New Faces, New Places
There is a myth that exists within hockey that once the NHL trade deadline hits, since GMs have finished assembling their team, their work is done; they turn control over to the coaching staff and tell them to run with it. No different than a grizzly bear, they retire to their den to hibernate until spring. There, they lie until the NHL draft and Free Agency come stirring to wake them from their slumber. Most know that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
GMs use the remainder of the regular season and especially playoffs (if their time is talented enough to make the quest for Lord Stanley) to rank, evaluate, deconstruct and ponder the future success of their club. By the time free agency hits and draft needs have been addressed, GMs know exactly (or in the case of the team we love, we pray they do!) what pieces of the puzzle their team is missing. That being said, everyone knows how easy a GMs’ job is, so let’s do our best armchair GM impression and evaluate the most interesting deals surrounding NHL Free Agency so far, focusing on ‘New Faces in New Places’:
New York Rangers – Brad Richards (F)
At $60M over nine years, Brad Richards wasn’t exactly a bargain but it’s not an outrageous contract either. The Rangers needed a talented centre with a pass-first mentality to help coax Marian Gaborik into the sniper they believe he can be. As a former Stanley Cup Champion, Richards brings experience and versatility to the Rangers’ team; a new leader now that Drury is out of the picture. Plus, a chance to once again play under Coach John Tortorella may rekindle the form that netted Richards’ the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy.
Washington Capitals – Tomas Vokoun (G)
If Brad Richards was the biggest name available in this year’s free agency, Vokoun was quite possibly the biggest steal! GM George Mcphee sets the deal up by trading talented, though injury-prone goaltender Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a 1st & 2nd round pick. He then signs Vokoun to a one year – $1.5M contract, a figure that most have agreed is surprisingly low. At 35 years old, Vokoun is no spring chicken and lacks a proven playoff pedigree, but boasts a career save percentage of .917. If the Capitals are looking to make a run deep into the playoffs, Vokoun could be the one to take them there with Michal Neuvirth now designated as the Caps’ goalie for the future.
Philadelphia Flyers – Jaromir Jagr (F)
After three seasons in the KHL, Jagr returns to the NHL looking to prove that he can still play in hockey’s premier league. Very few expected that he would return to the NHL to suit up for the Philadelphia Flyers, signing a one-year $3.3M deal. Jagr is a creative player, who can keep the puck on a string and light the lamp with the best of them, but we’re reserving judgment on how he will do until this all pans out. Ultimately, the Jagr signing was surprising, but after the deals the Flyers have made this off-season, Paul Holmgren’s now forced us to expect the unexpected.
Minnesota Wild & San Jose Sharks – Heatley/Havlat Deal
Speaking of unexpected, did anyone see this deal coming? The Sharks lose a key cog to the puzzle, though not as key depending on who you ask. In trading Heatley, the Sharks gain Havlat who has not consistently put up great numbers but has all the talent in the world and a return to form may be on the horizon. The Wild get a bigger name in Heatley and the type of pure goal-scorer that has eluded the franchise for some time.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Tim Connolly (F)
At just under $5M per year for two years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have taken a risk by signing Tim Connolly. Though the Leafs desperately needed a centre to anchor the first line and provide the kind of puck support and service that Phil Kessel needs to blossom into a 40 or 50 goal-scorer, Connolly may not offer the return on investment the Leafs are looking for. The talent is there but Connolly has averaged only 50 games played across the last 6 seasons and has never played more than 75 games in a season. On paper, Connolly has the potential to be a point-a-game player but his susceptibility to injury has ensured that the potential has gone unreached. If Connolly stays healthy and can help Kessel light the lamp it’s a win, but for now this definitely looks like an iffy move.
Buffalo Sabres – Ville Leino (F)
The Sabres look to be spenders this off-season thanks to a new owner who is willing to dish out the bucks in the hopes that it will translate into post-season success. Although Ville Leino is a talented forward who looks to be just hitting his stride, a six-year deal that averages out to $4.5M a season seems to be too much to pay for a player who garnered only 53 points last season and didn’t even reach the 20-goal mark. That being said, if Leino can flourish in an expanded role he may play an influential part in the Sabres’ future success.
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