Top 10 deals from Day 1
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. Marian Hossa to ChicagoWhat was it the Chicago Blackhawks were missing against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals when the playoff-savvy Wings dispatched the Hawks in five games? Was it a top-notch forward who is hard to knock off the puck and can play in all three zones? If it was, then the movement of hard-luck Hossa (a Stanley Cup runner-up with different teams the past two springs) down the Central Division highway might be the tipping point if the two teams happen to meet on the same stage in 2009-10. That's certainly how the talented, youthful Blackhawks hope it plays out.
GM Glen Sather, who has tendered some of the worst contracts offered in NHL history, deserves credit for being able to maneuver out of Gomez's contract (he was traded to Montreal) to free up the cap space and have the ability to make Gaborik an offer. Gaborik's deal is five years, worth an average of $7.5 million a year. Gaborik can be the kind of player the goal-starved Rangers dreamed about the past couple of years. If he is, New York is a Cup contender. If not, it will be yet another year of the Rangers pouring good money down the drain.
4. Mattias Ohlund to Tampa BayTake a close look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. Beneath the veneer of chaos and disorganization that has marked the team these many months lies the heart of a team that isn't far removed from being a playoff contender. Vincent Lecavalier is still there; so are Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone. The blue line was racked by injuries and a constant merry-go-round of personnel last season. But, assuming decent health, the addition of top-end, dependable Ohlund, who signed a seven-year deal Wednesday, might be the catalyst to a return to the playoffs, and respectability, for the Bolts.
5. Mike Cammalleri to MontrealHis 82 points last season would have led the Habs (comfortably) in scoring, 17 points better than leading scorer Alexei Kovalev. Cammalleri's 39 goals were also 13 more than Kovalev's team-leading 26 and more than any Habs player in any post-lockout season. So, yes, Cammalleri's offensive addition is welcome in Montreal. No question he doesn't have Jarome Iginla to play with anymore, but we figure he'll be just fine with Gomez and Brian Gionta. He might not have the all-around game of Hossa, but we're betting he's going to score nearly as many points.
6. Mike Komisarek to TorontoLet's be clear on one thing -- Komisarek isn't Jay Bouwmeester or Dion Phaneuf or Shea Weber or any of the hot blue-line studs who dot the NHL landscape. If folks in Toronto think that's what they're getting after GM Brian Burke landed his biggest fish since taking over the Leafs, there will be great disappointment in Leaf Nation. If the fans of the blue and white understand they've obtained a hard-nosed, hard-hitting, smart-thinking defenseman who can play shutdown defense against the opposing teams' best forwards, they'll be more than happy. Komisarek didn't have a terrific year in Montreal (name someone on that squad who did), but he has terrific upside and is a Burke player through and through. It's hard to overstate the importance of this kind of addition for a team that's been too easy to play against since the end of the lockout.
7. Nikolai Khabibulin to EdmontonYou have to praise the Oilers for reacting quickly to the loss of starting netminder Dwayne Roloson by replacing him with a Cup champion in Khabibulin. But let us also pass this along: The Hawks' front office privately believed Khabibulin wasn't quite up to snuff in the playoffs, as underlined by his .898 save percentage in 15 postseason games. Which Khabibulin will show up in Edmonton: the rock-solid regular-season goalie of last season or the playoff version? Still, no matter what happens, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini wasn't flooded with options on the market with Khabibulin and Martin Biron clearly the best two choices. Edmonton landed the goalie who has won a championship.
8. Brian Gionta to MontrealMaybe a change in scenery -- and a reunion with an old linemate -- will help reverse the downward spiral in Gionta's offensive production. After tallying 48 goals in 2005-06, Gionta has recorded seasons of 25, 22 and 20 goals. Montreal GM Bob Gainey must think Gionta still has the tools to put up top-end numbers, though, as he signed the diminutive 30-year-old winger to a five-year deal worth an average of $5 million annually. One assumes new coach Jacques Martin will give Gionta a chance to play alongside old Devils linemate Gomez, and perhaps Cammalleri will get in on the action, too. Regardless, the addition of the three skilled players should make the Habs much more dynamic offensively than they were a year ago.
9. Mike Knuble to WashingtonSometimes, it's after the fact that you remember these kinds of deals, when a team wins a seventh game on the road or kills a penalty to preserve a much-needed victory or when a respected veteran speaks candidly to the media about what ails a team in a low period. Well, Knuble is the kind of guy who has the potential to contribute all these intangible elements that separate winners from losers and contenders from pretenders. Knuble can kill penalties and contribute on the power play, but he was really brought in to help the Caps separate themselves from the pack next spring. Hard to imagine he won't.
10. Steve Sullivan re-signs in NashvilleOn a day in which the Predators lost Vernon Fiddler and Greg Zanon to free agency, they at least were able to keep their most important free agent. Sullivan is not only a major point producer for Nashville but is also an important team member off the ice. The small-but-loyal following of Predators fans absolutely love this guy. If his back stays healthy, we're predicting a 70- to 80-point season for the "Timmins Tornado," and that's the kind of offense the frugal Preds never would have been able to replace in free agency.
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.
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