Day 1 Sees No Real Winners and No Real Losers

If you take any time at all to read around after day one of NHL free agency in any year, you'll find a variety of opinions on the relative intelligence behind certain signings.

There was a year when free agency's only big ticket items were Briere, Gomez and Drury. The result was 30 teams competing to improve their team on one day and all of these players getting rediculous contracts. There was also a year where Brian Campbell made headlines for the size of his contract since he was the only real valued defenceman on the market (which by the way no matter how many people say they feel sorry for Chicago having to dismantle a winning team thanks to the NHL salary cap, can look directly to Campbell and Huet as the cause). And there were the 10-12 year deals for players who were never going to live up to their hype.

This year (particularly today) wasn't nearly as bad as in the past. There were no crazy numbers of the $60 or $70 million variety nor were there any terms longer than 6 years given away. But, unlike a lot of people who are eager to pick their winners and losers, this writer/blogger doesn't see any clear indication of anyone coming out leaps and bounds better or worse than they went in.

Some will argue the moves Vancouver made turned them into instant contenders. Hamhuis and Malhotra are good pickups no doubt. But let's not forget, while the Canucks have a ton of quality players under contract, they'll be hard pressed to keep the current roster together now.

With six blueliners each making more than $3 million, someone will have to go. At best, Vancouver is ahead thanks to addition by subtraction. Hamhuis and Ballard in with Mitchell, O'Brien and likely Bieksa or Salo out.

I agree with many who say the blueline is improved. The two new defencemen are superior to the ones that might be leaving. But, Vancouver will also have to lose some depth at forward to make room for these new higher salaries.

The Canucks as is sit less than $2 million from the cap ceiling and have only 11 forwards under contract. What does this mean? It means that Jeff Tambellini at $500,000 might be an indication of the type of depth Vancouver will add instead of players like Wellwood and Demitra to round out the team. That's a huge step backwards in my opinion.

On the flip side, the Rangers were seen as likely a loser because all people are talking about is the headscratcher or a contract they gave to Derek Boogaard. I'd call NYR a wash or slightly ahead as they snuck a winner of a deal in at the end of the day when they re-signed Vaclav Prospal ($2 million is a decent number for 50+ points). They also solidified their goaltending by adding a value in Martin Biron for very little money.

In the middle are teams like Tampa, Atlanta, Dallas, Minnesota, Edmonton and Phoenix. All gained but lost. Phoenix for example is close to a wash as they increased the offense, but hurt their defense. They added Ray Whitney which was great, but lost out on Zbynek Michalek. They'll also likely lose Matthew Lombardi and Derek Morris was just a keep.

New Jersey essentially traded Paul Martin for Anton Volchenkov while Pittsburg traded Gonchar for Martin and Michalek. Even though the Penguins have improved their defence overall, they have again hurt their chances to upgrade their wingers over previous seasons. Every year they have enough depth their to contend, but every year they feel they need to improve it, but they don't.

Ottawa looks better until the 2nd or 3rd year of the Gonchar deal when that old fossil's numbers start to decline. The Sens are on the hook (much like the Oil and Khabibulin) no matter what.

All in all, if there were any real legitimate titles to be handed out, it would be on the losers side and a competition between Chicago and Calgary.

The Blackhawks were losers for reasons we're all familiar with by now. But today for some reason it sank in when they traded Andrew Ladd. Chicago was way over the cap and had to move out bodies. The problem is they moved out the wrong bodies because players like Campbell and Huet were not moveable. Without getting any real value back Chicago gave away Versteeg, Byfuglien, Fraser, Ladd, Eager, Sopel and Burrish for next to nothing.

I thought they were making room to bring back players like Ladd. They traded him anyways and I now think Chicago is a much weaker team today than they were yesterday. Not just because of Ladd, but because they lost more than just a couple pieces from this fiasco.

Calgary baffles everyone. It's not so much what they spent today that makes me cringe, it's that they could have done it years ago with these particular players. It reminds of the scene in "The Goods:Live Hard Sell Hard" when Jeremy Piven refers to having not seen a Nigerian buy-back in years (owner sells a car, then the salesman sells it back to said owner at a markup minutes later). It's just weird on so many levels.

That said and unlike most people, I think Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay could outplay their $3 million and $1.7 million dollar respective contracts. For the money, I'd have considered both if I were a GM. The problem is, Calgary had already considered them and sent them unceremoniously packing for total wastes of skin in players like Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins.

With such wonderful exits, why bring them back? Sure, I think Calgary is a better team today than they were yesterday and sure I still think they have some crap contracts; but really, they just look like fools. It is for those reasons only (not the value of the contracts themselves) that I'd consider them losers on the day.

Of course tomorrow is another day and another chance for at least one of thirty teams to show me this trend of no real winners and no real losers can't continue.


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