Free agency 2012: Best and worst moves in the early going
The NHL's free agency period started July 1 and it sure doesn't end there.
Yeah, it might make for better TV if it did -- and didn't you have to feel sorry for the TSN crew as they tried to make chicken salad out of Benoit Pouliot signing with Tampa and the Matt Carkner/Islanders/Avalanche triangle of lies, deceit and intrigue? But these can be life altering deals, and unless a player is simply trying to grab a chair before the music stops, it makes sense for him to thoroughly examine his options.
The two biggest catches of this year's sparse pool, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, wisely decided to take their time to thoroughly vet about a dozen outlandish offers, each at least a decade long, front-loaded with cash bonuses and promising everything but a dream date with a Kardashian. (Well, LA might actually be willing to throw that in for Parise.) A decision likely will come today, but who knows? Those guys can afford to take their time. Parise is believed to have narrowed the field to two teams and will likely announce first. Suter could follow today, or perhaps on Tuesday.
We'll update here as soon as either player makes a commitment. Until then, here are a few thoughts on other developments:
• The best news of Monday morning: Martin Brodeur re-signs with the Devils, a deal reported to be worth $9 million over what certainly will be the final two seasons of his legendary career. That's good for Marty, who wanted a second year on the deal and was willing to pack up the truck to get it. It's also good for the Devils, who desperately needed a face-saving move, and for hockey fans who have been spared the miserable sight of Brodeur in another team's sweater.
The big question now: will this increase New Jersey's chances of retaining Parise? I can't imagine him signing there if Brodeur had departed, so this definitely doesn't hurt. The Devils also retained the services of backup netminder Johan Hedberg, for two years at $2.8 million.
• No one scouts Swedes better than the Red Wings, so don't be surprised if Sunday's best signing turns out to be Jonas Gustavsson. The Wings are hoping he won't have to be an impact player next season -- they need Jimmy Howard in that role -- but there's a real opportunity here to rediscover the game that had scouts comparing Gustavsson to Henrik Lundqvist two summers ago. It's thought that Gustavsson's struggles were linked to being uncomfortable with the tinkering by Toronto goalie coach Francois Allaire. Removed from those machinations and surrounded by more than a few of his countrymen, Gustavsson could thrive...and just in time to afford Detroit a little protection with Howard approaching UFA status at the end of 2012-13. That Ken Holland is one smart cat.
• Montreal may not be a better team for having signed Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Boullion, but the Habs will be a better
The perpetually injured Armstrong looked finished in Toronto, but you never know what the chance to play for his favorite childhood team could do for him. Frankie Boo was a favorite of Michel Therrien the first time the two of them teamed up in Montreal. He'll be a solid third pair presence. Prust will chip in the odd goal and can help on the penalty kill, but his main value will be as a conventional deterrent. The Habs have tried for years to shed their reputation for softness. Prust helps.
I don't think the Habs are done, either. Give the market a few days to settle and I'm betting that GM Marc Bergevin reels in Jaromir Jagr.
• The Avs are taking a lot of heat for signing P-A Parenteau to a four-year, $16 million deal, but I think it makes sense. He's hardly a safe bet -- he didn't become a full-time NHLer until age 27 -- but his recent success wasn't strictly a product of John Tavares' largesse. It's more a result of cashing in on his first real opportunity to play. He'll continue to get that in Denver, possibly with Matt Duchene saucing up the chances for him to finish. Not much of a drop off there.
Parenteau can definitely be an adventure -- he has a proclivity for coughing up the puck and his edginess can lead to some frustratingly ill-timed penalties -- but he's versatile (he can fill an obvious need on Colorado's port side), he can really fire it, and he has something to prove. This looks like a win.
Whitney is coming off a 77-point season that earned him a berth on the NHL's second All-Star team and he'll be a valuable presence on a power play that's struggled for years. But he's also 40. The concern here isn't that he's too old, it's that he's too old for this team at this time. The decision to trade Mike Ribeiro at the draft suggested that the Stars were ready to take their lumps and commit to youth -- a wise move for a team that looked to be stuck in no-man's land the way it was constructed. Now this.
Maybe Whitney enjoys a fine season and agrees to be put up for auction at the trade deadline. His deal included a limited no-movement clause that gives the Wizard the right to pick up to 10 teams to which he'd accept a trade. So if that happens, if he plays well and can be dealt somewhere for a decent return (likely a low first rounder), then the Stars will probably look at this deal as buying another chance in the prospect lottery. If it plays out that way, he's not a bad investment. But it's a big what-if, and if it stunts the development of a current prospect like Matt Fraser or Reilly Smith, who both hinted at their ready-for-prime-time status in call-ups late last season, then this seems wrong-headed.
I have to wonder if this deal was really motivated by new owner Tom Gagliardi's desire to show the team's disenchanted fan base that the Stars didn't stand pat in the offseason after (likely) losing out on bigger fish like Parise and Suter. If that's the case, he shouldn't worry too much about hiring extra staff to man the ticket windows any time soon.
I like what Rome brings to the team -- a reliable source of unadulterated nastiness on the back end -- but his signing brings up the same question as Whitney's: What does this mean for a kid like Brendon Dillon who was described to me by a team official last month as "looking ready"? Rome is a guy who is best utilized in a limited role, and the Stars are lousy with depth defenders. What they need is a reliable top two, an element they've lacked since the departure of Sergei Zubov. Instead, it looks like another season of forcing players into roles for which they're not ideally suited.
• The signing of Adrian Aucoin (and dealing of Marc Methot to Ottawa) all but confirms that the Jackets will start the season with Ryan Murray on the blueline. Smart call. Aucoin, a savvy vet with some comparable skills to Murray, should be an ideal tutor for both the second overall pick and top prospect John Moore. Methot was a talented, but ill-fitting piece in Columbus -- too good for the third pairing role he was assigned, but not well suited to supplant someone on the top two pairs. Getting a reliable third-liner with loads of grit in Nick Foligno was a win for GM Scott Howson, a man who badly needed one.
• With Aucoin and Whitney signing elsewhere, the Coyotes were the big losers on the day, but the biggest hit still looms on the horizon. Captain Shane Doan told potential suitors, including Phoenix GM Don Maloney, he wouldn't make any decisions until after July 10, by which point the viability of Greg Jamison's bid to own the Coyotes should be determined. No doubt Doan would like to stay in Phoenix, but the likelihood of the desert drama finally closing by that point is low. I think he's gone. He's like to return home to Edmonton, or latch on with Vancouver, a legitimate contender in need of some dependable grit.
• As I wrote yesterday on Twitter, it's not an anti-Russian bias that's dogging Alex Semin. It's an anti-dog bias. No doubt the guy can score goals, but I think most everyone can see the truth beyond the numbers: Semin isn't someone you win with. He doesn't make his team, or the players around him, better. And that's why I'm betting he goes home, most likely to play with Alex Radulov for GM Sergei Fedorov 's CSKA Moscow.
• A couple of nice pick-ups that only regular watchers will truly appreciate: Adam Burish by the Sharks, Joey Crabb by the Caps, and Torrey Mitchell by the Wild. Burish is a top man, a character guy who'll win some big draws and win over the crowd with his effort. Crabb was the only Leaf who gave his all night after night as Toronto's season swirled down the drain. He'll be a useful depth forward. Mitchell will bring some serious speed to Minnesota's top nine and should be a big upgrade on their middle-of-the-road penalty kill.
• If you think the Leafs missed out on even a single signing because GM Brian Burke spent part of his day marching in Toronto's Pride Parade, you are wrong.