LONDON - Crazy weekend, huh?
The perfect place to view NHL free agency may be from this British capital in the middle of a heat wave in the final week of the World Cup and as Wimbledon heads to a climax.
Gives you a little perspective, you know what I mean?
Still, it was impossible to avoid the signing frenzy that hit the NHL on the weekend. It was mostly about numbers of players and teams - 18 clubs signed an unrestricted free agent on Saturday - as opposed to gigantic numbers.
Zdeno Chara hit the motherload, but after that it was most teams signing players in the $2 million to $5 million range. Even the Rangers didn't blow their brains out chasing Chara or Patrick Elias, and good for them.
It was interesting that at a time when offence is back in vogue, NHL teams seemed keen mostly on chasing defencemen.
Here's some early winners and losers:
- The Minnesota Wild. After never spending more than $25 million on payroll, the Wild have gone, well, wild, over the past two weeks and may be looking at a payroll in the neighborhood of $38 million or higher.
The team was starting to hear local grumbles about being cheap, and then there was the need to convince winger Marian Gaborik there was a reason to stay.
So, GM Doug Risebrough went out and picked up one of Gaborik's closest Slovak pals, Pavol Demitra, at the draft. Then, on Saturday, Risebrough signed defenceman Kim Johnsson, winger Mark Parrish and rearguard Keith Carney.
Now, the Wild GM is hoping to get a deal done with Gaborik before he files for arbitration on Wednesday. A five-year, $26 mllion deal is apparently being tossed around, and Elias' seven-year, $42 million contract has probably set the market.
- The Devils did well in retaining Elias, particularly at a price that it could be argued was slightly less than what he might have been able to get elsewhere. With goalie Martin Brodeur in at a very affordable $5.2 million, the Devils may not be as bad off as earlier thought despite having the $7 million worth of combined salaries for Alexander Mogilny and Vladimir Malakhov count against their cap next season.
Jamie Langenbrunner is also back, Colin White is soon to be signed and the team that finished the regular season with 11 straight wins may be able to pick up from where they left off in October.
- Gotta love the summer Vancouver GM Dave Nonis is having. He got rid of the Todd Bertuzzi nightmare, added goalie Roberto Luongo and then signed him, and then signed free agent defenceman Willie Mitchell, the kind of solid player the Canucks need.
Not sure about Alain Vigneault, however.
- Ottawa will struggle to replace Chara. But in adding a solid veteran goalie, Martin Gerber, and a right-handed shooting defenceman, Joe Corvo, to replace the departed Brian Pothier, the Sens quietly improved themselves in two areas. Getting Wade Redden signed before the free agency season opened was smart work by GM John Muckler.
- Maybe it's just hockey math, but the Leafs got Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill for the same combined salary the Bruins spent on Chara. Two-for-one may well be a much better deal.
Moroever, while you may not love each individual member of the Leaf defence corps, GM John Ferguson has assembled a four-pack for an annual cost of $17 million that is signed and delivered for at least the next three seasons.
The smart thing for JFJ now has to be to sit and wait and see if a scoring winger becomes available at a decent price. The Gary Roberts option is still there, but after clearing out some vets and making it possible for a brand new dressing room atmosphere next fall, bringing back Roberts, a huge internal presence, might counteract what has been accomplished.
Roberts was a great player and deserves everyone's respect for his comeback. But the Leafs would be better to go with kids if they can't find another free agent scorer, then add a player or two during the season as Carolina did last year with Doug Weight and Mark Recchi.
- Boston got Chara, centre Marc Savard and winger Shean Donovan. GM Peter Chiarelli is just getting started, but this team so far is looking a lot like the team that patched together a bunch of free agents last summer and hoped a team would emerge.
- St. Louis looks like it wants to get back into the game. But paying too much for Jay McKee (four years, $16 million) and bringing back Weight will likely make for another long season next fall.
- Poor Colorado. The Avs used to be a big time player in the summer, but new GM Francois Giguere has little spending maneuverability and not much in the prospect cupboard. All he could do on the weekend was add forward Tyler Arnason, a player who looked as well conditioned as a sportswriter while sitting in the Ottawa press box in the spring.
- Florida missed on Ed Jovanovski, so they spent the money on Ruslan Salei, instead. That may free up room for Anaheim, Salei's old team, to go make a deal for Chris Pronger.
- Nashville's one of those teams on the move, and because of the Predators' youth and depth everywhere, they were perfectly positioned to make a single move, signing centre Jason Arnott. That's the best way to use free agency - to augment what you have, not build your team.