Scraps Day in the free-agent marketplace
After the signing bonanza that was Day 1 in NHL free agency, teams are struggling to bolster their rosters.
And so as Day 2 of the free-agency festival became Day 3, the big boys let out a self-satisfied belch and the short-pocket teams got to work.
Imagine arriving at a party a day late and being forced to look under the streamers and behind the overturned chairs for a few scraps of food, and you'll get a sense of what greeted National Hockey League GMs looking to upgrade their rosters after the signing bonanza that was Day 1 on Sunday.
That's not to say there weren't moves of significance, it's just that significance is in the eye of the beholder. On Monday, Montreal GM Bob Gainey was beholding onto veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik instead of the cream of the crop (Brian Rafalski, Mathieu Schneider or Scott Hannan, all of whom signed long-term deals Sunday).
Herein is a look at Scraps Day in the free-agent marketplace.
Montreal, which was supposed to be a mover and a shaker, having shed Sergei Samsonov's salary, finally got into the action Monday by signing Calgary castoff Roman Hamrlik to a four-year deal worth $22 million. The 33-year-old native of the Czech Republic will essentially fill the gap left by the departing Sheldon Souray, who is looking for a new home as an unrestricted free agent. Hamrlik won't come close to reproducing Souray's 26 goals, tops among NHL defensemen last season, but he also won't be nearly the defensive liability Souray (minus-27) was and that's a good thing. The Habs also signed Bryan Smolinski to a one-year deal worth $2 million which seems like a lot for a guy now joining his eighth NHL team.
Everyone knew Michael Nylander was done as a New York Ranger with the arrival of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez on Sunday, but it didn't take the slick Swede long to find a new home as he signed a four-year deal worth $19.5 million with the Washington Capitals. Now we'll find out whether it was Nylander who was the catalyst for Jaromir Jagr's two sensational post-lockout seasons in New York or vise versa. Nylander, who led the Rangers in playoff scoring and was second during the regular season to Jagr with 83 points, joins another center, Viktor Kozlov, and puck-moving defenseman Tom Poti on a new-look Caps squad that is hoping to generate some more offense to go with its well-earned reputation as one of the hardest-working teams in the NHL.
This is the offseason of the center, and pivots who've found new homes now include former elite scorer Robert Lang, who'd run out of steam in Detroit but will get plenty of opportunity to put up points in Chicago. He ostensibly becomes the team's No. 1 center, having signed a two-year deal. Lang, relegated to third-line duty and spot power play work in Detroit, fills the role vacated by Michal Handzus, who played just eight games for the Blackhawks before going down for the season with an injury. During his limited time, Handzus played with sniper Martin Havlat. Expect Lang to get a shot as Havlat's center; GM Dale Tallon noted to reporters that Lang and Havlat have played together internationally. Earlier, the Blackhawks had bolstered their depth down the middle by signing Yanic Perreault. Neither Perreault nor Lang boasts terrific speed, but both are capable enough to make the youthful Blackhawks better.
The Los Angeles Kings were rumored to be in pursuit of almost every top free agent available, from Chris Drury to Scott Hannan to Ryan Smyth. They signed none of those and were silent until Monday when they signed a pair of Slovak friends, Handzus and Ladislav Nagy, and former Senators defenseman Tom Preissing, who didn't fit into Ottawa's plans. Handzus and Preissing were inked to four-year deals worth $16 and $11 million, respectively, while Nagy signed a one-year deal. None of the three will help the Kings make the playoffs next season, but a year after that expect all three to be nice support players when the Kings are expected to make a significant splash in the free-agent market and young stars like Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar should be emerging as NHL stars. Handzus, when healthy, is one of the most underrated two-way centers in the game, and Nagy has oodles of talent. Unfortunately for him, he's never found the right situation in which to showcase those talents. The Dallas Stars wagered a first-round draft pick and forward Mathias Tjarnqvist that Dallas would be that situation, but it wasn't. In Los Angeles, where there will be little pressure to perform, maybe Nagy will get a chance to grow into his game. The Kings also signed the underachieving Kyle Calder to a two-year pact worth an astounding $5.4 million in what may be the most curious of all the curious deals offered since Sunday afternoon.
Looks like Anaheim GM Brian Burke is getting all soft and fuzzy in his old age. OK. Just kidding. Burke, the former Vancouver GM, has brought aboard old pal Todd Bertuzzi, signing him to a two-year deal worth $8 million, which suggests the Ducks will be even more difficult to play against next season when they begin defense of their first-ever Stanley Cup championship. Bertuzzi, of course, has yet to return to form after the Steve Moore incident late in the 2003-04 season. This past season, back surgery cost him most of the regular season. Bertuzzi showed brief flashes of his former menacing self during the playoffs as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, but those flashes were too few to entice the Wings to sign Bertuzzi again. Burke has taken a calculated risk. Bertuzzi can regain that form under old-school coach Randy Carlyle. One thing is for certain: Carlyle will put up with no nonsense from the moody Bertuzzi in his dressing room. The unanswered question is whether the Bertuzzi signing suggests Burke isn't counting on the return of Teemu Selanne -- who floated the notion he would retire after the Ducks' Cup win.
If ever there was a team that's been reduced to shopping the remainder bins, it's the Nashville Predators. After bidding adieu to Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun, Scott Hartnell and captain Kimmo Timonen, and with Peter Forsberg set to join another other NHL club, the Predators have replaced them with Jed Ortmeyer, Greg de Vries and Radek Bonk. At this rate they'll be lucky to get 14 fans in the building, let alone 14,000.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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2007 FREE AGENCY
Free agency is open and top players are on the move. Here's a recap of what's made news so far:
• Rangers keep Shanahan
• Big-spending Rangers give Lundqvist hefty raise
• Rangers introduce Gomez, Drury
• Sakic helped lure Smyth, Hannan to sign with Avs
• Bye, Buffalo: Flyers land big free agent Briere
• Drury, Gomez both sign with Rangers
• Smyth settles with Avalanche