July 1st was a huge day in the NHL as free agency began. Teams spent over a half-billion dollars on players. Here are the big winners and losers on that front, along with some trade news as well.
St. Louis: The Blues signed the best forward on the market in Paul Statsny, who might be the final piece to their puzzle. He gives them even more offense and he has familiarity with the players from the United States national team, like David Backes and T.J. Oshie. He also lives in St. Louis, so that could be an extra boost. An under-the-radar signing of Carl Gunnarson (from Toronto) was shrewd. He could be a steady partner for Kevin Shattenkirk.
Washington: This is tentatively going in the winners’ category, but it could easily blow up and become a loser. They have needed defensive help for a long time now and the signings of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik could help out a lot if they play to the level we are used to. However, spending $67 M on those two guys based on past performance could come back to haunt them if they don’t maintain that level. The good news is that these signings hurt the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, who are now looking for defensive cover.
Vancouver: The Canucks are supposed to be rebuilding and they shipped Ryan Kesler out of town to the Anaheim Ducks to help the process along. However, signing Ryan Miller gives them a No. 1 goalie and he can teach Eddie Lack a thing or two. The signing of Radim Vrbata is also solid as he has quietly been one of the more effective forwards in the NHL for a while now.
Detroit: The Red Wings were sorely lacking on the blue line last year and couldn’t get anyone to come to “Hockeytown”. Niskanen, Dan Boyle, Christian Erhoff…all of these players decided to go elsewhere and not sign with the Red Wings. They needed defensive help in the worst way and Kyle Quincey isn’t the answer.
Pittsburgh: The Penguins got Erhoff to make up for the losses of Niskanen and Orpik and they got him at a good deal, but Erhoff isn’t going to set the world on fire or anything. They also lost Jussi Jokinen and traded away James Neal without returning any real replacements. Combined with the changes at general manager and head coach, this could be a transitional year for Pittsburgh.
Carolina: Their big signings were Jay McClement and Tim Gleason, and they lost Justin Peters and Manny Malhotra. This team simply didn’t do enough to help themselves. It’s likely to be another middling season in Carolina.
Ryan Kesler To Anaheim Ducks: The Canucks are in rebuilding mode, so they shipped off one of their best assets, Kesler, to Anaheim for Lucas Sbisa, Nick Bonino and a first-round pick. The Ducks need more scoring depth and Kesler will help. He could have a pretty good season if he’s suited on the top line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. However, he’s not a player that will get this team over the hump unless their playoff goaltending also improves.
Jason Spezza to Dallas Stars: The Stars made a couple of moves to add veterans by acquiring Jason Spezza from Ottawa and Ales Hemsky from Edmonton. That should immediately give the Stars a big boost. Paired with the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, Dallas could have one of the best top lines in the NHL. This move should move them from being a fringe playoff team to the six-to-eight range in the West.
James Neal to Nashville Predators: The Pens shipped off former 40-goal scorer James Neal to Nashville in a somewhat surprising move. Neal had 61 points in 59 games last season but was a no-show in the playoffs with just four points in 13 games. In return, the Pens feel that they are getting a similar offensive weapon in Patric Hornqvist, who had 53 points in 76 games. The hope is that playing him with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin boosts his numbers but until we see it, this will be considered a money-saving, downsizing move by the Pens.
Scott Hartnell to Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets sent R.J. Umberger back to Philadelphia for Hartnell. Umberger was a disappointing offensive weapon since the Flyers acquired him from Philadelphia in 2008 and the hope is that Hartnell provides more of an offensive presence. Hartnell has scored at least 20 goals in five of his last seven seasons.