Corey Abbott

In The Crease

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Player Movement (East)

Friday, July 08, 2011

This off-season's free agency crop was not regarded as being very strong, but it did not stop NHL general managers from opening their pocketbooks in a big way on July 1. The restructured salary cap, which was raised to $64.3 million, had a lot to do with some of the freewheeling spending, as some teams had to overpay to get to the minimum payroll allowed. With that in mind, here's how the clubs in the Eastern Conference did during free agency.

Boston Bruins - C+
The Bruins lost defenseman Tomas Kaberle (Carolina) and forward Michael Ryder (Dallas) to the open market. On the day they bode farewell to Kaberle, they added former Hurricanes blueliner Joe Corvo to their roster via a trade. Benoit Pouliot inked a one-year deal with the team after suiting up with their Original Six rivals from Montreal. Boston also re-signed some of their minor-league talent with extensions going to Trent Whitfield and Anton Khudobin. The additions of Corvo and Pouliot do not offset the losses Kaberle and Ryder, but the downgrades do not impact the core of the club that much.

Buffalo Sabres - B+
Buffalo's previous reputation was that of a penny-pinching organization before new owner Terry Pegula brought his exuberance and deep pockets to the negotiation table. Pegula helped convince Robyn Regehr to waive his no-trade clause for a deal over the draft and he helped lure offensive defender Christian Ehrhoff into the fold as well. Ehrhoff's negotiation rights were acquired from the New York Islanders just before free agency and he agreed to terms on a 10-year deal worth $40 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent. The Sabres also spent $27 million over six years on former Philadelphia winger Ville Leino. Both contracts seem to be slightly on the extreme side, but Leion and Ehrhoff should fit nicely into key roles with the club in 2011-12. Leino, who skated in Philly predominately as a winger, is being considered as a possible replacement for center Tim Connolly who signed a contract with Toronto. Buffalo also re-signed UFA Cody McCormick and RFA Mike Weber after the free agency period began, so they enjoyed a successful start to the off-season.

Carolina Hurricanes - B-
Carolina GM Jim Rutherford did an excellent job of holding onto his potential unrestricted free agents by granting extensions to Joni Pitkanen, Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen. He wasn't able to come to terms with Erik Cole, who inked a sizeable deal with the Montreal Canadiens, but he did bring in a collection of forwards to fill some holes as depth players, with contracts going to Anthony Stewart, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Tim Brent. Brian Boucher was also brought on board to serve as Cam Ward's understudy between the pipes and Tomas Kaberle's signing should benefit their transition game and power play. Overall, it was a good showing for the Canes.

Florida Panthers - C
The Panthers have been crucified by several pundits for signing lower-tier players to big contracts this summer, but they were forced into that situation by the NHL's rising salary cap floor. That being said, some of their acquisitions can be viewed as slight improvements over what they had to work with in 2010-11. The signings of Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Tomas Fleischmann and the acquisition of Kris Versteeg, via a trade with the Flyers adds 140 points of offense. Florida's top four scorers from a year ago put up 162 points, but they lost 32 from that total with Marty Reasoner leaving the team for the Islanders. Dealing and signing Tomas Kopecky and bringing back Ed Jovanovski should provide some veteran leadership, while Marcel Goc is an underrated bottom-six forward. What really hurts the overall grade for the Panthers is the loss of starting goalie Tomas Vokoun. The Panthers will certainly suffer , notwithstanding the signing of Jose Theodore, as they won't have Vokoun's superb play to bail them out and keep games close.

Montreal Canadiens - C
The Canadiens saw several players from their 2010-11 roster leave for other organizations this off-season. They allowed backup goaltender Alex Auld to exit for Ottawa and brought in Peter Budaj to replace him behind number one keeper Carey Price. The loss of Roman Hamrlik to Washington could hurt them on the blueline if Andrei Markov, who received a new three-year deal from the Habs, struggles to remain healthy again. Montreal also lost a depth defenseman in Alexandre Picard to Pittsburgh. The team's biggest addition was the signing of Erik Cole to a four-year/$18 million contract and he could help provide secondary offense next season. Aside from a slight upgrade at forward, Montreal regressed slightly during the free agency period.

New Jersey Devils - C-
New Jersey did not take part in the frenzy this off-season after emptying their wallet for sniper Ilya Kovalchuk last summer. This time around they are more concerned with getting their other star, Zach Parise, locked in to a new deal than anything else that may be available on the open market. The Devils managed to re-sign defenseman Andy Greene and backup goalie Johan Hedberg after they hit unrestricted free agency. Minor-league defender Tyler Eckford left the club to join Phoenix, but that has been their only loss to another club thus far. Their lack of activity was somewhat expected, but their failure to have done something yet with Parise has certainly raised some eyebrows.

New York Islanders - D
The Islanders tried to be proactive before free agency by trading for Christian Ehrhoff's rights, but selling their team has proven to be a difficult task in recent years and Ehrhoff was flipped to Buffalo shortly afterward. Radek Martinek (Columbus), Zenon Konopka (Ottawa) and Nathan Lawson (Montreal) departed Long Island for other teams via free agency. New York re-signed troublemaker Trevor Gillies to a one-year deal and they inked free agent Marty Reasoner to a two-year contract, but neither player is going to set fantasy owners into a tizzy. Their biggest signings came back in May when they gave five-year deals to Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo, but that's too far back to be considered in this grade. Losing players and not bringing in anyone to replace them is a nightmare scenario.

New York Rangers - B
The Rangers landed the biggest fish in the free agent pond when they tied up Brad Richards to a lucrative nine-year contract worth $60 million. The Blueshirts also signed rugged free agent Michael Rupp for three seasons and they gave Ruslan Fedotenko an extension. New York didn't give Matt Gilroy a qualifying offer, so he ended up in Tampa Bay but his loss won't hurt the team. Now the Rangers will turn their attention to signing restricted free agents Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Michael Sauer and Brian Boyle, who have all filed for salary arbitration. Getting Richards is big for the Rangers and taking care of their own should make them a stronger team in 2011-12.

Ottawa Senators - C+
After a solid showing at the NHL Entry Draft, the Senators backed away from the quick fixes that free agency can bring in favor of sticking with their youthful rebuilding process. They made some additions though, in the form of tough guy Zenon Konopka and goaltender Alex Auld. Konopka is a penalty-producing machine with good faceoff skills, while Auld will serve as Craig Anderson's backup now that Curtis McElhinney has signed with the Phoenix Coyotes. While Konopka is a decent bottom-six center, the Senators still desperately need some secondary help behind Jason Spezza.

Philadelphia Flyers - B
The Flyers continued their off-season facelift by surprisingly agreeing to terms with Jaromir Jagr, who has spent the past three seasons in the KHL, on a one-year pact. Philadelphia signed another former Pittsburgh Penguin when Maxime Talbot joined the fold. Andreas Lilja was also added to provide some depth on the back end. Daniel Carcillo and Sean O'Donnell left for the Chicago Blackhawks, while Ville Leino inked a big deal in Buffalo. Brian Boucher also made tracks to Carolina after being squeezed out of the goaltending picture with the acquisition and signing of the team's freshest starter, Ilya Bryzgalov. The Flyers signed restricted free agent Jakub Voracek to a one-year contract as well. GM Paul Holmgren made some risky moves this off-season, but his work during free agency appear to be improvements on paper.

Pittsburgh Penguins - B-
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero did a good job of retaining the services of some of his key free agents this summer by getting Tyler Kennedy, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams and Arron Asham signed to new deals. However, he couldn't keep them all. Maxime Talbot and Michael Rupp found jobs elsewhere in Philadelphia and with the New York Rangers, respectively. The Penguins were believed to be the favorites to land Jaromir Jagr, but they eventually decided to go in a different direction and pulled their offer. Former Nashville winger Steve Sullivan and defenseman Alexandre Picard were added to the team via free agency. However, the most impactful add-ons to the roster will come when Pittsburgh gets back star players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin from injury next season.

Tampa Bay Lightning - B-
Much of Tampa Bay's off-season has been centered around the drama that has become Steve Stamkos' ongoing contract negotiation process. Rumors have run rampant over offer sheets and potential trades, but GM Steve Yzerman is continuing his business as usual with the confidence that a deal will get done. Eric Brewer and Dwayne Roloson were viewed as key unrestricted free agents that the Bolts wanted to have back, so they both got new contracts with the team. Adam Hall and Marc-Andre Bergeron were also retained by the Lightning, but they had to let go of playoff standout Sean Bergenheim (Florida) and veteran winger Simon Gagne (Los Angeles), who could be key losses up front. Randy Jones also left to play for the revitalized Winnipeg Jets. Matt Gilroy was signed as depth defender and Mathieu Garon will join the team as Roloson's backup after Mike Smith bolted for Phoenix. It could've been disastrous for the Lightning if they'd lost Brewer and Roloson, but getting them back and bringing in a capable number two goalie gets them a passing grade.

Toronto Maple Leafs - B-
After Toronto failed in their pitch to sign Brad Richards, they inked oft-injured center Tim Connolly from the Buffalo Sabres to be Phil Kessel's set-up man. The Leafs re-signed enforcer Jay Rosehill and brought in Phillipe Dupuis, formerly of Colorado, to possibly skate as their fourth-line center next season. Veteran backstop Jean-Sebastien Giguere was permitted to test free agency and he ended up with the Avalanche, while penalty killer Tim Brent inked a contract with Carolina. The Buds pulled off an interesting trade last weekend when they acquired Matthew Lombardi and Cody Franson from Nashville in exchange for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney. They absorbed the cap hit of a concussed Lombardi to pry a big and young rearguard in Franson, who has the potential to be a top-four player, away from the Predators. Toronto made subtle improvements up front with the additions of Connolly and Lombardi, but their ability to stay healthy will decide how much of an impact they have with the team.

Washington Capitals - A
Washington's biggest coup during the free agency period was securing Tomas Vokoun to a bargain one-year deal at $1.5 million. He is slated to compete with Michal Neuvirth for the starting job after the Capitals shipped Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a first round pick in 2012 and a second round pick in 2012 or 2013. Predators' playoff sniper Joel Ward and NHL draft acquisition Troy Brouwer have also been signed to new deals by the Capitals and they should factor into the team's offensive attack in 2011-12. Defenseman Roman Hamrlik and center Jeff Halpern were plucked from Montreal as free agents to bring in some veteran depth at both positions. Washington avoided Brooks Laich becoming an unrestricted free agent when they locked him up to a six-year extension before July 1. Jason Arnott (St. Louis) and Marco Sturm (Vancouver) found work on other NHL clubs, but Washington made some savvy transactions during free agency that should help alleviate their losses. The problem for them now will be trying to get back under the salary cap and a trade could be a possibility.

Winnipeg Jets - C-
The Jets went after former Manitoba Moose winger Rick Rypien and Winnipeg native Derek Meech when the free agent market opened for business. They also inked former Vancouver Canucks forward Tanner Glass and ex-Tampa Bay defender Randy Jones. Radek Dvorak and Anthony Stewart left the team for Dallas and Carolina, respectively, after suiting up for the Atlanta Thrashers last season. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff re-signed captain Andrew Ladd to a five-year, $22 million deal, a move that maintains the team's leadership. Now the Jets will look to get RFAs Zach Bogosian and Blake Wheeler under contract as well, but their offense still needs to be addressed going into next season.

Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
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