1) We at FAUXRUMORS were tempted to chime in the last few days with a post concerning how we feel teams fared this free agent signing season. Certainly in some circles even today 7 days into the fray its too early to make any firm conclusions, but we feel enough of the big names have been signed, and the bigger deals have already been consummated to make some conclusions about who in fact bettered themselves, and who are now weaker than they were at the end of the 2007-08 season.
2) First, the teams we feel clearly improved their chances going into the 2008-09 season compared to where they were at season's end. The winners:
- Chicago- The rebuild/transformation of the Blackhawks will be one of the bigger stories this next season in our opinion. Only a year removed from the black death that was the William Wirtz ownership, the team now can be looked upon as one of the more exciting teams to keep an eye on. A familiar refrain we expect to hear is they will be 'the Capitals of this season'. The addition of big time offensive defenseman Brian Campbell to go with their impressive array of young guns will make their PP a deadly weapon. Adding dependable Huet and hopefully for them the trade of underachieving goalie Khabibulin will mean the Hawks will reemerge back from the dead, and possibly back to the post season. They will need to jettison Nikolai to avoid a divided club house. They probably won't get much in return, and at his salary their are probably few who can take him, but despite this we feel the folks in Chicago will enjoy a renaissance of hockey the Windy City hasn't seen in over a decade!
- Tampa Bay- They started the off-season by extending the contract of super star Vinny Lecavlier. Removing the silly Montreal rumors (they won't end there ofcourse). Next ownership/Jay Feaster went out and got pro-active and signed Ryan Malone, Vaclav Prospal, and Gary Roberts, before any were even on the market. Then to cement these moves the added Radim Vrbata, David Koci and Adam Hall, to round out their forwards and goalie Olaf Kolzig to add some veteran leadership/depth to the thin goalie position. We especially like the addition of Koci who give the Bolts a true heavy weight enforcer to help deter those taking liberties with its offensive stars. We still are not sold on their defense/goaltending as being Cup calibre, but Add these moves to the drafting of Stamkos, the folks of the Florida Bay area should be excited to see hockey return this fall!
- Pittsburgh- Their biggest moves were to get their own people resigned. Getting Malkin and Fleury signed long term to relatively reasonable cap-friendly deals it allowed Ray Shero to make other moves to bolster his team going into next season. In addition to those deals, Shero went out and got/retained Pascal Dupuis, Mark Eaton, Eric Godard, Brooks Orpik, Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Matt Cooke. We feel the additions of the former Islanders Satan and Fedotenko along with Cooke will give the pens a nice veteran feel they may have been missing. Godard will bring toughness (at a lesser cap cost) in the absence of the departed Laraque. The key, as it always is, can Fleury give them the type of goaltending he provided in the post season, over the long haul? Sabourin is highly touted, but can't be expected to carry the load like Conklin did last season when Fleury went down. Still, we believe the Pens should be right there again next season!
- Detroit- The rich get richer? This certainly applies in the case of the reigning champion, Red wings. They added the free agent cream of the crop in Marion Hossa. Not only did they add him, but got him at a big discount of 7.4 million, and only to one season. It looks like Marion wants to sip champagne next spring, not watch others do it. They also got another former Penguin, Ty Conklin to augment their goal tending with Osgood. The two are well regarded, but combined only will cost the Wings a cap hit of 2.4 million! (Compared with Chicago's 12.3) They also retained the services of defenders Brad Stuart and Andreas Lilja who both seemed to come into their own this season in Mo-town. All in all we would have to say the Wings of 2008-09, baring injury/Cup hangovers should be every bit as good as this past year's squad!
3) Next, the teams, in our opinion, who have decreased their chances going into the 2008-09 season compared to where they were at season's end. The losers:
- Montreal- The Habs were relatively quiet on the signing front. The added tough guy Georges Laraque to address the team toughness issue highlighted in the Flyer series, but the lost defensemen/PP specialist Mark Streit. Gainey did resign star forward Andrei Kostitsyn to a multi year deal removing him from offer sheet eligibility. Still Habs fans must be wondering about their team's strategy. They will be relying heavily on another season from a 36 year old Alex Kovalev, 35 year old Hamrlik, and 34 year old Saku Koivu along with 2nd year goalie Carey Price to get them back into the post season.
- Toronto- The (now permanent-?) GM Cliff Fletcher tried to add by subtracting. Erasing Kyle Wellwood, Darcy Tucker, Andrew raycroft from the payroll (still trying with McCabe). However the void left by the departing captain, Matts Sundin is gaping to say the least. Jason Blake will have to seriously return to his 40 goal form if the Leafs are to have any chance at returning to the playoffs. They over paid in our opinion to acquire former Av's defensemen Jeff Finger. 4 years 3.5 million a lot to pay, but the folks in TO are used to that and losing by now. We don't see any reason to believe that will change in 08-09.
- Rangers- They may have replaced the likes of Jagr, Avery, Straka and Shanahan with Naslund, and Zherdev, but that in our opinion leave a big leadership/toughness gap that we feel will be evident. Sure Naslund could return to his form of 5 years ago, and the enigmatic Zherdev might become a real star in Manhattan, but we don't see it. For all the hoopla about the big acquisition of Redden, many forget he wasn't even the best defender in Ottawa the past 2 years, and he hardly has played up to his salary in the process. The burden will be even more heavy on King Henrik this next season. He will need to play at a season long Vezina caliber to get the Blueshirts into the post season. Also much more will be expected from the 'kids' like Staal, Dubinsky,Callahan, Girardi, etc.
- Colorado- Any team that has as its top goalies Andrew Raycroft and Peter Budaj can't feel confident. A year ago we felt Budaj had the potential to be a #1 goalie, but lost his starters job to the departed Theodore. Raycroft hardly inspires, as he is 4 years removed from his last good season. Kicked to the curb by the Leafs. A few weeks ago we wondered if re-signing Jose at big bucks would be worth the gamble, now that seems like it would have been the better move. One has to wonder if there was a falling out with Colorado and the former Hab? They also lost Finger to Toronto, and were forced to pay big bucks to keep Liles and Foote. The former getting a huge 4 year 4.2 mil deal. Faced with the possible losses of Sakic and Forsberg, the addition of Tucker hardly makes us confident the denizens of Denver wil be back in the playoffs in 08-09.
3) This is hardly a final grade on these and the other 22 non-mentioned teams, but with most teams already with their rosters set, barring a trade the bigger moves have already taken place. There are only 2 players remaining who could alter the landscape a bit. Matts Sundin and to a lesser extent Pavol Demitra. After that the list gets thin. Teams with significant additional cap space to add one(or both) (after signing their own RFA's)
- Vancouver - 12 million
- Phoenix- 14 million
- Islanders 15 million
- Nashville 10 million
- Montreal 8 million
- LA- 15 million
- Columbus 10 million
- Atlanta- 15 million
4) Of those we wouldn't expect to see much movement from NY and Phoenix, but LA and Atlanta may try to land Demitra, and its been widely rumoured that the Canucks are hot after Sundin. With the loss of Naslund the Canucks will need to add some offense else they will be on our 'losers' list.
Editors note: We now are in what we call at FAUXRUMORS the no mans land of hockey news. The draft and main wheeling/dealing of the UFA period is over. Some deals will certainly occur, but they will be much further and fewer between. We at FAUXRUMORS will continue to bring you hard hitting news, rumours and commentary like no blog can/does. As always, keep it hear for all the latest!