2011 NHL Free Agency Heats Up Post Stanley Cup Finals
After an exciting 2011 Stanley Cup finals series, teams have wasted no time getting involved in the free agent market. This is the time when some teams are blowing up their whole structure, while some are re-tooling and acquiring key pieces that will immediately make them title contenders for the 2011-2012 hockey season. The 2011 NHL free agency period isn’t even a month in, yet there’s already been several big signings. While some of them were smart decisions, there are plenty that don’t make much sense. Just because a team has salary cap space to spend, doesn’t mean it should be poorly spent. With the league operating a under a hard salary cap, signing multiple or even one bad contract can cripple a team’s financial future. Teams like the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes took big gambles on marquee free agents who are in their thirties. This is a risky strategy, but for teams looking for one or two pieces to get them to the next level, signing a veteran player may be a smart move, even if it comes at a high cost.
There are also teams who have been bad for too long, like the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Florida Panthers, who will do whatever they can to give their fans a winning product. However, throwing money at talent for the sake of improving your roster isn’t a good idea in itself. The players you sign have to fit in well with your style of play and vision for the future. The Panthers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning forward, Sean Bergenheim, to a four-year, $11 million contract this summer, hoping he can continue his hot run from the 2011 NHL playoffs into the upcoming season. Bergenheim is surely cashing in on his impressive playoff run, in which he scored 11 points in 16 games, but considering the fact that he is in his thirties, I don’t think this was a good signing for the Panthers. The Panthers are also receiving some criticism over the signing of former Columbus Blue Jackets forward Scottie Upshall. Upshall has never scored more than 34 points in a season, but Panthers general manager Dave Tallon thought giving him a four-year deal worth $14 million was a good idea anyway. If you ask me, the Panthers just dug themselves into a hole that will take years to escape.
The Dallas Stars lost their offensive star, Brad Richards, to free agency this summer when he completed a deal with the New York Rangers, so they had to find some offense to replace him. Unfortunately for the Stars, Michael Ryder is as inconsistent as an NHL player can be. Ryder is a pure scorer and a good skater, but he also goes long stretches without scoring and although he has the potential to be a number one forward, he plays like a fourth liner for weeks at a time. That inconsistency was frustrating Bruins fans, so they got rid of him. Ryder is certainly making the most of his 2011 postseason performance with this signing, but at $3.5 million per season, the Stars overpaid greatly. The Buffalo Sabres have signed Philadelphia Flyers forward, Ville Leino, to a six-year, $27 million contract in hopes that he can be a top six forward right now. Unfortunately, Leino is not a top-six forward, and in only two real NHL seasons, he’s had just one that has been any good. There have also been a few good signings as well though.
The Florida Panthers have been by far, the most active team in the market so far, and they did manage to make a few great moves amongst a few bad ones. The huge additions of smooth skating, under-achieving Brian Campbell and constant point-producing defenseman, Ed Jovanovski, will provide new life for a defensive corps whose leading scoring defenseman only had 26 points last year. The X-factor of this team is former Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore, who after being forgotten in Washington and Minnesota, will have all the opportunities he needs to take over the top spot and show he has one more good run left in the tank. Look for a few more minor moves to go down before it is all said and done. But the bulk of the signings have come and gone.