Free agency: Grading Day 1 deals
Day 1 of free agency was a busy one. Here's a look at the top 10 signings (through 10:30 p.m. ET) in descending order of the impact each player will have on his new team:
1. Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to PenguinsWithin minutes of watching Sergei Gonchar sign with Ottawa, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero moved quickly to steal Phoenix Coyotes prize blueliner Zbynek Michalek and then lock up former Devils defender Paul Martin. Both defensemen signed five-year deals, which gives the Penguins two key defensive pieces well into the future. Both had been heavily courted by a bevy of other NHL teams; the L.A. Kings were in hot pursuit of Martin, who had played his entire career in New Jersey.
Martin and Michalek are capable of eating up big minutes and will get a chance to show they have an offensive upside that might not have been on full display in either New Jersey or Phoenix, respectively. They are quick, smart puck movers (a boon to the Penguins' skilled forward set) and quality characters who will fit in seamlessly with a tight-knit Penguins dressing room.
Kudos to Shero for not just plugging a gaping hole in his lineup, but also giving his team one of the deepest blue-line corps in the Eastern Conference, if not the league.
2. Dan Ellis to Lightning/St. Louis extensionRookie GM Steve Yzerman continues to impress as he took care of the single most important task facing him in Tampa Bay: re-signing Martin St. Louis to a four-year contract extension at a very manageable $22.5 million. St. Louis is the de facto captain of the Lightning, and by eliminating the specter of St. Louis' impending free agency during the coming season, Yzerman has ensured the kind of stability that has eluded this franchise the past couple of seasons.
Yzerman also brought in Ellis, who the GM saw firsthand in the playoffs a couple of seasons ago when Nashville nearly knocked out his Detroit Red Wings. Ellis should work well with Mike Smith, both of whom came out of the Dallas organization, to give the Lightning better-than-average goaltending. It's certainly better than what Tampa Bay had this past season, when it missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
3. Andrej Meszaros and Jody Shelley to Flyers; Michael Leighton, Braydon Coburn re-signAfter seeing their low-ball offers snubbed by netminders Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov, the Philadelphia Flyers went to Plan B, which was re-sign Leighton in goal (which they did Thursday) and add to an already imposing blue line. First, GM Paul Holmgren re-signed restricted free agent Braydon Coburn, who had, for the most part, a stellar postseason as the team's fourth-ranked defender. Then, Holmgren acquired the hard-hitting, tough-as-nails Meszaros from Tampa Bay for a second-round draft pick. With a blue-line corps that now includes Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Coburn and Meszaros, maybe, just maybe, it won't matter who's in goal for the Flyers next season. Well, at least not until the Cup finals.
As it stands now (and there are rumors the Flyers will continue to look to move some salary for some salary-cap flexibility), it looks as though the goaltending job will fall to the two guys who took the Flyers to an unlikely Stanley Cup finals this spring -- Leighton and Brian Boucher.
4. Dan Hamhuis to CanucksAfter having his signing rights acquired by Philadelphia and then Pittsburgh, it didn't turn out to be much of a surprise that Hamhuis ended up in Vancouver when the dust cleared Thursday. A native of British Columbia, the former Nashville first-round pick had wanted to return to Canada and that's just where he ended up.
Among the most sought-after free-agent defensemen on the market, Hamhuis will get a chance to explore a more offensive role with the Canucks and be a welcome addition to a blue line that has been exposed the past two postseasons against Chicago. Hamhuis, playing in the shadow of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in Nashville, will play a lot of heavy minutes for the Canucks and may be the missing piece in their playoff puzzle. The Canucks better hope so after lavishing Hamhuis with a six-year deal that will pay him an average of $4.5 million annually.
5. Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov to DevilsPresident and GM Lou Lamoriello couldn't convince Martin to stay, but he did convince rugged shot-blocker Volchenkov that New Jersey was a desirable location (we're sure the six-year deal with the $4.25 million annual salary didn't hurt, either). Lamoriello also nabbed former Buffalo rearguard Henrik Tallinder, although it took a whopping four-year deal at $3.375 million annually to bring him under contract. The double addition ensures the Devils will continue to be among the most stultifying teams in the league to watch (not to mention play against), but we're pretty sure Lamoriello won't care as long as the Devils continue to be annual participants in the playoff derby. These moves shouldn't dramatically alter that outlook.
6. Ray Whitney to CoyotesWhitney, 38, was considered the second-most attractive forward available on July 1, so maybe it was a surprise the cost-conscious Coyotes managed to attract Whitney's signature on a two-year, $6 million deal. The Whitney signing will help bolster a Coyotes offense that ranked 24th during the regular season in 2009-10 and help soften the blow of losing Michalek.
Whitney should be a nice role model for young Phoenix players, as he was in Carolina, where he helped the Hurricanes win a Cup in 2006. He has scored at least 20 goals in each of the past four seasons. He will help fill the void that would be created if Matthew Lombardi and Lee Stempniak head to greener pastures.
7. Sergei Gonchar to SenatorsFor the second straight summer, the theme for the Senators is "From Russia, With Love" (and a big contract). Ottawa GM Bryan Murray is hoping the Gonchar experiment (three years at an average salary of $5.5 million) works out better than the Alexei Kovalev fiasco from last summer. It should. Gonchar, whose defensive skills are underappreciated, will help a Senators power play that ranked 21st this past season. He will also be a good role model for a young blue-line corps that includes promising prospects Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen and Brian Lee.
Gonchar will likely begin the season as the second-leading scorer among active defensemen behind Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and would like to remain a productive NHLer so he can play in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Motivation shouldn't be an issue. If he fulfills a similar role to the one he enjoyed in Pittsburgh, look for Gonchar to play a lot of minutes against opposing teams' top forward units and make the Senators an all-around better team. That's all predicated on Gonchar's ability to stay healthy, something he hasn't managed to do lately (he's missed 20 and 57 games, respectively, over the past two seasons).
8. Matt Cullen to WildThe Wild were looking for some offensive depth. With Saku Koivu re-signing in Anaheim for another two years, the addition of center Matt Cullen became a priority for GM Chuck Fletcher, who signed the 33-year-old to a three-year deal worth $10.5 million.
Cullen has strong ties to Minnesota; he attended St. Cloud State and summers in the Minnesota/North Dakota area. One of the game's true gentlemen, Cullen also provides a number of options as the No. 2 center behind captain Mikko Koivu. Cullen, who won a Cup with Carolina in 2006, can play the point on the power play, is a threat to score 25-30 goals and will be a welcome addition to a team that was 22nd in goals per game.
9. Andrew Ladd and Chris Mason to ThrashersGM Rick Dudley continued his repatriation of unwanted Chicago Blackhawks, adding two-time Cup winner Andrew Ladd on Thursday. It cost the Thrashers prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy (who came in a deal for netminder Kari Lehtonen) and a second-round pick; but Dudley effectively replaced Colby Armstrong, who signed with Toronto earlier in the day. Ladd joins former Chicago teammates Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel, all of whom have been added from Chicago in a little more than a week.
Throw in free-agent netminder Chris Mason, who won 57 games in St. Louis the past two seasons, and you have a decent upgrade from Johan Hedberg, who ended up in New Jersey by the end of the day. Mason will push youngster Ondrej Pavelec for the No. 1 job as the Thrashers look to get back in the playoff mix.
10. Antero Niittymaki to SharksOK, hands up for all of you who thought, with all the goalies available July 1, that the San Jose Sharks would end up with former Philadelphia and Tampa netminder Antero Niittymaki? GM Doug Wilson said the Sharks had identified Niittymaki early on in their quest to replace the now unemployed Evgeni Nabokov. Well, the Sharks couldn't have been seduced by Niittymaki's playoff tapes (he's played in just 73 minutes of postseason action at the NHL level). Now, the Sharks will be asking Niittymaki to take them to their first Stanley Cup finals, if not farther. That's a lot to ask of a 30-year-old who's never quite been able to pull the freight as an NHL starter.
• Impact-o-meter: 4.0 | Signing details | Free-agent tracker
And now for deals that are completely different ...
Minus-1. Derek Boogaard to RangersA year after bestowing a ridiculous contract on free-agent thug Donald Brashear, Rangers GM Glen Sather was at it again. This time, he signed former Minnesota ruffian Derek Boogaard to a four-year deal that will pay him the absurd amount of $1.625 million annually. Seriously. Never mind getting a center to play with the Rangers' most important player, Marian Gaborik (the team ultimately brought back quasi-center Vinny Prospal late in the day with a one-year deal). Never mind fixing the mess that is the Rangers' blue line. Never mind making the playoffs or challenging for a Cup. Never mind.
Minus-2. Alex Auld to CanadiensThere are about 8,000 netminders on the market and Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier decides to replace Jaroslav Halak with Alex Auld? What?! Marc Denis was too busy doing television to sign up? What's Andre "Red Light" Racicot doing these days? Carey Price was handed the starting job when Gauthier dealt playoff hero Halak to St. Louis, but there is nothing to suggest he is ready to handle being a starter in Montreal and playing 60-plus games.
That means having a capable backup is critical. And the best the Habs could come up with was Auld, who was jettisoned by Dallas -- a nonplayoff team -- and picked up by the Rangers -- another team that didn't qualify for the postseason. Hedberg (before he signed in New Jersey) would have been a better option at about the same money (Auld received a one-year, $1 million deal). What about former Hab Jose Theodore, who went 20-0-3 down the stretch? Unless Gauthier has a Plan B up his sleeve, watch this signing cost the Canadiens a playoff berth next spring.
Minus-3. Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay to FlamesHonestly, we don't know exactly where to begin with the insane asylum that has become the Calgary Flames' front office. Jokinen was such a negative force last season, GM Darryl Sutter unloaded him on the New York Rangers as part of a massive personnel overhaul that still left the Flames short of the playoffs. Apparently after losing all the game tape from Jokinen's time with the Flames and Rangers, Sutter ended up bringing back the chronic underachiever for another kick at the can. That must have made captain Jarome Iginla's day. The only good thing is Sutter will waste less money this time around, inking Jokinen to a two-year deal worth $6 million (about half the money he made last time around).
The shocking return of Jokinen came just hours after Sutter brought another erstwhile Flame, Alex Tanguay, back into the fold. True, Tanguay did have a career-best 81 points with the Flames in 2006-07, but we're guessing Sutter failed to come up with any game film showing Tanguay in action since. How else do you explain Tanguay's one-year deal worth $1.7 million and the no-trade clause that came with it? Who else gives a no-trade clause to a "sniper" with a combined 44 goals in the past three seasons? Uh, one guess.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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