Thursday, July 3, 2008

2008 NHL Free Agency: 3 Days In... Western Conference

Goodness, gracious, sakes alive there's a lot of money being thrown around out there by some extremely "optimistic" General Managers. Let's think for a second about what exactly they're being optimistic about.

Is it that players will go from decent defensemen who still get scratched in half of their playoff games (see: Fingers, Jeff in Colorado) to brilliant $3.5M/year for four years investments for desperate teams (see: Maple Leafs, Toronto)? Perhaps it's the same GMs assuming that the NHL will suddenly overtake High School Musical in popularity causing the salary cap to continue rising... and making $50+M guaranteed commitments (Brian Campbell in Chicago) make sense. Yikes, probably a bit of both... scary stuff.

Let's take a look for a second at what has transpired starting in the Western Conference. First glance will be fairly superficial in nature and then perhaps we'll revisit things in the future to look at the overall team salary expenditures (probably more specifically to look at the Sharks numbers).

Pacific Division

San Jose Sharks: They wanted Brian Campbell, they got Rob Blake. That's a pretty good way to describe things thus far. The Sharks can't be faulted for not throwing the vault at Campbell like the Blackhawks did, but it would have been nice to see them pick up one of the lesser, but still valuable free agent defensemen. That said, given the money that people like the aforementioned Jeff Fingers got (basically the same as the much more proven Craig Rivet was given a year ago by the Sharks), maybe it's good they stayed out of the fray. Adding Blake means that they're probably looking at a D rotation with the following skaters: Blake, Rivet, Christian Ehrhoff, Matt Carle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kyle McLaren & Douglas Murray. Not too bad, but would be nice to see an upgrade in McLaren's roster spot.
Offseason Grade - Incomplete/C

Anaheim Ducks: Not much doing... they resigned Corey Perry, but their big news was team captain Scott Niedermayer decided to come back for a full season. This will certainly help the Ducks, but a lot of uncertainty has come up with their owner currently barred from doing anything with the team due to SEC allegations of wrongdoing.
Offseason Grade - uhhh... C?

Dallas Stars: Their biggest offseason move was actually a trade deadline move last year when they brought in Brad Richards and the several remaining years on his contract. This was a transaction that paid off in the playoffs and should continue to do so in the future. Additionally, Dallas went out and signed free agent Sean Avery. Yep... Sean freakin' Avery. I'm not really sure how much Avery will add to Dallas, but imagine he'll be a headache on the team and cost them $16M over 4 years to boot.
Offseason Grade - B counting Richards/D with Richards a no-count

Phoenix Coyotes: Good amount of activity. Their big splash was the trade of solid young defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton for Florida Panther offensive standout Olli Jokinen. This will both greatly improve the offense (leaving holes on D, though) and add some much needed buzz to the team. However, the 'Yotes are still building and will likely only be challenging for one of the final playoff spots in the extremely competitive Western Conference.
OffSeason Grade - B-

LA Kings: Building for the future... through both the draft and trades, they're assembling quite a few solid young pieces. Question will be who the heck will lead this team, both behind the bench and in terms of any veteran leadership?
Offseason Grade - B

Central Division

Detroit Red Wings: One sentence comes to mind... the rich get richer. The Wings come off a "clearly the best team" Stanley Cup season and then add the best free agent forward in Marian Hossa. Augmenting this, they brought back trade-deadline pickup Brad Stuart and brought solid backup goalie Ty Conklin into the fold. Oh yeah... let's also make note of the fact that they got Stuart at a good value compared to some of the other D contracts handed out and kept things sane with Hossa in that it's only a one-year deal, and they'll need that money in the future to sign the even more valuable Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Offseason Grade - A+

Chicago Blackhawks: Yowzers! They started free agency with some exciting young players in Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith and have since added on Campbell and Cristobal Huet. Excellent players all, but it will be interesting to see how their financial picture looks going forward. Reason being is Duncan and the Patricks are going to have to get paid eventually and when those contracts do come up for discussion, the Hawks might not have enough left under the cap if it doesn't keep rising. Well, congratulations... you guys got Brian Campbell, now let's see if you're happy to have him for the life of the deal (and I bet you had to include a no-trade clause).
Offseason Grade: B+... for now

Columbus Blue Jackets: Who cares? Well, I'm sure people in Columbus do, but I just don't expect much of interest to come from this team anytime soon.
Offseason Grade - Irrelevant

Nashville Predators / St Louis Blues: Uhhh... see Blue Jackets comments above.

Northwest Division

Edmonton Oilers: New owner, new money... some new things goin' down. The Oilers have been extremely active in the trade market and have brought in some talent in Lubomir Visnovsky and Erik Cole.
Offseason Grade - B

Colorado Avalanche: Lost their #1 goalie in Jose Theodore and added... Darcy Tucker. Oh yeah, Joe Sakic "may" come back and Peter Forsberg... well, no idea what he'll do. Basically not sure what's going on with this team.
Offseason Grade - D-

Calgary Flames: Not much happening. They didn't have a tremendous amount of talent last season and have now basically swapped out Alex Tanguay for Michael Cammalleri. Zippidee-do dah!
Offseason Grade - D

Minnesota Wild / Vancouver Canucks: Both in danger of slipping off the map for a while. Strange division this Northwest.

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