There are still some noteworthy players looking for suitors, but the biggest period of the free agent frenzy is behind us. This year was special because compliance buyouts added guys like Vincent Lecavalier to the list while the shrinking salary cap complicated matters for some teams.
So now seems like a good time to step back and see which teams are better or worse for their efforts. Of course, opinions will differ greatly.
All I'll say in my defense is that as with everything, context is key. This will be about which teams did the most with their money in the context of the salary cap and the team’s current situation.
We'll get the negative out of the way first with the worst five teams of the off-season:
5) Toronto Maple Leafs
I’m fine with them trading Ben Scrivens and Matt Frattin to the Los Angeles Kings for Jonathan Bernier. Toronto’s obsession with getting another goaltender seemed a little misguided, given how well James Reimer and Scrivens did last season, but Bernier has a lot of potential and at least this hedges the Maple Leafs’ bets.
What I disagree with is them getting out of Mikhail Grabovski’s bad contract and then entering into a new one by signing David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million deal. Clarkson does a lot of things well. He’s physical and he can score, even though he’s only reached the 30-goal plateau once in his career. He’s basically a great third liner or a subpar top-six forward. On top of that, he’s 29 years old, so if anything, he’ll decline as this deal goes on. It just seems like a contract the Leafs will come to regret.
Their decision to re-sign Tyler Bozak to a five-year, $21 million deal by itself wasn’t too bad, but might prove to be problematic on top of the Clarkson signing. The Maple Leafs still have a handful of restricted free agents to sign including Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, and Nazem Kadri. Next season they’ll have to re-sign Jake Gardiner, James Reimer, Phil Kessel, and – if they’re so inclined – captain Dion Phaneuf. This didn’t seem like the best summer for them to be spending freely.
4) Vancouver Canucks
It’s hard to see how the Vancouver Canucks could have messed up their goaltending situation more than they did. They had an established elite goaltender signed to a lifetime contract and an up-and-comer with a ton of potential. When Cory Schneider became a restricted free agent, they could have decided to trade him then and stick with Roberto Luongo as they clearly had originally intended.
Instead, Vancouver decided to pay Schneider like he was the team’s starting goaltender and move Luongo. The entire situation, led to an awkward attempted breakup, made worse by the fact that Vancouver ultimately couldn’t move Luongo’s contract because of its length. Instead, they opted to trade Schneider, which wouldn’t have been a bad idea at the start, but they ended up dealing him for the ninth overall pick (Bo Horvat) and nothing else.
Maybe they got desperate, but a single pick towards the end of the top 10 doesn’t seem like good compensation for a top-tier goaltender who’s entering his prime and is signed to a decent contract.
Beyond that, they lost Derek Roy, Andrew Ebbett, and Maxim Lapierre, but did sign Yannick Weber and Mike Santorelli.
3) Washington Capitals
Washington watched Mike Ribeiro, Joey Crabb, and Matt Hendricks walk away and didn’t respond with any noteworthy signings. They do have some cap issues, but it’s still surprising that they couldn’t have at least found a way to retain Ribeiro’s services.
The Capitals have been trying to find a way to win a Stanley Cup with Alex Ovechkin for eight seasons now and they haven’t even come close. They’re certainly not devoid of hope going into the 2013-14 campaign, but if anything, they do look like a worse team than the one that lost in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.
2) Florida Panthers
The Panthers lost Stephen Weiss over the off-season and so far their only noteworthy addition has been Joey Crabb. On the one hand, they’re a young and still developing team, so it’s hard to get too worked up about their quiet summer. However, this is a franchise that went 10 straight seasons without making the playoffs. They finally got there in 2012 and although they were eliminated in the first round, at least they were showing signs of moving forward.
Then they took a major step back last season with a 15-27-6 showing. Even though they’re still moving in the right direction, given how uniquely bad they’ve historically been, it would have been appropriate for Panthers GM Dale Tallon to have made some kind of statement to show that level of failure is no longer acceptable. Maybe he still will, but from a roster perspective, they’ve barely batted an eye over their latest failed campaign.
1) Tampa Bay Lightning
Their decision to get rid of Vincent Lecavalier was understandable. It was a tough pill for the team to swallow, but getting out from under his $7.73 million cap hit through 2019-20 was important for the team to move forward.
It’s just unfortunate that the team chose to use that cap space to give Valtteri Filppula a five-year, $25 million contract. It’s not uncommon for a player to break out during his contract season and cash in accordingly, but this is the rare example of a player that broke out a full season before his contract expired, crashed down to Earth hard, and then still got paid as if his one good season was a better indicator than his most recent campaign or any of the ones that followed it.
By contrast, here are my top five teams for the 2013 offseason:
5) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins didn’t make a big splash this summer, but they did get a valuable piece of the puzzle when they signed Rob Scuderi to a four-year, $13.5 million deal. He’s a great defensive defenseman who is particularly valuable in the playoffs. He has already won the Stanley Cup twice – once with the Penguins – and could prove to be the difference again in 2013-14.
Beyond that Pittsburgh locked up two of its core players in Evgeni Malkin (eight-years, $76 million) and Kris Letang (eight-years, $58 million). Those are huge cap hits, but then again, it’s for one of the best forwards and top defensemen in the league respectively. They also helped balance that out by signing Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz to below-market contracts.
The Penguins now have four players (Malkin, Letang, Sidney Crosby, and James Neal) who will take up $30.45 million in cap space through 2017-18. As good as those guys are, maintaining a core around them will be a challenge with them eating up that much of the pie. That’s a significant concern, but it’s lessened by the fact that they’re a win-now team and so it’s understandable that keeping their core intact is priority number one for now.
4) Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes have a fighting chance to stay in Glendale now and part of that battle will be demonstrating that they’re capable of attracting top players to their organization. With that in mind, snagging Mike Ribeiro to a four-year, $22 million contract is a big deal for them. Ribeiro can’t be expected to produce at a point-per-game pace again, but he should surpass the 60-point milestone.
His cap hit isn’t great, but not bad and it’s made more tolerable by the fact the Coyotes have some cap room to play with. But this move is as much about the statement as it is about the player. Ribeiro was one of the best players in this year’s unrestricted free agent market and they got him.
Even more important than that was their ability to convince Mike Smith to bet on the franchise staying put by inking a six-year deal. They also brought in a decent backup in Thomas Greiss, who inked a one-year, $750k contract.
3) Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers seem to operate recklessly a lot of the time, but they deserve credit for what they’ve done this summer: They were in a terrible position from a cap perspective and still found a way to improve.
They used their compliance buyouts on Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere and used that money to secure Mark Streit, Vincent Lecavalier, and Ray Emery. Of them, Streit’s $5.25 million annual cap hit looks a bit excessive, but not terribly so for a great offensive defenseman and a team leader. Plus it’s counterbalanced by Emery’s one-year, $1.65 million contract and Lecavalier’s five-year, $22.5 million deal. Yes, Lecavalier comes with a smaller cap hit than David Clarkson or Valtteri Filppula.
So give them credit for responding to a year out of the playoffs with some strong additions.
2) Dallas Stars
Tyler Seguin’s Twitter hacking incident aside, the Stars added a superbly talented 21-year-old who can immediately make a difference on their team. They also got Rich Peverley in the same trade with the Boston Bruins, who has been tremendous on the draw. Throw in the acquisition of Shawn Horcoff and the Dallas Stars are looking great up the middle.
Dallas did have to give up some significant parts in the process, including Loui Eriksson, but Seguin alone has the potential to replace what was lost offensively. The Stars look like a solid team going into the 2013-14 campaign and with Seguin and Jamie Benn projected to lead the team for years to come, the Stars certainly have the potential to be competitive for quite a while.
1) New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils lost David Clarkson, but it’s hard to blame them given the price Toronto paid. Instead they added Michael Ryder to a very reasonable two-year, $7 million deal and Ryane Clowe to a less appealing five-year, $24.25 million contract.
Ryder should be good around 60 points per season over the next two years, which makes his $3.5 million cap hit look very good in this market. Clowe, on the other hand certainly has the potential to give the team blend of secondary scoring and grit, but he’s coming off an inconsistent 2012-13 campaign, which makes the decision to commit to a five-year deal a curious one.
The Devils also gave Patrik Elias a three-year, $16.5 million deal to keep their franchise leader in points.
Still, those moves remain secondary to the Devils’ ability to acquire Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks for the ninth overall pick in the first round. For years, the question has been who will succeed Martin Brodeur. Now the franchise has an answer to that question, which is vital to the franchise’s long-term health.