Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Off Season Dolldrums: Episode 2 - Free Agency

Today, we bring you a special guest appearance from Tony "Cappucino" Morash, he of Hingham High School fame.

July 5, 2009

The free agency period began on Wednesday afternoon with a bang for many teams, but the Boston Bruins were not among them. As of July 4, the Bruins had resigned Byron Bitz, Johnny Boychuk and Mark Recchi, and added a prior-Julien product in Steve Begin. Recchi is back for one last shot at the Cup, and as a veteran who knows what it takes to win it, Bruins fans can be buoyed by his choice to stay.

The Bitz signing gets a bit more complicated. While I don’t mind the choice—particularly because Bitz played very well in his final playoff games—I wonder if Peter Chiarelli thinks Bitz might be a more attractive trade piece now that he has been signed. The Bruins management has not been shy about the desire to add a strong, gifted defenseman to the mix (see Tomas Kaberle). Johnny Boychuk stands to be good, but on a one-year contract, the Bruins clearly aren’t sold on his long-term potential. Thus, a signed, sealed and delivered Bitz, as opposed to the rights to Bitz as a free agent, may be more likely to grease the wheels of a potential trade. Then again, it’s possible he is part of the Bruins long-term plans. Food for thought.

On to the puzzler. There is no doubt the Bruins were after some prized free agents in the early going, and also no doubt that the lack of cap space has hindered these efforts. Steve Begin was apparently the compromise. Begin played for Julien in Montreal, and made some very speculative comparisons of himself to Michael Ryder as a man who simply got a chance to play—and thus played better—under Coach Claude. The comparisons simply end there. Begin has never scored more than eleven goals in a professional season and, in ten NHL season, averages no fewer than 41 games per year. More importantly, Begin did not record a point nor a penalty minute in five playoff games this past season with Dallas, averaging about ten minutes of ice per game. His role is admittedly different than that of Ryder, but we should not hold our breath for the renaissance of Steve Begin.

Perhaps the Bruins management has seen the (*ahem*) sniper potential of Shawn Thornton and need a banger to replace him. Perhaps there won’t be an effort to re-sign a personal favorite in Stephane Yelle. Either way, it’s a bizarre fit for the Bruins. Begin will undoubtedly play the system well. But until he can stay healthy, put up consistent numbers, and help a club in the playoffs, I am decidedly skeptical.

Now on to the rest of the League, with the Winners and Losers of the first few weeks of the offseason:


Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks added a huge piece in snatching Marian Hossa away from the Red Wings. Granted, Hossa has become a perennial Finals loser, but his combination of skill and experience is an enormous upgrade to each player on the roster. So too will the veteran experience of acquired free agent John Madden help this young Blackhawks squad. The only negatives to be seen were in letting Sami Pahlsson slip away, and relinquishing Nikolai Khabibulin’s massive contract. While this freed up necessary cap space for Hossa’s contract, Cristobal Huet will have a firm load of a true Stanley Cup contender on his shoulders.

New York Islanders. No, the Islanders are not fit for the Cup Finals yet, and maybe not even the playoffs, but this team significantly upgraded over the last two weeks. The selections of John Tavares and Calvin de Haan with the number one and eleven picks in the draft give the team two excellent potential stars, one of whom (Tavares) could be ready for NHL action by training camp. Also, seemingly sick of the oft-plagued Rick DiPietro, GM Garth Snow opted to sign solid backstop Dwayne Roloson away from the Oilers. Roloson may simply be an insurance policy, but remember how well the tandem of Roloson and Manny Fernandez served in Minnesota, when both got plenty of rest and stayed healthy throughout the season. There is nothing more DiPietro needs at this point in his career.


New York Rangers. But they signed Marian Gaborik, you say. And yes, this is true, and it was a tremendous coup at that. However, the Rangers are this year’s true loser because they have shown yet again that they simply do not have a game plan. This is a team that was downed in the playoffs by a lack of consistent goaltending and an enormous hole in the defensive core. The solution? Signing Gaborik and talented Avs forward Tyler Arnason, and trading for Kings prospect and Boston local Brian Boyle, who spent almost all of last season at forward for the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. While plugging a hole left by the departure of woeful Nik Antropov, the Rangers have done nothing to address their needs as a contender, even swapping Scott Gomez for a left wing in Chris Higgins. The Rangers emerge from these past few weeks in no greater position than they were after game seven with the Capitals a few months ago. Inexcusable for a team with such potential.

Toss-up: Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens were the busiest of teams on Day 1 of free agency, locking up several key players in Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Jaroslav Spacek, and dealing for Scott Gomez. While significantly upgrading at forward, the defensive corps is now anchored by Andrei Markov, Spacek and…Hal Gill. Every Bruins fan would surely find this funny, were not the largest woman on skates getting a day with Lord Stanley’s Cup this summer. Quite frankly, however, as long as Cary Price and Jaroslav Halak between them cannot figure out how to consistently keep pucks out of the net, the Habs remain a true enigma.

Final thoughts: Poor Jordan Leopold. He is a tremendous (though injury-plagued) young defenseman who is sought after by so many clubs that he is usually the centerpiece of a deal going the opposite way of a superstar. A very talented defenseman, he has signed with Florida as part of the Jay Bouwmeester trade.

Woe is Scott Clemmensen. He too will find his way to Miami to don the Panthers colors, his reward for virtually assuring the Devils a high seed in last years playoffs, only to be summarily seen off to the minors upon the return of Martin Brodeur. He is likely to start the season behind Tomas Vokoun, though he could very well play himself into a starting role.

Dany Heatley seems stuck in Ottawa for now. He’s tried to play games with GM Bryan Murray and Murray won’t have it. After declining to waive his no-trade clause on a deal that would have sent him to Edmonton, Heatley waited until a $4million bonus kicked in earlier this week. Murray subsequently said that he would make no deal since he would be paying the bonus, and Heatley seems stuck. Negotiations are apparently still ongoing, but surely the new package will have to include compensation for the $4million the knuckle-headed Heatley is owed by the Senators.

Steve Sullivan is true to the Nashville Gold and Blue. The veteran predator has signed a multi-year deal to stay on with the franchise, despite an almost-certain depth of interest for his services elsewhere around the league.

Finally, the Coyotes seem exceptionally concerned with their goaltending situation, indicating they feel the need to rebuild from the net out. With Ilya Bryzgalov still showing flashes of brilliance, but with no great consistency, the Coyotes pursued former Flyer Robert Esche. Esche declined the offer to remain in Russia, an indication of the true chaos in which the Coyotes find themselves. The backup replacement target was Jason LaBarbera, who signed this past week and, while starting the season with a bang, failed to show the fans in Los Angeles and Vancouver what all the hype was about. The entire showing did, indeed, show us the true state of the franchise. Are you ready for this, Hamilton?


  1. Sens are going to have to move Heater, now that they've committed $10mil/2yrs to Kovalev. Too bad, since Heatley's a spectacular player, but his inexcusable course of action over the past couple months has made him persona-non-grata in Canada's capital.

  2. Very true. Also occurring after the post - the firing of Chicago GM Dale Tallon. Clearly the management doesn't agree with my assessment of the squad!