Sometimes it’s pretty easy to make snap judgments on teams during NHL free agency, especially if it’s a good team with only a few needs it seems to fill perfectly.
Free agency is the biggest crapshoot in hockey. Unlike trade deadline day, most players signed in free agency are going to be on your salary cap for several years and owed lots of money.
Tuesday saw more than 60 players signed to contracts totaling in excess of $400 million.
“This is the day where a lot of times you do something and you have buyer’s remorse,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said.
“It’s one of those days where sometimes you look back and you did something good -- I think there’s some good buys in the market -- but there’s some other ones that are inflated.”
The only remorse the Flyers have at this point is their inability to join the fray. Being cash-strapped under the salary cap actually saved them from themselves.
They weren’t able to spend lavish dollars on players who don’t fit their needs, like last summer when they gave Vinny Lecavalier a five-year, $22.5 million contract that has now become a choke collar around their neck.
There were winners and losers in free agency. Because the Flyers were never in the game, they are neither. In reality, they opted out, much like Boston, which had about $1.6 million cap space.
The one team that dramatically transformed the face of its franchise was the Florida Panthers, which has suffered years from ownership, management and coaching turnover and still hasn’t been able to establish strong roots in Sunrise, Fla., like it had in Miami.
Yet general manager Dale Tallon went full bore with his overall makeover, and it began at the NHL Draft with his refusal to trade his No. 1 pick to the Flyers. Tallon came away with a potential franchise defenseman in Aaron Ekblad.
On Tuesday, Tallon then added forwards Dave Bolland (five years, $27.5 milion), Jussi Jokinen (four years, $16M), Derek MacKenzie (three years, $3.9M), Shawn Thornton (two years, $2.4MM), plus defenseman Willie Mitchell (two years, $8.5M) and backup goalie Al Montoya (two years, $2.1M).
“It was a great day for our franchise, and we exceeded expectations,’’ Tallon told reporters in Florida. “We identified a number of players and we got them all, basically. I’ve never had that before. The guys we identified we ended up getting. We had needs we had to address.”
Thornton, Mitchell and Bolland, whom Tallon drafted when he oversaw the Chicago Blackhawks, have five Stanley Cup rings between them. They will be charged to make a difference with a young team.
The Western Conference has seen four Cups in the last five years.
“The West is the best,” to quote that hockey fan of yesteryear, Jim Morrison.
The West has a number of teams with dynamic one-two punches at center.
How deep are the Cup champion L.A. Kings? They have Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards.
Anaheim has Ryan Getzlaff and picked up Ryan Kesler in a trade at the draft. Chicago? Jonathan Toews is No. 1 and now Brad Richards (one year, $2M), who was simply awful with the Rangers, will become the Blackhawks' new No. 2 with another chance.
Dallas GM Jim Nill had to do something down the middle as well. He had his No. 1 guy in Tyler Seguin. So he went out and traded for Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, then signed Ales Hemsky (three years, $12M) for the wing.
Again, deeper centers in the West to compete against L.A.
Buffalo GM Tim Murray did a nice job by signing Matt Moulson (five years, $25M) -- it will be Moulson's second stint there -- and then adding Brian Gionta (three years, $12.7M) and taking a chance with defenseman Andrej Meszaros (one year, $4.12M) after buying out Christian Ehrhoff.
Murray also picked up defenseman Josh Gorges from Montreal at the NHL draft.
Now the Pittsburgh Penguins are in a state of complete turnaround under new GM Jim Rutherford and a brand new coaching staff.
Yet the Penguins get a minor win for doing just a little, but doing something that means a lot.
After seeing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen flee town, they signed Ehrhoff to a rather reasonable one-year deal worth $4 million. Ehrhoff took less money to go to team that has greater possibilities than the Sabres.
Not all the signings were good ones or even smart ones.
Calgary gave pedestrian defenseman Deryk Engelland a three-year, $8.7 million deal? Edmonton gave third liner Benoit Pouliot an outrageous five-year, $20 million contract?
What about right down the I-95 South corridor? The Washington Caps bolstered their blue line with Orpik and Niskanen under new GM Brian MacLellan, but the contracts given to them were insane.
Orpik got five years, $27.5 million. Niskanen tried to parlay one outstanding year as a Penguin into a near $7 million-per-year contract, overpriced himself and had to scale back -- just a little. He signed at seven years for $40.25 million. That’s $5.75 million annually for a guy whose cap hit last season was a mere $2.3 million.
Detroit GM Ken Holland struck out mightily with a number of free agents, including Niskaken while Boston saw a well-respected Jarome Iginla (three years, $16MM), go to youthful Colorado. It was a blow to the Bruins who, like the Flyers, didn’t have cap room to do anything anyway.