Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Best and Worst of NHL Free Agency

The Worst

1. Bob Gainey & The Montreal Canadiens - If Gainey's plan was to make his team smaller and easier for his fans to hate while completely ignoring chemistry...well then, mission accomplished. The trade for Scott Gomez and his horrific contract (anytime you can get a 15 goal scorer for $7 million a year you have to do it) kicked things off and it only got worse from there. Brian Gionta got $25 million for a great season that happened to come four years ago. If you throw out that one big year (48G, 41A in '05-06), Gionta has averaged 22 goals and 25 assists since he became a full-time NHLer. Decent numbers, but certainly not worthy of $5 million a year. Mike Cammalleri is three years younger than Gionta and definitely a more legitimate sniper, but he has yet to post back-to-back solid seasons and should be forced to give a third of his $30 million to Jarome Iginla. To top it all off, Gainey signed Jaroslav Spacek, a 35 year-old defenceman who normally misses 15-20 games a year due to injury, to a three year contract for only slighlty less than it would have cost the team to keep Mike Komisarek. I have December 10th 2009 circled as the day Gainey is fired but wouldn't be surprised if it happend before then. Like...say, tomorrow.

2. Mattias Ohlund - This contract (7 years, $26 million) is Chapter 25 in my new book titled "How Oren Koules and Len Barrie destroyed the Tampa Bay Lightning". I understand and applaud the fact that you want to invest in the development of a young stud defenceman (Victor Hedman) you just drafted #2 overall, but do you really need to commit seven years to it? Wouldn't three or four have been enough? Ohlund's goal scoring totals have decreased five straight years as has his overall effectiveness.

3. Jay Bouwmeester - At his introductory press conference yesterday, when asked what made Calgary his choice destination, Bouwmeester answered "Ahhh, well, ahhh, ya, I just talked to a lot of the guys that play here, and ahhhh, ya, just ya, seems like a good place to be". He's a great skater and extremely good defensively in one-on-one situations, but seems to be about as intense as Vernon Wells. And he looks like he should be on 'The Hills'. And he's never played a single minute of playoff hockey, ever. Not in four years of junior and not during his six year NHL career. Not exactly the credentials you look for when it comes to winning.

4. Marian Gaborik - Absolutely one of the most talented players in the league but also one of the most injury-prone. His games played stats over the last five years read like this: 65, 65, 48, 77 and 17. In case you're wondering, it's an 82 game schedule. Handing Gaborik a five-year deal would be like a movie studio inking Lindsay Lohan to a multiple-film contract - totally inexplicable and potentially disastrous. Are we sure Glen Sather was the mastermind of those great Oiler teams in the 80's?

5. Nik Antropov - He didn't quite get the five year $25 million salary he reportedly asked the Rangers for, but the Thrashers came close (four years/$16 million). Another player who routinely spends time on the sidelines nursing injuries and often hurts his team with careless stick penalties. At his best, Antropov is an average second-line center. At his worst, he is Nick the Not-so-Quick who generally floats through games and is certainly not a difference-maker. Fortunately for Antropov, there is no need for a difference-maker in Atlanta, where the team is hopeless.

6. Vernon Wells - True, he doesn't play hockey but his numbers are so terrible (.301 OBP this year, .330 for his career) that I just couldn't resist pointing out how absurd his contract is. Following the 2006 season in which he slugged 32 homers, J.P. Riccardi signed Wells to a seven year extension that kicked in before the 2008 season. It earns him $10 million this year, $21 million next year, $23 million in 2011 and then back to $21 million for each of the final three seasons (thru 2014). In the 337 games Wells has played since signing the extension, he has 43 homers. That's one good month for Albert Pujols.

The Best

1. The Sedins - How Mike Gillis got the Sedin twins to sign for less than half of what they originally wanted (5 years/$30.5 million a piece rather than 12 years/$63 million each) is borderline incredible and he deserves considerable praise. The passing Sedin and the scoring Sedin are two of the most consistent point-producers in the NHL and Vancouver has them locked up at an un-outrageous price. They aren't the guys that will lead them to a Cup because they lack the grit and intangibles to do so, but what they do provide isn't easily replaceable either.

2. Scott Niedermayer - Nothing shocking about Niedermayer returning to Anaheim on a one-year $6 million contract, but it is an excellent signing for the Ducks. The best or second-best (to Nick Lidstrom) defenceman in the game will be only the 11th highest paid player at his position and leaves ample room to re-sign Francois Beauchemin and work out an extension for Bobby Ryan.

3. Craig Anderson - Slowly managers are catching on to the fact that it is idiotic (outside of Brodeur and Luongo) to pay a goalie big-time money. Anderson posted the third best GAA in the league last year when he (at times) wrestled the #1 job away from Tomas Vokoun. His two year $3.6 million contract will prove to be very rewarding for the Avalanche.

4. Mike Knuble - A consistent 25 goal scorer to play on the opposite wing with either Ovechkin or Semin for only $2.8 million a year? Yes, he's 37 years old but the contract is only two years long and Knuble has always been a 'stand-in front of the net and bang home rebounds' type of player, it's not like his game relies on speed. Well done Mr.McPhee.

5. Nobody - Honestly, I tried to talk myself into putting the Marian Hossa contract here, reasoning that the final four years of the twelve year contract he signed with Chicago only pay him a total of $3.4 million. So it's really only an eight year deal with an excellent cap-hit of just $5.2 million a year. But then again, IT'S STILL AN EIGHT YEAR DEAL! I also considered the contracts given to Havlat (too much injury history), Khabibulin (disappearing act), and Komisarek (over-hyped by the Montreal media) but quickly poked holes in each. In my opinion, the majority of free agent contracts handed out yesterday (and last year, and the year before, etc.) are somewhere between stupid and ridiculous and will cause the teams that awarded them more pain than gain.

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