After covering the early winners of free agency, it’s only fair that we look at the early losers of the start of the NHL Free Agency signing period.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils made a massive move acquiring Cory Schneider for a first round pick this year at the NHL Draft, so it was tough to put them in this column, because overall their offseason has been solid. But on the first day of free agency, they panicked when they knew David Clarkson wasn’t going to be coming back. So to replace their power forward they signed Ryane Clowe to a five year, $24.25 Million deal ($4.85 Million cap hit). Clowe used to be a great player but battled through some SERIOUS injuries last year (reportedly four concussions in 14 months) and player horribly. He had 19 points in 40 games last year (three goals), which was his second year of regression after putting up 62 points two years ago. Yes, I praised the Blue Jackets after signing Nathan Horton when he will be coming off an injury, but he is far more productive and reliable when healthy, not to mention Clowe is older and has a minimum of four concussions in the bank. If Clowe returns to the form he was in two years ago in San Jose, he will turn out to be a great signing, but to give him this much money after a down year is ill-advised.
The Phoenix Coyotes had a huge win when the Glendale City Council decided to approve the arena lease deal and keep the team in Arizona. So what did they do to celebrate? They gave the 33-year-old Mike Ribeiro a four-year $22 Million contract ($4.5 Million cap hit). Ribeiro was extremely productive last year in Washington playing with Alexander Ovechkin, and has been very productive over his career, but Phoenix doesn’t have the same players that Washington does offensively. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was Ribeiro’s head coach in Dallas, so it’s possible to get the same production out of him in Phoenix, but Ribeiro padded his stats on the power play last year (27 of 49 points). I don’t see Ribeiro having the same production playing with guys like Shane Doan or Radim Vrbata, especially while he gets even older. It’s safe to say that his prime years are behind him and he’s going to a more offensively challenged team, making this contract a big risk.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues had a major hole at the number 2 center spot and after whiffing on Stephen Weiss and Valtteri Filppula, they settled for Derek Roy on Day 2 of free agency. Roy has been struggling offensively the last three seasons, but at least the Blues only gave him a one-year $4 Million deal. The other issue for them is they are $7 Million from the salary cap and still have to sign Chris Stewart and Alex Pietrangelo, both of whom are restricted free agents. Pietrangelo is a franchise defenseman and will be paid as such, which doesn’t leave much for Stewart who had 18 goals last year. They could have signed both of them to solid deals safely, but they signed Jordan Leopold to a two-year, $4.5 Million deal ($2.25 Million cap hit) and Leopold is 33-years-old. Leopold doesn’t add enough offensively or defensively to be worth signing and the Blues would have been better off putting Ian Cole in the line up regularly. Cole is a cheaper option and when given the chance to play, will thrive and show why he was picked in the 1st round in 2007.
Signing Maxim Lapierre to a two-year, $2.2 Million deal ($1.1 Million cap hit) adds depth down the middle of the ice, but their gaffe with Leopold could force them to trade either one of their goalies (Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliot) in order to sign Stewart and Pietrangelo. Having one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL goes a lot further than a garbage, suitcase, aging defenseman who will be on the third pair.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs were showing such progress until they bought out Mikhail Grabovski instead of defenseman John-Michael Liles. Grabovski was a top two line centerman and wasn’t drastically overpaid, unlike Liles who carries $3.875 Million cap hit and was healthy scratch most nights. Then they took the money they freed up after buying out Grabovski and Mike Komisarek and signed David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak to mega-deals. I don’t have an issue with Clarkson’s contract (7 years, $36.75 Million, $5.25 Million cap hit), I’m actually a big fan of Clarkson and think he will pay dividends, though he is a risk being unproven. The major issue for the Leafs is with signing Bozak to a mega-deal (5 years, $21 Million, $4.2 Million cap hit). Bozak isn’t known for being a defensive forward and only has 134 points in 238 games. Grabovski is the better player and yet, they let him walk and then overpaid Bozak. They did make a great trade at the draft, acquiring David Bolland from the Chicago Blackhawks for nothing, but keeping Bozak over Grabovski boggles my mind.
The Washington Capitals lost Mike Ribeiro in free agency, leaving them without a number 2 center, and then lost Matt Hendricks in free agency to the Nashville Predators, leaving them without a gritty penalty killer, who just happens to excel in shootouts. They need a number two center to play behind Nicklas Backstrom and if they end up signing Mikhail Grabovski, the Capitals will be removed from this list. They did do a good job deciding not to overpay for Ribeiro and in choosing not to give him a five-year deal like he wanted. But until they find a number two center to replace him and find a gritty, heart and soul locker room guy, to replace Hendricks, the Capitals will be considered losers of this free agency period.