This is part two of our trade and free agent grades. For the first part, which is a team-by-team look at the Central and Atlantic Divisions, check out Corey Abbott's article here.
Carolina Hurricanes – C
Added: Tim Cleason, Jay McClement, Brad Malone
Lost: Justin Peters, Manny Malhotra
The Carolina Hurricanes are going into the 2014-15 campaign with a new GM in Ron Francis and head coach in Bill Peters, but so far it looks like the on-ice product will be largely the same. That might not be ideal, but given that they didn’t have much cap space to work with, it’s also not surprising.
If this team is going to make the playoffs in the near future, it looks like it will need to be due to a combination of better luck and coaching rather than thanks to any major maneuvering on Francis’ part.
Columbus Blue Jackets – B+
Added: Jerry D’Amigo
Lost: Nick Schultz, Jack Skille, Cody Bass, Matt Frattin, Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau
Their biggest move of the offseason was obviously the R.J. Umberger-Scott Hartnell trade, but that took place before the scope of this article (and was instead part of our previous evaluation.
Consequently, there’s really not much to talk about in terms of the Blue Jackets as they resisted the temptation to make another big splash after signing Nathan Horton to a seven-year, $37.1 million contract last summer. That’s fine though as they already have a pretty strong core in place and plenty of young players that will need raises in the coming years (some, like Ryan Johansen, are already due). Sometimes the best thing a general manager can do on July 1 is sit on his hands and that was the case for Jarmo Kekalainen.
New Jersey Devils – C-
Added: Marty Havlat, Mike Cammalleri, Scott Clemmensen
Lost: Mark Fayne
You can probably count Martin Brodeur among the players lost, although that’s not a sure-thing yet.
I like the signing of Havlat for $1.5 million. After all his setbacks due to injuries, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 33. He had 22 points in 48 games last season despite having his playing time limited by the Sharks and is certainly capable of doing more than that if given the opportunity. Yes, he’s a gamble, but the Devils are a team that’s desperate for offense and at that price, Havlat is a risk worth taking.
Cammalleri certainly isn’t a bargain at $25 million over five years. It seems like teams are being forced to pay heavily for weak second liners and that’s really all Cammalleri is by the standards of a competitive team. The fact that the current market pushes you to pay a guy like him roughly 7% of your total cap space speaks to the need to have a steady stream of young talent coming through the system that’s capable of taking on those complimentary roles.
To put it another way, the Devils have filled their team with veteran forwards that are costing them around $44 million in cap space, which is less than what Chicago and Anaheim pay for their forwards and those Cammalleri-esque contracts are the reason why the Devils are paying more to accomplish less.
New York Rangers – B+
Added: Dan Boyle, Tanner Glass
Lost: Brad Richards, Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle
The New York Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Final, but they couldn’t keep their team completely intact due in large part to salary cap restraints. They did manage to snag Boyle for $9 million over two years though. That’s not a steal, but it is a solid signing for a defenseman that’s still great at the age of 37 (38 on July 12). Between Boyle, Daniel Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Marc Staal, the Rangers will be able to assemble two very effective defensive pairings.
This team looks capable of making another run at the Stanley Cup and it’s hard to criticize a team you can say that about.
New York Islanders – B+
Added: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Jack Skille, Cory Conacher, Chad Johnson
Lost: Evgeni Nabokov, Dan Boyle
I realize Dan Boyle never played for them, but they wasted a 2015 fifth round pick getting his rights, so I threw him in there. Their big additions were former Maple Leafs teammates Grabovski and Kulemin for four-years/$20 million and four-years/$16.75 million respectively. The duo are good friends and really help round out the Islanders’ top-six.
I bashed Cammalleri’s contract above and you could make the argument that the Grabovski and Kulemin signings are similar, but at least the Islanders were in a position to make these moves. With the Devils, they were throwing Cammalleri on top of a pile of bad forward signings and it’s the collective weight of them that I think hurts the team.
The vast majority of the Islanders are actually signed to very good deals (it’s crazy that they got another four years of Tavares at $5.5 million and two more of Okposo at $2.8 million), but they haven’t been able to lure outside talent to join them. So yeah, they overpaid to get Grabovski and Kulemin, but at least they were in a position to do so. At least they’re adding support players to an existing core of solid talent, so in their situation it made sense. It’s not just a band aid here, it’s a step forward.
Philadelphia Flyers – C+
Added: Nick Schultz
Lost: Tye McGinn, Steve Downie, Bruno Garvais
As mentioned above, the Scott Hartnell trade took place before the time period we’re looking at in this article.
New GM Ron Hextall mostly passed on this year’s UFA class, which sets him apart from his predecessor Paul Holmgren. Sure, the Flyers’ cap situation is the main reason for it, but being up against the cap never seemed to stop Holmgren.
It’s too early to pass judgment on Hextall or this version of the Flyers, which started off horrendously in 2013-14, but seemed to find themselves as the season went on.
Pittsburgh Penguins – A
Added: Steve Downie, Thomas Greiss, Blake Comeau, Christian Ehrhoff
Lost: Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland, Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale, Jussi Jokinen
New Penguins GM Jim Rutherford inherited a rough cap situation, but he made the most of what he had by signing Downie to a one-year, $1 million contract and Ehrhoff to a one-year, $4 million deal. Downie dealt with balance issues in 2013-14 and he’s got a lengthy injury history, but he’ll bring an effective blend of grit and skill to the Penguins when he’s healthy. Meanwhile, Ehrhoff is a strong offensive defenseman that should effectively fill the void left by Niskanen.
The addition of Greiss was pretty nice too, even if it’s minor by comparison. He’s a strong backup goaltender that gives the Penguins a veteran option should Marc-Andre Fleury falter or get hurt.
Washington Capitals – C-
Added: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters
Lost: Mikhail Grabovski
We expected a desperate team to overpay for Niskanen given the lack of alternatives, but at $5.75 million, his cap hit is actually not so bad. It’s a seven-year deal, which is crazy because he’s only had two great seasons over the last six campaigns, but at least he’s a genuine top-tier defenseman when he’s at his best.
It’s much harder to be kind about Orpik’s five-year, $27.5 million contract. He’s a solid defensive defenseman, but hardly worthy of getting one of the most lucrative deals of the summer. It might not be so bad if he wasn’t already 33 years old (34 in September), but given that he’s got no offensive value, is overpaid going into this deal, and will likely look vastly overpaid once he starts to decline in a couple years, this is one contract that’s tough to swallow.
Anaheim Ducks – B
Added: Clayton Stoner, Nate Thompson, Jason Labarbera
Lost: Mathieu Perreault, Stephane Robidas, Jonas Hiller
The Anaheim Ducks big move happened before the draft when they added Ryan Kesler. They added another center in Nate Thompson at the cost of a fourth and a seventh round pick in 2015. That’s not a bad deal for the solid third-line center and it helps round out the Ducks up the middle.
All-in-all, they’re a pretty strong team and while they were quiet on the free agent market, I can’t fault them for that given their roster. The only major concern I have is with their goaltending. They’re putting a lot of faith in Frederik Andersen and while you could argue that he’s earned this opportunity to serve as the team’s starter, they don’t really have a reliable Plan B in Labarbera.
Arizona Coyotes – C+
Added: B.J. Crombeen, Sam Gagner, Joe Vitale, Devan Dubnyk
Lost: Radim Vrbata, Thomas Greiss, Mike Ribeiro
Their already thin offense got even worse with the loss of Vrbata and buyout of Ribeiro, but Gagner should help a bit in that regard. Gagner is coming off of a rough season, but he missed the start of the campaign due to a broken jaw and those significant early season injuries seem to really throw players off their game for a long time after their return. With that in mind he does seem like a good candidate to bounce back, even if his upside is limited given the quality of the team around him.
Honestly, if there was a squad that I could fully get behind overpaying for a top free agent, it would have been Arizona. This is a franchise that needs to be exciting and attract attention now that they finally have an ownership group behind them. They are tasked with proving that hockey can work in Arizona, but attracting that fan interest with a frankly mediocre team will be difficult.
Calgary Flames – B
Added: Brandon Bollig, Deryk Engelland, Jonas Hiller, Mason Raymond
Lost: Mike Cammalleri
The Calgary Flames are still very much a team focused on rebuilding and maybe that’s why they stayed relatively low-keyed during the free agent period.
They added some depth in Bollig, Engelland, and Raymond, but there big signing was obviously Jonas Hiller. The fact that Hiller only got a two-year deal speaks to how his stock has fallen. He had a rough finish to the 2013-14 campaign in Anaheim and by the end of it, it was clear that he was no longer the team’s starter.
He’ll be seeking redemption in Calgary and while he can’t single handily turn this team around, he’ll at least provide them with solid goaltending during their transitional years. The fact that it’s only a two-year deal helps as by the time he’s done, recently drafted netminder Mason McDonald or fellow prospect Joni Ortio might be ready for a bigger role.
Edmonton Oilers – B+
Added: Keith Aulie, Benoit Pouliot, Mark Fayne, Teddy Purcell
Lost: Sam Gagner
After revamping the team’s goaltending during the season, Oilers GM Craig MacTavish has spent the summer trying to assemble a respectable defense for the Oilers. That started with the acquisition and signing of Nikita Nikitin prior to the draft and continued with the signing of Aulie to a one-year, $800,000 deal and Fayne to a four-year, $14.5 million contract.
I still wouldn’t go so far as to call the Oilers defense good, but it’s starting to look respectable and given the level of talent they have up front, that might be good enough for them to at least compete for a playoff spot. The Oilers’ rebuild has gone far longer than their fans and the organization would have wanted, but this summer does at least seem like another step in the right direction.
Los Angeles Kings – B+
Added: There were no noteworthy additions
Lost: Willie Mitchell
After winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years, the Los Angeles Kings’ primary objective was to keep as much of the championship team together as possible. It helped that Marian Gaborik was willing to take a smaller average annual salary for the sake of a longer deal and the luxury of playing on one of the NHL’s top teams. However, that still wasn’t enough for them to fit Mitchell’s in under the cap, so they had to let him walk.
Los Angeles is set to make a strong defense of its championship, so faulting them for staying relatively quiet on the free agent and trade markets would be silly.
San Jose Sharks – D
Added: John Scott, Tye McGinn
Lost: Brad Stuart, Martin Havlat
They also technically lost Dan Boyle, but as mentioned above, they at least traded his rights away for a pick.
San Jose was extremely quiet on the free agent market, which is fine for them, but it will be rather awkward for them if they don’t do more in terms of trades before the season started. The Sharks have made it clear that aren’t viewing their past playoff failures as acceptable and Sharks GM Doug Wilson has suggested the team is now rebuilding, but thus far the status quo has been maintained.
Wilson’s hands might be tied given that most of the team’s best players have no-trade clauses, but he’s the one who included them in those player contracts, so he can’t really use that as an excuse.
Vancouver Canucks – A
Added: Radim Vrbata, Ryan Miller
Lost: Mike Santorelli
The Vrbata and Miller signings feel largely like replacements for Kesler and Luongo respectively, whom the team traded away. In Miller, the Canucks have a new top-tier veteran starter capable while Vrbata should provide the team with some valuable secondary scoring after the Sedin twins.
Getting them might seem like moving in circles, but if the team can ship Kesler and Luongo for young assets and then replace them on the free agent market, then why not do that? Especially seeing as Vrbata and Miller inked two and three-year contracts respectively, so the Canucks aren’t entering into particularly restrictive deals.