This year's free agent class is probably one of the weakest ones in recent memory but that hasn't stopped teams from throwing their money around. The majority of the signings have been great but others not so much (I'm looking at you, Darryl Sutter). Last year I made a note that Craig Anderson was a great signing by the Avs, although I have to say I didn't see such MVP calibre performances coming from him. He was dirt cheap and more than capable - you can't get any better than that. As usual the first day featured a flurry of signings but after a week the signings are now slowly rolling in. The big fish that remains is Ilya Kovalchuk who has reportedly agreed to a 7 year, $60 million deal with the Devils. He is the one remaining domino that has to fall to set off another chain reaction of events. Expect another flurry of moves as Lou Lamoriello attempts to clear cap space but until then, let's break down what have been great and not so great signings.
Buffalo - Jordan Leopold, 3 years, $3 million
I've never quite understood teams' fascination with Leopold. A former standout at the University of Minnesota, injuries have really derailed his career after posting 33 points in 2004. Since then, Leopold has either been injured or a healthy scratch and made little impact with the Pens this year. $3 million is a lot to pay a guy who you might get 60 games from. The Buffalo blueline lacks sandpaper already and Leopold doesn't particularly help in that regard. Losing Lydman and Tallinder will really hurt the Sabres this year even if Tyler Myers does manage to build on his rookie campaign.
Calgary - Olli Jokinen, 2 years, $3 million and Alex Tanguay, 1 year, $1.7 million
Perhaps the most bizarre signings of the day. The argument against these two players is that it's been proven that Jokinen is clearly not the complimentary centre for Iginla while Tanguay's two-year stint in the red and yellow was riddled with more lows than highs despite putting up good numbers. The only part that works in the Flames' favour is that both contracts are short and for relatively little money. For two guys who can put up 70-80 points a season a $4.7 million investment per year is an absolute bargain. However, these moves reek of desperation. It tells us that there's nobody in the Calgary pipeline ready to make significant contributions and that the highly touted Mikael Backlund is not quite ready for full-time duty yet with Jokinen, Stajan, and Langkow down the middle.
Colorado - Kyle Quincey, 2 years, $3.125 million
The challenge for the Avs going into the future isn't icing a competitive team - with Joe Sacco behind the bench and Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene leading the offense the real challenge is keeping them together. The first step to that is signing their best defenseman last year, and that's Quincey. The Wings may be kicking themselves with this one for years to come (he was waived after failing to make the team) and Quincey was the key piece in the Ryan Smyth deal that sent Captain Canada to Hollywood. Not only did Quincey make significant contributions at both ends of the ice, I thought he really took some pressure off John-Michael Liles, whose -2 rating was 17 points better than what he posted the year before.
Edmonton - Alexandre Giroux, 1 year, $500 000
Much like the recently signed Jeff Tambellini, Giroux has always excelled at the AHL level but never managed to translate his success to the NHL. With Washington's deep offense Giroux has had trouble cracking the lineup but he will definitely get his opportunity here. Giroux has put up 200 points in just 138 games in the AHL the past two years but just 5 in 21 NHL games. On a one-way contract Giroux will be motivated and will have a chance to star alongside Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall on the Oilers' offense.
<img src="http://www2.pictures.gi.zimbio.com/Phoenix+Coyotes+v+Boston+Bruins+VB3csng__aGl.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Nashville - Matt Lombardi, 3 years, $3.5 million
Despite seemingly found his niche in Phoenix after posting career highs in assists (34) and points (53), Don Maloney elected to let him walk and what a pick up by the Predators. The underachieving Lombardi will flourish under Barry Trotz, who has always found a way to make something out of nothing (we will have to see what he can do with Sergei Kostitsyn, however). Lombardi's speed will really compliment a blue-collar team like the Preds. Perhaps Lombardi will flourish once again in a non-hockey market as their number one center ahead of Legwand and the emerging Colin Wilson.
New Jersey - Henrik Tallinder, 4 years, $3.375 million and Anton Volchenkov, 6 years, $4.25 million
The Devils certainly got better defensively, which is a must now that Martin Brodeur is no longer one of the league's best. After losing Paul Martin to the Pens, Lamoriello shored up his blueline with two capable defenders including Volchenkov, one of this summer's most coveted. Neither comes with a hefty price tag and with Colin White the Devils defense seems impenetrable. It's a shame though that this defense will have trouble moving the puck up the ice to Zajac, Parise, and possibly Kovalchuk.
Ottawa - Sergei Gonchar, 3 years, $5.5 million
Reportedly talks between Gonchar and the Pens broke down because Ray Shero was not willing to commit three years to the 36-year old rearguard. Because Gonchar is over the 35 age limit, all three years will count against the Sens' cap whether he plays it out or not. There's obviously a risk to that because $5.5 million is a big chunk of the cap, but it seems as though Bryan Murray is willing to wait just a little while longer for Brian Lee, the surprising ninth overall pick in 2005 (one ahead of the late Luc Bourdon) who has yet to make a significant impact at the NHL level, to develop. Gonchar provides a big boost to the Sens' 21st ranked powerplay and will be a worthy mentor to emerging star Erik Karlsson. The real downside to this is that Murray now has 3 players over the age of 35 under contract that he will have to fulfill to the end - Gonchar, Alfredsson, and Kovalev - for a combined total of $15.375 million. A good signing, nonetheless.
Pittsburgh - Zbynek Michalek, 5 years, $4 million and Paul Martin, 5 years, $5 million
Being able to come to terms with one of the league's best shot blockers and most underrated puck movers is certainly quite the catch for the Pens and more than offsets the loss of Gonchar. While the search for scoring wingers continue, Shero has solidified the back end and with Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik the Pens may now boast one of the best top four in the East.
<img src="http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/91385903.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921CC759DF4EBAC47D0818BF4C11B4AFFF0BA841DF76159BCC24592D19F824F1964E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Tampa Bay - Martin St. Louis, 4 years, $5.625 million, Pavel Kubina, 2 years, $3.85 million, and Brett Clark, 2 years, $1.5 million
Somehow, between drafting Brett Connolly and signing Pavel Kubina, St. Louis' four-year extension has been overlooked. The Bolts will be on the hook for all four years but it was an astute signing because asides from Steven Stamkos, St. Louis is Tampa's most valuable player. Stamkos, after all, does need someone to play with. Interesting to me that St. Louis signed a four-year pact, giving him ample opportunities to make another case for the Canadian squad in 2014 after being snubbed this year. No doubt Steve Yzerman will be playing a big role in putting that team together. When asked about Brett Clark, most people would probably say, "Brett who?" It's hard to pinpoint exactly what Clark excels at but watch closely next time and you'll notice that he's one of the best positional defenseman out there. At that price Clark may be one of the best signings this summer.
<img src="http://www.kuklaskorner.com/images/uploads/hammer.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Vancouver - Dan Hamhuis, 6 years, $4.5 million and Manny Malhotra, 3 years, $2.5 million
The Canucks have never quite been big players on July 1 but I think it was a foregone conclusion that the BC native would return home. At $4.5 million, Hamhuis comes relatively cheap and while he doesn't excel at any particular aspect of the game, he will remind Canuck fans of another solid all-round defenseman who also wore #2. Overshadowed in Nashville by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Hamhuis will have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. Don't be surprised if he sets career highs in assists and points with more quality ice-time, specifically on the powerplay. If there's anything I've ever noticed about Malhotra, it's that he's wicked fast. While the price may be a bit cheap for a guy who averages only around 30 points a season, Malhotra's a great third-line centre who will provide some needed footspeed into the Canucks lineup and pressure the opposing defense into making mistakes.