Grading Day 2 of free agency
The signings continued during Day 2 of the free-agency period. Here's a look at the top deals:
First, the signings
Red Wings sign forward Marian Hossa to one-year, $7.45 million deal
For all those whining about the salary cap going up and small-market teams being unable to compete, we say, "Boo hoo."
And, again, we offer the Detroit Red Wings as the holy grail of NHL franchises. They are the ongoing reminder that if you have good hockey people doing their jobs, good things will happen to you, like signing Marian Hossa.
With Mats Sundin contemplating playing for $10 million a season, Hossa's deal is positively Wal-Mart. Yet the top winger on the free-agent market eschewed a longer term and more money elsewhere (his previous team, the Penguins, offered seven years at a shade above $7 million annually) to take a chance on one season with the defending Stanley Cup champs.
"I want to have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup and I feel Detroit is that team," Hossa said during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. "I know I could get more money somewhere else."
The Red Wings offered Hossa a long-term deal, but with GM Ken Holland looking ahead to having to re-sign Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and perhaps Jiri Hudler next summer, the numbers didn't mesh. Then, Hossa's agent Ritchie Winter called Wednesday morning and said Hossa would consider a one-year deal and agreed the two sides could see where they were next spring. Holland said he hopes this is the first year of many years in Detroit for Hossa.
Folks often talk about sacrifice being instrumental to winning. That may mean ice time or personal numbers or, in the case of Hossa, money. There are few teams that engender that kind of loyalty, that kind of sacrifice, but the Red Wings are one of them. They now boast arguably the best four-man defensive unit in the NHL with Brad Stuart (who also re-upped with Detroit even though he could have earned more on the market), Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Brian Rafalski, and the most talented set of two-way players in the game in Hossa, Zetterberg, Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk.
Can a second straight Stanley Cup be far behind?
Free-agency grade: A+
Stars sign forward Sean Avery to four-year, $15.5 million deal
Not sure exactly what New York Rangers GM Glen Sather was thinking. He made little effort to keep Sean Avery in the fold as the forward waltzed off Broadway and into Dallas. Now, the Stars have another talented, gritty forward to help take some of the pressure off captain Brenden Morrow.
"I just thought it was a no-brainer to have him in our lineup," Avery's former teammate in Detroit and current Stars assistant GM Brett Hull said Wednesday after the deal was done. "He goes against the stream, which I kind of like. Kind of reminds me of me."
There are always two trains of thought when it comes to Avery. There's Avery the player, who can antagonize with the best of them, but also knows how to play the game. The Rangers were a much different team -- read better -- with Avery in the lineup than without him. Then, there's Avery the diva, whose penchant for the dramatic has been off-putting to both teammates and opponents in the past.
The Stars believe Avery the player is the most important part of this equation. Dallas upset the defending Cup champs from Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs and then preseason Cup favorite San Jose before dropping a six-game series to the Red Wings in the West finals. Does Avery make the Stars better than Detroit? No. Not with the Wings adding Hossa. But Avery ensures the Stars will have more grit and no complacency in the dressing room after a season of unexpected playoff success.
Free-agency grade: B+
Thrashers sign defenseman Ron Hainsey to six-year, $6.5 million deal
The Thrashers are a long way from being a playoff team, let alone a contender. But faced with correcting years of mistakes, small steps are in order, and GM Don Waddell took one toward making his team better Wednesday.
After watching Brian Campbell take less money than the Thrashers offered to go to Chicago on Tuesday, Waddell regrouped and locked in former Columbus rear guard Ron Hainsey, who is one of the more interesting defensemen on the market. Although he doesn't have the star power of Campbell or Wade Redden (he went to the Rangers in a six-year, $6.5 million deal), Hainsey has lots of upside. The five-year term is about right for the length of time it's going to take to turn this crippled franchise around, but it's not too long to make it unworkable down the road. The cap hit is perfectly acceptable given the spending patterns of the last couple of days, and if the cap continues to go up, Hainsey could look like a bargain in a year or two.
Hainsey is not as physical as his 6-foot-3, 209-pound frame would suggest, but he is mobile and his style should dovetail nicely with the up-tempo attack style new coach John Anderson hopes to implement. Whether Anderson will have the tools to make it work is another question, but with Hainsey, he has one more option than he did a day earlier.
Free-agency grade: B-
Islanders sign forward Doug Weight to one-year, $1.75 million deal (plus bonuses)
In some ways, the New York Islanders represent the elephant burial ground when it comes to free agents. Playing in one of the worst buildings in the NHL, they have long ceased to be a destination for topflight players. It is left to GM Garth Snow to try to coax the disenfranchised and underachievers and those on their last legs to Long Island. Last summer, it was Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko. Now, it's Doug Weight, a classy veteran with 969 points, plus a boatload of service to the United States in international competition, including three Olympic appearances. Weight was rousted out of St. Louis midseason and sent to Anaheim for Andy McDonald so the Ducks could make room for Scott Niedermayer. Weight ended up playing little for the Ducks and finished out the season with just 10 goals and 25 points, the lowest production of his 16-year NHL career. He'll get more of a chance on Long Island, but it's hard to imagine the ship hasn't already sailed for the likable Detroit native.
Free-agency grade: C-
What's wrong with Mats?
It takes less time to select a pope than it's taking Mats Sundin to select his next hockey destination. While fans and GMs and even Sundin's agent, J.P. Barry, scanned the Stockholm skies for smoke signals, the big Swede said only that he's not yet ready to decide on his NHL future. Sorry.
Talk about lunch bag letdown.
With a two-year, $20 million offer from Vancouver still staring him in the face and lesser offers from better teams like Montreal and the New York Rangers lurking in the shadows, Sundin remains undecided.
In a statement released through Barry, Sundin was polite and offered heartfelt remorse at not being ready to take the plunge.
"I would like to thank all the teams who have expressed such sincere interest in my services," Sundin said in the statement. "The numerous options provided to me were impressive and I have no doubt that each one presented a unique opportunity for me to finish my career in a terrific hockey environment."
Sundin went on.
"I spent a great deal of time yesterday reflecting upon the teams who stepped forward and the opportunities that each provided. Unfortunately, I am simply not close to being ready to make a decision about resuming my career at this time.
"I wish all the teams the very best and thank them for their interest."
That's got to be the mother of all Dear John letters. Still, you've got to hand it to Sundin; he's not going to be rushed into doing whatever it is he's going to do. And while it may create headaches for Canucks GM Mike Gillis and his counterpart Bob Gainey in Montreal, we applaud Sundin's measured approach to weighing his options.
Not all gloom and doom in Pittsburgh
No doubt Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero was disappointed not to retain Hossa's services, especially given that he came up with a contract that would have kept Hossa playing with Sidney Crosby for pretty much the rest of Hossa's career.
Still, Shero probably isn't sorry to see the end of the negotiation process with the power forward and his agent, Ritchie Winter. Shero must now try to fill the gaping holes in his lineup left by the departure of Hossa and Ryan Malone through free agency. Markus Naslund, a former Penguin, might fit the bill.
Still, it wasn't all gloom and doom -- Shero did manage to retain the services of rock-solid defenseman Brooks Orpik, who signed a six-year deal worth $22.5 million, significantly less than he could have garnered elsewhere.
The Penguins also announced Wednesday the long-anticipated long-term contract extension accepted by Evgeni Malkin. The Hart Trophy finalist will stay in Pittsburgh for another five years with a deal that mirrors the extension signed a year ago by Crosby, both in term and dollar value. The deals pay both players an average of $8.7 million annually. Malkin's extension will kick in at the end of the 2008-09 season.
"The good news for us is we have our core group coming back, under contract," Shero said. "We haven't missed out on any players."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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