Sunday, July 13, 2008

Free Agent Grades: The A-List

As is always the case with free agency, teams went nuts and threw money around like it was nothing, leaving many people to wonder if GM’s remember if there is a cap. But this happens every year and yet we remained amazed, but that’s another matter. Still, not all of the deals were bad, and some were downright awful. In this segment I will grade the deals on the A-list free agents- those whoa re the most prolific and were seeking the highest contracts (even if they aren’t the best players in the league). The B-list segment will cover the lower line players, bottom pairing defensemen and backup goalies. This does not include re-signings before the free agency period started, sans Ryan Malone who was dealt for then signed.



Forwards

Marian Hossa
Team: Detroit Red Wings
Contract: 1 year, $7.4mm
Grade: A+
Hossa shocked the hockey world by forgoing multiple million dollar offers for many years from the Penguins, Oilers and Canadiens to sign a single year with Detroit. Detroit, fresh off a cup win is still the favorite for next year able to keep most their team intact, and making themselves the favorites by signing the most sought after forward on the market. Hossa is counting on that for his cup.


Markus Naslund
Team: New York Rangers
Contract: 2 years, $8mm
Grade: C+
Naslund is fading, each year his point total dropping noticeably. Part of that may be lack of a true scoring center in Vancouver, and Drury or Gomez may be what Naslund needs. But with the trend going on three years now, I don’t see him all of a sudden resurrecting. He’s no Jagr which is who he is meant to replace and I think the Rangers will be a bit disappointed in him.


Kristian Huselius
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Contract: 4 years, $19mm
Grade: B-
Huselius has emerged in recent years with the Flames, but seemed to regress once more under the guise of Mike Keenan. Though always having the offensive skills needed he has lacked them in the defensive area, and now he goes to a system run defensive guru Ken Hitchcock. Columbus definitely needed offense and they will see how he plays with a guy like Nash and Umberger, so we’ll which Huselius the Jackets are getting. For the risk the price is high, but it can pay off.


Pavol Demitra
Team: Vancouver Canucks
Contract: 2 years, $8mm
Grade: B-
It’s not like this was a surprise as the rumors of Vancouver courting Demitra had been around since before the start of free agency, including him going for tours of the city. While younger than Naslund, Demitra isn’t as healthy and that makes it somewhat a risk. If he can stay healthy though, he can be a good addition as he still has his skills and he may more than make up for the departure of Naslund.


Radim Vrbata
Team: Tampa Bay Lightning
Contract: 3 years, $9mm
Grade: B
Paying for a guy that has only had one good year is always dangerous, but at least Vrbata is still young and he will be going to a now offensive laden team. His deal isn’t outrageous, plus I wouldn’t be surprised if he did bomb Phoenix would deal back for him. Manageable contract and still being young makes this a decent signing, but it could easily back fire if he’s a one year wonder.


Darcy Tucker
Team: Colorado Avalanche
Contract: 2 years, $4.5mm
Grade: A
After being bought out by the Leafs, I figured Tucker would take a little less, but this is a very good price for him. If he stays healthy and can get his scoring touch back after a sub par year, this will be a steal for the Avs. Worse comes to worse you're stuck with a good third liner for two years at a reasonable price.


Brian Rolston
Team: New Jersey Devils
Contract: 4 years, $20mm
Grade: B-
Rolston was always a good player, but he is one of the rare ones who gets better after the age of thirty. In his time with the Wild he emerged as not only a top scorer but also a leader. The reason the grade is so low is because Rolston is 35, meaning he counts against the cap, only removable if he is either dealt (which if you're trying to deal someone at that age you wont be able to) or if he is physically unable to play. Plus at 35, it’s that precarious age where one year can make a huge difference in playing ability.


Niklas Hagman
Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Contract: 4 years, $12mm
Grade: B-
Hagman is a streaky scorer who normally puts in 15-20 goals. So to no surprise he put in 27 in his contract year. He got paid accordingly, so the question is will he be able to keep that up or was it a big contract that motivated his play? At 28 he still has some time to improve, but would anyone really be surprised if he ended up like Jason Blake?



Sean Avery
Team: Dallas Stars
Contract: 4 years, $15.5mm
Grade: C-
Despite his antics and mouth Avery is actually a pretty good hockey player. But he isn’t a top line guy so there is no way he should be paid like one. Yeah he can score some, play some defense and give the team a boost, but when you’re dishing out almost $4mm a year you should be putting in at least twenty goals or playing some stellar defense, neither of which Avery does.


Michael Ryder
Team: Boston Bruins
Contract: 3 years, $12mm
Grade: C
A risky move by the Bruins, but they are banking on Ryder having the success he had in Montreal when their current coach, Claude Julien was behind the bench there. If he can return to his thirty goal form than it will be worth it. If not, it will be the Bruins new Glenn Murray contract because Ryder cant do much outside of scoring. But you have to scratch your head as to why a guy who had a major points drop got a larger contract…


Miroslav Satan
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Contract: 1 year, $3.5mm
Grade: B-
Satan is coming off his worst year in his career, netting only sixteen goals and looking uninterested most the time. Some say it’s because the Isles were nose diving, but some say it’s the normal Satan. Pittsburgh is hoping he regains his scoring touch with Crosby and can start putting in thirty or more a year like he was before last year. It’s a bit much, but if it works it can easily be worth it. Worse comes to worse, he is there for a year then let go, and the one year deal shows Shero is even kind of wary of him (though Satan did say to papers he wanted to play for the Pens so he targeted signing there).


Todd Bertuzzi
Team: Calgary Flames
Contract: 1 year, $1.95mm
Grade: B+
Bertuzzi is reunited with the man who thought he was worth Roberto Luongo in Mike Keenan. Bertuzzi hasn’t been the same since the Moore incident, and his bombing in Anaheim and subsequent buyout probably isn’t going to help. Still, less than two million for what he can contribute is practically a steal and it’s only a single year deal. That is if he can finally pull himself together again.


Brendan Morrison
Team: Anaheim Ducks
Contract: 1 year, $2.75mm
Grade: A-
Though coming off knee surgery Morrison is still a capable center, and can score with talented wingers. If that doesn’t pan out, at least they have a defensively responsible center who they can let go after a year. He’s not really the scoring forward they need, but he was better than the other options available.



Cory Stillman
Team: Florida Panthers
Contract: 3 years, $10.5mm
Grade: B+
Stillman still has jump left in him, and his veteran presence will help the young Panther players. He also helps make up for the loss of Jokinen with his scoring. It’s a pretty affordable deal and in a way it’s odd to see the Panthers sign someone who isn’t a spare part.



Ryan Malone
Team: Tampa Bay Lightning
Contract: 7 years, $31.5mm
Grade: C+
Don’t get me wrong, I like Malone, but worth this deal he isn’t. While some debate Crosby and Malkin inflated his points total, which may be true, Malone can still grind it out and is willing to take punishment to get things done (like returning ten minutes after a slapshot nearly exploded his face). He’s good for about twenty goals a year and has good intangibles. However the price, and length for him are both too steep.



Defensemen

Brian Campbell
Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Contract: 8 years, $56.8mm
Grade: B-
Yikes! Campbell is good, but not that good. There is something wrong with someone being paid akin to Nik Lidstrom that has yet to even be nominated for a Norris trophy. Campbell will definitely help Chicago’s blue line, but it is a steep price. But most importantly, it tells the people of Chicago, often maligning the team because of former owner Bill Wirtz, that they are serious about being good again. It may be overpayment, but it sends the kind of message Chicago needed to send.


Wade Redden
Team: New York Rangers
Contract: 6 years, $39.5mm
Grade: C+
Most thought, myself included, two sub par years would lessen Redden’s salary some. Leave it to the Rangers to ruin that theory. After losing out on Campbell, GM Glenn Sather still wanted a big name to anchor his defense and went out and matched Redden’s previous salary and gave it to him for six year. He’s already thirty one so the last year or so could make him a huge albatross, especially if he doesn’t regain his form of a few years ago (not to mention if he can get over having the crap beat out of him by Ryan Whitney which is absolutely humiliating).


Mark Streit
Team: New York Islanders
Contract: 4 years, $12mm
Grade: C
The Islanders didn’t have much punch from the point and they addressed that with Streit. One must wonder how well Streit will fair though, as he was on the best power play in the league with Montreal. The question is how much was his contribution to that best power play? We’ll find out, but the Isles at least got something they needed.


Ron Hainsey
Team: Atlanta Thrashers
Contract: 5 years, $22.5mm
Grade: C-
There is a debate on how good Hainsey really is after being on a bad Columbus defense. Atlanta though, desperate to bring in defensemen and meet the cap floor was more than willing to dish out enough to Hainsey to make him forget he went to a bad team continuing its downward spiral. Time will show how good Hainsey is, but this is just too much for him plain and simple.


Brooks Orpik
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Contract: 6 years, $22.5mm
Grade: B+
Six years is a bit long, but after losing Hossa the Pens had the room to give Orpik what he wanted to stay. It’s a bit high, but in a few years can be a steal if he continues to improve, and has the playoff he did in coming years. To Orpik’s credit he was true to word of taking less to stay, leaving offers of more than $4mm a year from other teams on the table. With the rising price of defensemen every year, this may not look so bad in a few.


Mike Commodore
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Contract: 5 years, $18.75mm
Grade: C-
Commodore is a good bottom pairing guy, decent second pairing guy but nothing more. And I am going to put this simply: the only reason he has the notoriety he does has nothing to do with his play, but instead his god awful playoff beard and fro he grows. Yes, I am serious about that. You never heard a damn thing about him until Calgary’s cup run when they kept showing pictures of him. And Columbus, looking to improve a weak defense paid him good second pairing money. It’s not that Commodore is bad, but it’s not his game he is known for and he wasn't paid accordingly.


Michael Roszival
Team: New York Rangers
Contract: 4 years, $20mm
Grade: C+
Roszival has emerged as a good two way defenseman since joining the Rangers. But he’s not a top flight defenseman so the Rangers shouldn’t have given in to his demands and paid him like he is one. I get blue liners where going for high prices, but I just don’t think it can justify what Roszival got. It was a move made out of fear by Sather.


Rob Blake
Team: San Jose Sharks
Contract: 1 year, $5mm
Grade: B
San Jose was looking to replace the loss of Campbell and in return signed Blake away from the Kings. Though the price is high, they have no intention of trading him, wanting his leadership and experience for another playoff run (that will probably end in the second round, again). They were forced to deal Craig Rivet in order to fit him in their cap, but pairing him with their acquisition of Dan Boyle gives them a strong defense.


Jason Smith
Team: San Ottawa Senators
Contract: 2 years, $5.2mm
Grade: A
This is surprising. Seeing as what others were going for I’m surprised Smith got this little. Though aging and probably wearing down from the punishment his body has taken over the years, Smith at this price is a steal and he will add a lot of grit and leadership to the Sens defense. One of the best signings this off season.


Goaltenders

Jose Theodore
Team: Washington Capitals
Contract: 2 years, $9mm
Grade: D
Theodore did do much better this year, but it was after three dismal years where he looked like a backup goalie. Yes he did good against Minnesota in the playoffs, but he followed it up by not giving the Avs a chance against the Red Wings and being pulled multiple times. Plus let’s not forget he was playing for a new contract this year. I think this is a terrible move, paying money to a goalie who’s really only had a few good years. The Caps would have been wiser to ante up some more for Huet, and I think this deal will be a big mistake.


Cristobal Huet
Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Contract: 4 years, $22.5mm
Grade: B+
Got to give some credit to Dale Talon signing another starting goalie while keeping one of the highest paid goalies in the league on his roster. Granted he’ll move Khabibulin the first chance he gets but he smart in not passing up the chance to land a goalie for years to come once Khabibulin moves on (latest after this year). A bit high, but that’s a bidding war for you.

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