Good and Bad Off Season Moves…

Ok, it’s time to get back in hockey mode and start looking to the upcoming season which is less than a month away. But first, let me look at a handful of good and bad off season moves.

The Good

Ryan Whitney: While Whitney doesn’t get the media attention of his teammate forwards Crosby, Malkin and Staal, he is one of the best young defensemen in the NHL and had an excelleny year last year with 14 goals, 59 points and a +9. The Penguins made a very smart move locking up Whitney for the next 6 years at a respectable $4 million per season. In a few years they could have a Norris contender in Whitney for about half of what other top defensemen will be making.

Tomas Vokoun: For a price of a couple of draft picks the Florida Panthers went out and picked up one of the best goalies in the NHL. Florida had mediocre goaltending last year and missed the playoffs by 6 points. With Vokoun in net and with some improvement from some of their other young players I expect the Panthers will have an excellent shot at a playoff spot this season and will contend for the division title.

Smyth/Hannan: The Avalanche are a team that made a big splash in the free agent pool but aren’t getting a lot of recognition for doing so. Not only did they sign two excellent players, but they may have signed the most valuable of the top free agents. Ryan Smyth and Joe Sakic will provide the Avalanche the best leadership both on and off the ice than any other pair in the NHL and Hannan is a nice defensive defenseman that should help out the Avalanche in their own end. If Budaj continues his improvement in goal, the Avalanche could be cup contenders once again.

Toskala: The price was fairly high but the Leafs addressed their most pressing need with the acquisition of Vesa Toskala. While Toskala is still unproven as an NHL starting goalie, he will most certainly be better than Aubin and will give coach Maurice with a pair of goalies (with Raycroft) so that he can go with the hot hand. The Leafs missed the playoffs by a single point and adding Toskala should easily make up that point and get them into the playoffs.

Keenan: The Calgary Flames big spash of the summer was bringing in an experienced, hard nosed coach in Mike Keenan. Keenan will have the team playing harder, tougher and better defensively which is what took them to the Stanley Cup finals a few years back. Keenan will coach more like how Sutter did and I expect the Flames will be an improved team this upcoming season because of it.

Preissing/Handzus/Nagy/Calder/Stuart – There were rumours that the Kings were going to get into the fight for the high priced free agents (Drury, Briere, Gomez, Smyth) but instead they probably went the smarter route and signed a number of cheaper second tier players. The Kings have some quality talent in Cammaleri, Frolov, Kopitar and others so didn’t really need more talent. What they really needed was some depth and experience to mentor that young talent and take some pressure off them and that is exactly what they added.

Todd White – I don’t know why, but I just really like this move by the Atlanta Thrashers. White is a good two-way player who has enough skill to skate with the talented players that the Thrashers have (he has played with Hossa in Ottawa too) and because he is smart defensively he complements those offensive players perfectly. The Thrashers didn’t have a lot of money to spend but made a smart move in signing White to a $2.375 million/year four year deal.

The Bad Moves

Drury – I like Chris Drury. He is a good, solid, 2-way player with good leadership skills. Problem is, he is a second line player now being paid like a first line star. He might score the Rangers 30 goals and get 65 points, but that isn’t the kind of output I would expect from a $7 million player. For that money they could have signed Peca for the leadership and defensive ability, kept Nylander to keep the successfull Jagr-Nylander-Straka trio in tact (and be certain to keep Jagr happy), plus had some money left over to bring in a quality defenseman.

Hartnell – Hartnell will certainly bring some toughness to the Flyers who have converted themselves to a softer team recently but $4.2 million for a guy who will get you 20-25 goals and 40-45 points? That’s a bit much

Lang – There are some teams out there that can just never seem to make a smart move or the mvoes they make never work out. One of those teams is the Blackhawks. They made a splash a few years ago signing Khabibulin but he has been a flop. Last year they made a splash trading for and signing Havlat and while he started off great, he got injured as he always does. This year they didn’t make quite the same sized splash signing Lang to a 2 year $8 million contract but the return on investment will be just as bad. Lang’s production has fallen from 79 points in 2003-04 to 62 points in 2005-06 to 52 points last year and at 36 years of age, that is more likely an irreversable trend than not and Lang has never brought much else to the game than his offensive abilities. Lang is done as an effective player in the NHL and the Blackhawks just made another bad move.

Toskala – Trading for Toskala was a smart move by the Leafs, giving an unproven goalie (as a starter) an extension at $4 million per year was not a smart move. I just don’t see the benefit to signing Toskala now to that large contract rather than waiting to see how he does as a starter. Even if Toskala came in played excellent and took over the starting role from Raycroft (as the Leafs hope he will do), it is unlikely that he would command much more than $4 million if they signed him in January but the risk would be dramatically lowered. It just smells Gerberesk.

Hamrlik – It is questionable whether Hamrlik will be worth his $5.5 million salary cap hit next season, but I am almost certain he will not be worth anywhere near that $5.5 million salary cap hit 4 years from now at age 36. From Kovalev to Samsonov and now to Hamrlik, Montreal seems to be good for one bad signing every summer.

LA Kings goaltending – While I think the Kings made some good moves at forward and defense, they failed to address their most pressing need of a top goalie. Until they do so, they will be a mediocre team at best and all but certain to miss the playoffs.

Other questioinable moves: Briere ($$, length of contract). Timonen ($$, length of contract). Sarich ($$). Penner (cost of compensation). Rafalski (length of contrtact), Nylander ($$, length of contract).

This article has 5 Comments

  1. Hm, an interesting writeup. I agree and disagree with some of these.

    Re: Ryan Smyth – The Avs are in a weird spot. They’re not that good and they’re not that bad. The problem with this move is that it makes them pretty good, but not great – and when this Smyth contract expires, it will almost certainly be bad. Power forwards tend to experience significant decline past 31, and Smyth has been taking punishment in front of NHL nets since he was 19 or 20.

    Re: Toskala – I admire your fandom but ‘the Leafs missed the playoffs by one point and Toskala’s addition should get them that point’ is a gross mis-statement, and I think you know that. Toskala is a certain upgrade and with the Habs, Thrashers, Devils, and Islanders making serious backwards steps, the Leafs are certainly playoff contenders – but the way you phrased that just sounds wrong.

    Re: The Kings – I don’t get it. You’ve got a bad team, so you go out and sign some overpriced veterans for one year deals? Preissing is a solid move, but Handzus is coming off ACL surgery and wasn’t exactly Mike Gartner even before that. Ladislav Nagy was a cipher last season. The Kings should be an exciting team next year and might even contend for the playoffs, but unless this free agent frenzy was designed to get people in the stands, I don’t understand why Lombardi signed some of these guys to the deals he did.

    Re: Todd White – I’ve always felt Todd White is barely above waiver wire material, so why he got this deal from Atlanta, I have no clue. He’ll put up points there, but that doesn’t mean he’s any good.


    Re: Drury – Nylander is soft and his decline is imminent. Once Nylander walked away from that deal in June, he wasn’t coming back to the Rangers. I like the way the Rangers structured these deals (money up front, making them able to be dealt down the road). What defenseman do you think the Rangers should’ve gone after?

    Re: Hartnell. Really? You think this is Hartnell’s upside? You’ve probably seen more of him than I have, but I like that deal a lot.

    Re: Lang – you’ve got to get to that salary floor somehow. he’s obviously a stiff.

    Re: Hamrlik – agreed. Montreal has to overpay to get anybody these days, it’s quite sad. The Kovalev deal wasn’t that bad when it was signed, but Kovalev promptly turned back into the pumpkin he’s been most of his career. How a guy with his shot scores as few goals as he does is baffling.

    I am surprised to not see Dainius Zubrus on the ‘good’ list. While the length of contract may be a problem, Zubrus is a player who can play any position on any line, and his forechecking ability is exactly what the Devils have been missing since Bobby Holik left.

  2. Ryan Smyth is only 31 and he will only be 36 in the final year of his deal. That’s not that old. Brendan Shanahan is 38 and still playing great hockey. And the Avalanche have the core team now to be a great team. They still have money to spend this year (on Forsberg?) and have Theodore’s $5+ million contract coming off the books after this season to add another piece of the puzzle next summer. In my mind their biggest question mark is Budaj but if he can provide quality goaltending they are as good as a lot of teams in the west.

    Is Toskala worth an extra win or two to the Leafs? Yes, and that should propel the Leafs into the playoffs regardless of wha the other teams do.

    The Kings: It would have been a mistake for the Kings to think that spending a ton of cash on one or two big named players would have made them contenders. They realized that they aren’t that close and what they really needed is some veterens to provide some leadership to take some pressure off the young guys and to mentor them into becoming better players. The guys they bought in will do that and the guys on one year deals, well they can be re-signed or be flipped for a first round pick at the trade deadline. Either way they are low risk, good reward moves.

    Todd White: Ottawa could desperately use him as their second or third line center. He’s got great speed and can score you 15 goals and 45 points on a defensive minded team like the Wild. He is nothing special, but is a solid all-round player.

    Rangers: Gomez’s contract is front loaded, but I don’t believe Drury’s is. NHLPA has him listed as making $7.1 million this year which is more or less his contract average. Drury for the most part is untradable with that contract. I still say Drury is a second line player and not worth that money.

    Hartnell: Seasonal point totals for his career: 16, 41, 34, 33, 48, 39. Those point totals are not indicating any kind of upward trend even though he has played on a much improving team. I’d say that his 25g, 48pts season in 2005-06 represents his top upside. Maybe he could get more if he played with Briere and Gagne but then so would pretty much anyone. He is not going to contribute any more than Mike Knuble. This money would have been better spent on a vetern defensive defenseman or in locking up some of next summers RFA’s (Umberger, Carter, Richards, Coburn) to longer term contracts but instead this contract might cost them one or more of those guys.

    Zubrus was a decent pickup for the Devils. The money is reasonable but as you point out, the length might be a problem but he is only 29. If Parise can develop into a solid first line center then Zubrus should be a decent complement as a second line center with Madden as the shutdown third line guy but Zubrus’s inconsistency and sometimes lack of work ethic and dedication keeps this from being a great deal. It is a long-term commitment to make to a guy who has sometimes taken nights off.

  3. Re: Smyth. Brendan Shanahan’s career is an outlier and I’d argue he’s not playing ‘great’ hockey either. The careers to look at are guys like Leclair, Tkachuk, Neely, Kevin Stevens, etc. There are the Andreychuks and Shanahans of the world who just keep playing solid hockey after taking 15-20 years of abuse, but Smyth has missed at least some time in 4 of the last 5 seasons.

    The over/under for goals over this 5 year deal for Ryan Smyth are at 115 IMO.

    Re: Toskala – of course he’s worth extra wins, but what about losing Peca and O’Neill? What about McCabe’s decline? And what about Stajan and Steen’s rise, Coliacavo, etc. etc. All else being equal, yes, two more wins get the Leafs in the playoffs.

    re: the Kings – I think signing a big name would’ve been better – the team almost certainly would’ve flopped, ensuring yet another high draft pick. Then in 3-4 years you’ve got Kopitar and Frolov (and maybe Camellari), high draft pick x, Hickey, and this big name free agent who’d still be a solid player, etc. Perhaps ‘taking the pressure off’ is a good thing, but it’s not a measurable quantity unfortunately – and there’s no good reason for the Kings to be moderately successful this year (aside from attendance concerns). Luckily for them, they might still be awful even with all these additions. I hadn’t thought about flipping players for draft picks, but unless Nagy regains the love of playing hockey, he’s not going to any contender again this year.

    Re: Drury. Ah yes, you’re right about front loading. Sather is committing the same sin he did with Holik – the odds of Drury living up to that contract are about nil. However, the Rangers’ window for a Stanley Cup is very small – Jagr’s decline and Lundqvist’s steadily rising salary will put an end to the days when the club had 2 legitimate MVP candidates signed for less than 6 million on the cap. While the Rangers have a solid farm system, there’s no Jagrs lurking down there. The time is now – and Michael Peca isn’t exactly the answer.

    Re: Hartnell – it’s disingenuous to not mention that he missed significant time in 04 and 07. It’s also worth noting that many power forward types plateau before seriously breaking out. I think Hartnell’s upside is still 30 goals, 30 assists – well worth it. I don’t think it’s worth keeping Umberger over someone like Hartnell either.

  4. The last few years of the Smyth deal may not work out great for the Avalanche, but I think the risk is worth it. I just think Smyth is a solid addition to a team which is bringing in a number of young forwards and when Sakic retires in a year or two Smyth will be there to take over the leadership role.

    O’Neill was a healthy scratch near the end of the season and Peca played less than half the season and only produced 15 points. If Bell and Blake don’t more than offset those two guys I’d be significantly surprised.

    Yes, Hartnell missed some time in those seasons because of injury and that would have boosted his numbers a bit, but I am still not seeing a significant upward trend and I still contend that 50 points is more or less his peak. Plus power forwards and injuries often go hand in hand (as you point out with Smyth) so expecting Hartnell not to get injured is probably not a smart idea.

  5. It’s just that the direction of the Avs confuses me. They’ve got some good young players to be sure but they’re not all that great. If Forsberg shows up they’ll be Cup contenders I suppose (if Forsberg stays healthy).

    Betting on Hartnell not to be injured isn’t that good a bet but he should average 70-75 games a year which is good enough. I certainly could see him scoring more than 50 points in at least one year.

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