Observations from the northern shores of Lake Erie . . .
Not that there are strict categories that teams fit into based on their activity during free agency, but a few easily came to mind this year. Consider the Montreal Canadiens and their "Blow It All Up" approach in bringing in three skilled yet undersized forwards: Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez. Clearly, GM Bob Gainey believes a fresh start is in order after last season's bitterly disappointing Centennial Celebration campaign.
Then there's the "Here We Go Again" feel of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers always seem to sign coveted free agents, and this year they weighed in with the brittle Marian Gaborik at five years and $37.5 million, completely oblivious to the fact that two years ago Gomez and Chris Drury were the marquee signees and last year it was Wade Redden, who struggled mightily under the weight of his six-year, $39 million deal. Gomez (seven years, $51.5 million) and Drury (five years, $32.25 million) certainly disappointed for the amount of money they were given.
Meanwhile, the Flyers have spun the goaltending wheel yet again, landing on the notoriously temperamental and exiled Ray Emery and bringing back Brian Boucher, a rookie star for the Flyers in 1999-2000, now a veteran back-up. For the love of Roman Cechmanek, is this a solidifying move or one that just leads to more questions?
Speaking of questions, you have new Wild GM Chuck Fletcher in Minnesota playing the "Replacement Game" by signing Martin Havlat after Gaborik left. The two players are similar in their pedigrees, right down to their histories of chronic injury. Will the Wild be any better off?
How about Dale Tallon in Chicago with his "I'll deal with next year next year" philosophy in signing Marian Hossa (12 years, $62.8 million) with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane coming up for substantial pacts in a year's time? In the end, maybe that's the best course of action: find the best fits for your team at the moment, try to win now and deal with the rest at a later date, as you just never know how the next 12 months will shake out, particularly with injuries.
Some GMs are relying on a less dramatic and more roundabout process. Take Brian Burke, for instance. His Toronto Maple Leafs need an infusion of talent and an identity makeover. His first order of business has been to focus on identity, which brings to mind Burke's Stanley Cup-winning Ducks. Signing the bruising Mike Komisarek to anchor the blueline instead of Pavel Kubina, whom Burke dealt to Atlanta for rugged rearguard Garnet Exelby, set the direction for the Leafs becoming much more difficult, if not painful, to play against. For good measure, Burke signed former Ducks blueliner Francois Beauchemin, who is noted for his hard-nosed play and hard point shot. That groundwork has to be in place before a collection of odd-lot free agents -- the "talent" -- can make a difference.
While Burke forges ahead in Toronto, Ray Shero and Ken Holland are trying to retool their respective teams a month after meeting for the Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost their shutdown tandem of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, both of whom cashed in individually with lucrative free agent contracts (Scuderi to the Los Angeles Kings for four years and $13.6 million; Gill to the Canadiens for two years and $4.5 million) though the sum of their efforts in Pittsburgh was surely better than either individual. Shero must look for replacements, although he has options within the organization, such as Alex Goligoski, the 23-year-old who was signed in June to a three-year deal worth $5.5 million.
In Detroit, change is also coming from within as Hossa and Tomas Kopecky are gone, both to the Blackhawks. Gone, too, is Mikael Samuelsson to the Vancouver Canucks. Same for back-up goaltender Ty Conklin, who is becoming the NHL's premier rent-a-goalie in joining his fourth team (the St. Louis Blues) in four seasons. There may be a few more veterans leaving the Red Wings' fold before the end of the summer, all of which means the team will in fact get younger. Jiri Hudler, 25, filed for arbitration, and Ville Leino, 25, Darren Helm, 22, and Justin Abdelkader, 22, all figure to play in Detroit next season. The promising Jonathan Ericsson, 25, will certainly play top-four minutes on defense.
No matter their plan or path, GMs are making their distinct moves and ultimately hoping for the best. According to my View From the Lake, that's what this time of year is all about.