With the Stanley Cup finals and the 2008-2009 season ending several weeks ago, anticipation grew as to where free agents would sign come July 1st. Now that this pivotal date has passed us, we can look back and reflect on the better free agent signings of the last few days that have officially kicked off the offseason. So what, the question begs, were the best free agents signings of the beginning of the offseason?
Iain Fyffe: Mike Cammalleri--Montreal Canadiens (5 Years, $30 Million); Brian Gionta--Montreal Canadiens (5 Years, $25 Million); These signings were pretty bold, given that they will be ridiculed in some corners due to the players' size. Montreal was apparently hunting for a "big" center, as if size itself were the goal, talent be darned. Gainey's singing of the Twin Towers shows he isn't afraid of using small players, realizing that it's a player's talent, ability and drive that matters, not his sweater size. This shouldn't be surprising, given that dimunitive Saku Koivu has been the heart and soul of the team for years. These two scoring wingers could complete a very effective first line with newly-acquired (and sub 6-footer) Scott Gomez.
Cammalleri, who led the Flames with 39 goals last year, is 27, while Gionta is 30. Of Montreal's four big (likely) outgoing free agent forwards (Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Robert Land and Alex Tanguay), only Tanguay is in this age range. Koivu is 34, Kovalev 36, and Lang 38, meaning these deals make the forward unit younger. They provide great talent at a reasonable price, leaving the Habs nearly $10 million in cap space to sign their remaining restricted free agents to fill out the last two lines.
Tom Awad: Dwayne Roloson--New York Islanders (2 Years, $5 Million); For an organization that has acquired a reputation for mismanagement, the New York Islanders pulled off a move I certainly liked yesterday, signing goaltender Dwayne Roloson to a 2-year deal for $5 million. Rolosonís tenures at his last two stops, Minnesota and Edmonton, have both been very successful, and he has been among the NHLís upper tier of netminders for 7 years. Despite being 39, Roloson played in 63 games this year and excelled in most of them, posting a GVT of 16; while not quite Chris Chelios, he shows little sign of slowing down. Goaltender skills tend to wither less with age than forwards, so Roloson should be an excellent backup on Long Island, one so good that he may take on the #1 role if called upon.
Timo Seppa: Mattias Ohlund--Tampa Bay Lightning (7 Years, $26.25 Million); In signing Mattias Ohlund-a veteran of 11 regular season campaigns and 52 playoff games with the Vancouver CanucksĖthe Tampa Bay Lightning received a solid stay-at-home defenseman (6 G, 19 A, 25 P, +14 plus/minus, +0.7 offensive GVT, +4.6 defensive GVT, +5.3 GVT). Though the price tag of $26.25M for 7 years was too high for a player beginning his decline (Ohlundís 0.30 P/GP in 2008-9 were the lowest of his career), the 32 year old Swede will still be a valuable top four defenseman for the next couple of years, helping replenish a defensive core that Tampa has foolishly tossed away of recent.
That said, Mattias Ohlund was the ideal choice for the Lightning. I was on record advocating Ohlund as the best possible mentor for countryman Victor Hedman, number two overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Many see the 18 year old Swede as having Nicklas Lidtstrom-type potential, so bringing in a respected big brother, sharing his language and culture, should maximize Hedmanís development for Tampa Bay.
Ohlund is well aware of his role, stating: ďI do realize that one of the roles I have is to obviously help him get started in the beginning of a successful NHL career and itís something I take a lot of pride in. You share your experiences you had when you were younger and itís a tough league to play in and itís got a lot to learn, but Iím excited to be a small part of getting him started here.Ē
Mattias Ohlund will be a big part of getting Victor Hedman started here.
Richard Pollock: Greg Zanon--Minnesota Wild (3 Years, $5.8 Million); With the market bordering on insanity, the Wild did well to pick up a solid defenseman whose contributions to his team have been underrated around the National Hockey League for some time now. Zanon is a defensive defenseman that provides nice shot-blocking and physical elements to the team's back-end. The stay-at-home defenseman was overshadowed by the likes of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis but that does not mean he does not have what it takes to shoulder more responsibility. In fact, he played against as tough, or close to as tough, competition as the aforementioned three defensemen last season. Moreover, even behind those three big-name defensemen, Zanon still averaged over 20 minutes of ice-time per game (20:50).
Think about it; the Wild were able to sign Greg Zanon (age 29) for $1.9 million per season, whereas the Leafs signed Mike Komisarek (age 27) for $4.5 million per season.
Iíll leave you with both of their respective statistics from last season.
Games Played: 66
Points (Goals/Assists): 2/9= 11
Penalty Minutes: 121
Time on Ice: 20:37
Blocked Shots: 207
Games Played: 82
Points (Goals/Assists): 4/7= 11
Penalty Minutes: 38
Time on Ice: 20:57
Blocked Shots: 237
Gabriel Desjardins: Calgary Flames--Jay Bouwmeester (5 Years, $33 Million); After all the speculation about where Jay Bouwmeester might sign, and which teams could clear enough cap room to make it happen, he ended up signing before he ever actually became an unrestricted free agent. Rumor has it that his girlfriend lives in Calgary, making the Flames an easy choice. Bouwmeester, the youngest of the league's handful of best defensemen, signed a five-year, $33 million contract, which isn't quite the "deal" that Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne gave Colorado or Marian Hossa gave Detroit, but it's a win for Flames management nonetheless. We need only look at Brian Campbell's eight-year, $57 million contract or Marian Hossa's 12-year behemoth to know what Bouwmeester could have asked for. Instead of potentially having a contract until he retires, maybe he just wants to have another shot at free agency again when he's 31? Flames fans will certainly appreciate his defense, his ability to move the puck and his apparent dislike for his home city of Edmonton.
Andrew Rothstein: Colorado Avalanche--Craig Anderson (2 Years, $3.6 Million); As Rob Vollman has pointed out, Craig Anderson is a good fit in Mile High City. The Avalance put out the third worst goaltending tandem in the NHL, with a - 18.8 GVT last year. The Illinois native's + 14.3 goaltending GVT and + 12.9 total GVT will be well received in a city that had become accustomed to Patrick Roy's goaltending, though noone is as good as Roy ever was. Anderson played comparably to Dwayne Roloson, who received a 2 year, $5 million deal and posted a + 15.6 goaltending GVT and + 14.2 total GVT last year, yet only played in roughly half the games Roloson did (27.3 games played to 59.9 games played) to get to those numbers. In fact, 15 of the 30 starting goaltenders in the league last year couldn't match Anderson's production in approximately twice the amount of games started. At age 29, the former Florida Panther is among the youngest netminders on the market, along with Yann Danis and Dany Sabourin, and should have plenty left in the tank, though the difference in performance based on age alone between Anderson and, for example, a goalie like Roloson, age 39, isn't as big as you'd think. The former third round draft pick by the Flames and Blackhawks will give the Avalanche a cap hit of only $1.8 million (average salary over the contract) and posted a .924 save percentage and a .928 even-strength save percentage in 27.3 games played last year.
This article was authored by the staff of Puck Prospectus. You can contact the Puck Prospectus team by clicking here or click here to see the Puck Prospectus team's other articles.