Atlantic Division once more.

WINNIPEG JETS: I know the Jets are a budget-conscious team who are developing a pile of young players, but this team watched every other team in the Central Division add at least one high-profile scoring threat to their rosters. The Jets went out and signed Mathieu Perreault. I like Perreault, but he's not the missing piece to this team's woes. Perreault will also replace Olli Jokinen, so that is an upgrade technically but the Jets will miss the playoffs again in 2014-15. You heard it here first. Maybe in 2020?

OTTAWA SENATORS: I get that Bryan Murray was under the gun with the Jason Spezza trade, but he got virtually nothing back. Alex Chiasson is not going to replace Spezza whatsoever. Murray then watches Ales Hemsky leave through free agency. Sure, he re-signed Milan Michalek, but there's virtually no reason for Bobby Ryan to stay in Ottawa after next season. This is going to be a rough season in Ottawa after the lingering questions of why Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza have all wanted out while being under contract have yet to be answered. Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson could be the next players demanding a ticket out of town.

All results in this free agency rundown are not guaranteed, of course. Things could change dramatically before the start of the season through trades, and anything can happen during the season. After all, no one thought the Colorado Avalanche would be as good as they were last season, so the season could play out entirely differently. That's why they play the games, after all.

However, if the results on paper are any indication, there could be some interesting developments this season with all the player movement.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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