Early NHL Free Agency Winners

This may be a big premature since NHL Free Agency officially opened on July 5th, and the players have yet to play a minute with their new teams but let’s discuss the early winner and losers anyways.

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets made one move, but it was a great one.  Signing Nathan Horton away from the Boston Bruins was a great move and gives them another great top 6 forward.  Like most teams, they had to overpay a bit (7 years, $37.1 Million, $5.3 Million cap hit) and Horton will be out until December after having shoulder surgery, but he should be worth it.  The only concern is that they gave Horton a seven-year deal and he is injured quite often.  That being said, the Blue Jackets need to win now and Horton, when he returns, will do just that.

Dallas Stars

While their moves didn’t come through free agency, I’m going to add them to the list because they made some crucial trades on the 4th of July.  Trading Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and a pair of prospects to the Boston Bruins for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and a prospect was a huge move.  Dallas had a major void down the middle and they managed to add two top three centers in one trade.  Pairing Seguin with Jamie Benn is going to be fantastic for the Stars and Seguin will be able to flourish at center, his natural position.  He was confined to being a top two-line winger in Boston, or a third line center, neither of which will help him in the long run.  He had no chance to unseat David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron on the top two lines and this trade will help both teams

Then they added Shawn Horcoff by trading a 7th round pick and a prospect to the Edmonton Oilers to give them three solid centers.  Sure, Horcoff is overpaid, but the Stars can afford the $5.5 Million cap hit for the next two years.  Then on July 5th, they went and signed a solid backup goalie in Dan Ellis (2 years, $1.8 Million, $900K cap hit) to help ease some of the load off Kari Lehtonen.  New General Manager Jim Nill is not messing around with his first crack at being a GM.  He also took the Red Wings director of scouting with him to Dallas, so the Western Conference should watch out for the up-and-coming Stars.

Detroit Red Wings

When I first heard the Red Wings were planning on signing former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson (1 year, $5.5 Million) , I was afraid that the Wings would let Valtteri Filppula walk and then sign Daniel Cleary.  Meaning the Red Wings would separate Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, while making their roster older at the same time.  Thankfully that didn’t happen.  Adding Stephen Weiss (5 years, $24.5 Million, $4.9 Million cap hit), for less money than Tampa Bay gave Filppula (5 years, $25 Million, $5 Million cap hit), was a huge move by the Red Wings.  Weiss was averaging about 0.60 points per game (Filppula 0.51 points per game) on a horrible Florida Panthers team, where he has been for his entire career.  Weiss may be a year older than Filppula, but he is a better two-way forward and is a better playmaker.  In my opinion, Weiss has the potential to be a 60-70 point player in Detroit, possibly more if he is playing with Alfredsson and Zetterberg.

The Red Wings are still talking with Cleary and he could be brought back, but the Red Wings are going to have to make a few trades to get their roster to 23 players.  They have 22 players under contract and still have to sign Gustav Nyquist, Brendan Smith and Joakim Andersson.  That would put them at 25 and signing Cleary would put them at 26 players, meaning they have to trade at least two players, possibly three.

The possible trade candidates?  Cory Emmerton will likely be first on the chopping block if Darren Helm is healthy for training camp and Jordin Tootoo could follow.  Another possible player to trade would be Patrick Eaves.  None of these players have much trade value, so don’t expect much in return.  Personally, I would put Mikael Samuelsson on waivers (since he has a no-trade clause) and have him spend the year in Grand Rapids to free up a spot, but that’s not Ken Holland’s style.  This won’t be a quick process, Holland will investigate trades and finalize the roster over the next two months.  Either way, signing Weiss and Alfredsson were fantastic moves.

Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers have had a need on their blue line for about two years now.  After drafting a plethora of offensively gifted players, they finally drafted a solid defenseman in Darnell Nurse, who is a strong candidate to make the roster this year.  Then they unloaded Shawn Horcoff’s contract to the Dallas Stars to make room to improve the blue line.  They went out on Day 1 and signed Andrew Ference (4 years, $13 Million, $3.25 Million cap hit), perhaps the best defensive defenseman on the market.  Then to replace Horcoff, they signed solid defensive centerman Boyd Gordon (3 years, $9 Million, $3 Million cap hit).  Gordon and Ference won’t add much in the way of offense, but that isn’t what the Oilers needed.  They may have overpaid a bit for Gordon and given Ference a bit much with a four-year contract, but it will pay dividends over the next few seasons.

Honorable Mention:

Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins were put in a tight spot when Nathan Horton chose not to re-sign with them, but it appears they will make it work.  They were unhappy with Tyler Seguin’s performance in the playoffs so they moved him to the Dallas Stars for Loui Eriksson.  Eriksson is a great player who doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves because he has been playing in Dallas and the Stars are hardly ever in the main stream news.  Eriksson immediately improves their top 6 forwards, and is an upgrade over Nathan Horton.  Eriksson has 357 points in 501 games and Horton has 402 points in 591 games (Eriksson 0.71 points per game, Horton 0.68 points per game).  Sure they had to give up Tyler Seguin to do it, but Seguin was stuck in a log jam in Boston.

Then towards the end of Day 1, they went and signed Jarome Iginla (1 year, $6 Million).  Iginla comes in with a one-year deal, and assuming he plays well and wants to keep playing, could re-up with the Bruins.  I would have paid big money to be a part of the Iginla and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli’s first conversation after Iginla vetoed a trade to Boston at the deadline.  Losing their backup goalie Anton Khudobin in free agency to the Carolina Hurricanes hurts, but he is replaceable.  Andrew Ference will also be difficult to replace, but he was a cap casualty that will be replaced by Dougie Hamilton, who was a scratch for most of the playoffs after the emergence of Torey Krug.  It’s tough to call them full-on winners, so they seem to fit as an honorable mention team.

[Photo via: NHL SI]

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One Response to Early NHL Free Agency Winners

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