Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Recapping the Madness: Free Agency Day 1

As always, Day 1 of the NHL free agent season was a dandy. Lots of signings, a few trades, plenty of surprises, great moves and head-scratchers alike. Just about every big-name UFA came to new contracts on Wednesday with only a couple still to be confirmed. Let's take a look at some of them:

* The biggest, most shocking move for the day came when Marian Hossa agreed to a whopping 12-year, $62.5MM deal with Chicago. There were plenty of teams in on Hossa, but the opportunity to sign with the young Blackhawks was something the dynamic Slovak did not feel he could pass up. His time with Detroit came to an end Tuesday when he rejected a 10-year pact with the Red Wings with an annual cap hit of around $4MM.

It's a little puzzling that Hossa wound up taking a little over $1 million more per year, however this deal with Chicago is heavily front-loaded in terms of actual money and we don't know how the Red Wings' offer was structured. But like I wrote before, it's hard to blame Hossa for taking more money since he left a fortune on the table last summer. And it's not like the Red Wings are crippled because of this. They still have some guys named Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Franzen, plus they can keep Jiri Hudler and allow their young talent to shine as a result.

As for the Hawks, this deal makes sense for '09-'10 but beyond that it's pretty iffy. Wunderkinds Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and D-man Duncan Keith will be due for big raises, and they still have needs to address for this coming season. They are headed straight for salary cap hell this time next year. The Hossa deal also leaves Chicago with a goaltending tandem of Cristobal Huet and Corey Crawford because Nikolai Khabibulin fled for Edmonton on a four-year, $15 million deal on Wednesday. Not exactly stellar. They are putting their eggs in next year's basket, and time will tell if it pays off.

I was temporarily juiced by a Boston Globe report that Hossa's agent had been in contact with the Bruins this afternoon. Boston was in the mix for Hossa last summer before going to Detroit. It would have been a tight fit under the cap, and Phil Kessel's days in Boston would have been done, but man, would I have loved to see it. Of course, I also don't want my team to be cursed, so maybe it's not so bad that he's going to be in Chicago for the rest of his career.

Hossa wasn't the only ex-Wing the Blackhawks felt the need to pluck off the market. In one of the day's more comical moves, Chicago also signed Hossa's countryman Tomas Kopecky, a fourth-line winger Detroit had no interest in keeping. It reminded me of the Yankees' paranoia of scooping up as many ex-Red Sox as seemingly possible each winter, like when they signed Mike Myers, Mark Bellhorn and Alan Embree after already getting Johnny Damon. I wonder when the offer for Mikael Samuelsson is coming.

* The Sedin twins came to their senses and accepted identical five-year, $30.5MM contracts to stay in Vancouver. GM Mike Gillis made the ultimate gesture, flying out to Sweden to persuade the Sedins to accept the long-standing offer. The Canucks' desire to keep their commitment to the Sedins much shorter than the 12 years they were seeking speaks volumes about how some in the NHL view these long-term contracts. In this case it may have been due to the Sedins' limited bargaining power because of their nature as a packaged deal. But while a longer deal would have meant a smaller annual cap hit than $12.2MM, such a long contract is a huge risk for two guys whose successes are so closely tied to each other.

Let's say theoretically that Daniel Sedin blows out his knee during the '11-'12 campaign, has to miss significant time and is never the same player. Now, if he were signed to a 12-year deal, that'd be bad enough. But you have a player in Henrik Sedin who relies on his brother for production and will be just as emasculated offensively. Instead of one lousy deal long-term deal, you have two. It was too much of a risk, and I'm glad the Canucks didn't cave.

* Marian Gaborik, the oft-injured, soft-groined, brittle-hipped, scores-at-will-when-he's-actually-on-the-ice winger who'd played his entire career with Minnesota, took big bucks from the New York Rangers on a massive five-year, $37.5MM contract that will pay him $7.5MM a season. Initial reaction: Really?

GM Glen Sather did a wonderful job getting Scott Gomez and his awful contract out of town on Tuesday, and then he signs one of the most maddening players in the league to a contract with a nearly identical cap hit. I just don't understand how a guy who played in all of 17 games last year gets this kind of contract. That might sound like I'm contradicting myself from what I said about him in my UFA previews, but I didn't expect Gaborik to actually get a raise. But then I remember: How could we put this past the Rangers? Over the last decade they've made signing aging or injury-prone players an art form. Because of my feelings about the franchise, I hope this one blows up in their face just like Eric Lindros.

* So who do the Wild replace Gaborik with? Why, Martin Havlat, of course! There must be something about Minnesota that attracts fragile dynamic scorers. Even the new GM and head coach are getting into the act.

It seemed all along like Havlat would stay in Chicago, and I constantly heard about him being limited to a one or two-year deal with the Blackhawks. Wonder if we'll find out soon why the Hawks changed gears and elected to give Hossa a massive contract while leaving Havlat in the dust. Either way, late Wednesday Havlat came to a six-year, $30MM agreement with the Wild. At the same time, reports are surfacing that Minnesota is attempting to bring Saku Koivu into the fold to play with his brother, Mikko.

I've got plenty on Saku's former team, the Canadiens, coming up soon. It's going to be fucking beautiful.

* My favorite signing of the day came when the Washington Capitals signed one of my all-time favorite players, Mike Knuble, to a two-year contract paying him $2.8MM per season. Knuble, who played on many excellent Bruins' teams while I was growing up, is one of the few "sure-things" in the NHL. You're going to get 25+ goals, a gritty winger who isn't afraid to mix it up in the corners, and a guy everyone in the dressing room will love and know they can rely on. Getting to play with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin will do wonders and probably up his assist total as well. Not only that, but they poached him away from the Flyers, and their answer was signing bruiser Ian Laperriere for three years. Not so good.

* Some quick hits before I get to the Bruins' quiet day and my Habs finale...After selecting future All-Star Viktor Hedman second overall in last weekend's draft, the Lightning shored up their defense significantly by signing fellow Swede Mattais Ohlund and veteran Blackhawk Matt Walker. Maybe they won't suck back there so much as a result...I was sad to see Mike Komisarik and his overall douche-ness leave the Canadiens, but at least he stayed in the division by joining Brian Burke's Leafs. Yeah, he'll still get the shit kicked out of him by Milan Lucic just as much, but it just won't be the same...Some of the goalie moves, besides 'Bulin to Edmonton as I mentioned, includes: Craig Anderson took a deal to split time with Peter Budaj in Colorado, with Scott Clemmensen replacing him in Florida; my UNH man Ty Conklin got a nice $2.6MM payday to provide insurance behind Chris Mason in St. Louis; Dwayne Roloson wanted two years, but the Oilers said no, and he went to the Islanders on a two-year deal. Man, that Rick DiPietro contract just looks better and better everyday...Donald Brashear signed with the Rangers, giving an already hateable team so much more hateability.

As for the B's, their limited cap space led to a day of limited action. Two checking line moves were made, as RFA Byron Bitz was signed to a multi-year extension and UFA center Peter Begin was signed for $850K to supplant Stephane Yelle. Begin, a former Hab who broke a bone in Marc Savard's back after a vicious '08 crosscheck, is an agitator and I feel the B's need more of that.

It sounds like the Kessel-for-Kaberle stuff is dead after the Leafs traded Pavel Kubina and signed Komi-suckass. But if the right deal comes along and a team is willing to trade a puck-moving defensemen, I'm sure the B's will listen. Otherwise, they need to look into signing Matt Hunwick and figuring out how to get rid of Marco Sturm without actually dumping his corpse into the Charles River.

I've saved the best for last. Here is my take on the day in the life of the Montreal Canadiens and their star-crossed general manager Bob Gainey:

What a big, gigantic mountain of FAIL. Note to everyone: if you have $35MM in cap space, never, ever, EVER let someone named "Bob Gainey" control it.

As I mentioned Tuesday night, the Canadiens took on the Rangers' salary dump of Gomez and gave up promising defensemen Ryan McDonagh in the process. Definitely a bone-headed move, since this isn't 2002 and Gomez pretty much sucks now. OK, they still had more than $25MM to spend going into actual free agency. They were in on the Sedins, Gaborik, Hossa, Havalt, not to mention their own guys like Komi-ballsack, Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Alex Kovalev amongst others. They got a mulligan on Gomez. As long as they started putting the right guys around him, they'd be fine...right?

Wrong. No. Bad. FAIL.

The Sedins stayed in Vancouver. I think the Bruins were talking to Hossa just to get in Gainey's head, and maybe it worked. It didn't matter anyway, because Hossa signed with Chicago. Ohlund went to Tampa, and talks with Komi-shithead broke down. Then Gainey unleashed his first salvo of the day by signing washed-up D-man Jaroslav Spacek (who is 35 and was never that great to begin with) to a three-year deal worth $11.5MM. Awesome.

But that wasn't it. A couple hours later, I was given an early Christmas present. Gainey pleased me to no end by signing Hal Gill away from the Penguins for two years and $4.5MM.

Hal Gill. On the Canadiens. The same Hal Gill who never did anything for the Bruins and whose immobility earned him the nickname "The Tree" during my SCF live-Twitter outings.

Hal. Gill. On. The. Habs.

How can I ever say the words "Canadiens defensemen Hal Gill" without breaking into uncontrollable laughter? Can it be possible that I get to make jokes at the Tree's expense even more this year? Is it true that I'm going to get the chance to see Gill fall over and crack the Bell Centre ice when Zdeno Chara takes a figurative chainsaw to his trunk?

Thank you, Bob Gainey. Your incompetence is finding new ways to make me giddy.

In fairness, Gainey did make one solid move today, but even that's up for some question. He inked Michael Cammalleri to a five-year, $30MM deal and he's now the only obvious scorer on the Canadiens' roster. It remains to be seen if Cammalleri can produce at his '08-'09 level without Jarome Iginla at his side. If he has to play with Gomez, I'm not liking his chances, and $6MM a year might not look so good. Still, he's a young scorer with some upside.

But Gainey had to even that out by doing something dumb. It's not that Brian Gionta, a career Devil, is a bad player. He's just not great, and not worth a five-year, $25MM contract. In '05-'06, Gionta scored 48 goals with 89 points in a year that has since proved to be a total fluke. He's 5', 7" and isn't likely to get better or taller anytime soon. Is reuniting him Gomez going to make him better?

No. Wrong. Bad. FAIL.

Now Gainey has around $10MM to spend, with his captain (Koivu) probably headed to Minnesota and his best player from last year (Kovalev) likely off to Los Angeles. He has four RFA forwards to deal with and probably needs another D-man for depth. I can't see how anyone can look at what he did on Wednesday and say he did well, considering the cavalcade of dough he was sitting on.

I can only draw one conclusion: Bob Gainey wants to get fired. How he didn't get fired after the debacle of the centennial season is anyone's guess. Whomever takes over as his successor is probably going to hate their life because of the moves Gainey has made this week.

The Canadiens are going to suck again, and for a long time. Thank you, Bob Gainey, for making my experience as a Bruins fan so much sweeter because of your incredible degree of suckitude.

See you tomorrow.

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