Recession, What Recession?
One day and $500 million in contracts later, it's worth wondering - what the heck was that all about?
Teams struck early and often yesterday as the NHL free agent season opened creating a blizzard of activity and many new questions about a variety of teams.
At the top of that list would be the Montreal Canadiens, who spent $60 million yesterday to bring in free agents Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Hal Gill just hours after making a deal with the Rangers to bring in Scott Gomez and his wildly oversized $43.5 million deal which still has five years left to run.
Interestingly, Gomez's salary in the first year of that contract was $10 million. But while the maximum allowable salary under the NHL salary cap is approximately $11.2 million, none of the free agents really approached that figure yesterday. Only Marian Hossa (12 years, $62.8 million with Chicago) got one of those mega-term deals popularized by Detroit. Mattias Ohlund got seven years from Tampa, Marty Havlat got six from Minny but otherwise it was all five years or less.
Hard to say which team really got better. The Habs are doing a North American makeover just like the Leafs but with small, speedy forwards while the Leafs look for size and toughness.
Chicago clearly was looking for players from winning programs with Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden. Hossa, more durable than Havlat, displaced him with the Hawks and gives Chicago another big body up front.
Then there's the Rangers. They dumped their own tough guy, Colton Orr, to pay Donald Brashear triple the salary, the same Brashear who was basically kicked out of the post-season for his blind-side hit on Blair Betts of the very same Rangers. Then GM Glen Sather gave brittle Marian Gaborik a five-year, $37.5 million deal, a risky deal to a very talented player.
The Rangers may also still be in the picture for Dany Heatley, who appears to be turning himself into a Canadian version of Alexei Yashin. Edmonton, dissed by the likes of Chris Pronger and Michal Nylander in recent years, is now looking like the NHL city players prefer to avoid, not a happy profile to have.
And the Leafs? Orr is a legitimate heavyweight and Brian Burke wanted one, or at least someone to make sure Luke Schenn was always the one coming to the defence of his teammates. Orr's challenge will be to find regular ice time under Ron Wilson. You can bet skating instructor Graeme Townshend will be spending some time with him.
Mike Komisarek is a bit of a puzzle, but he gives the club at least the potential of a blueliner who can actually be reliable in the final minutes of periods and games. He brings a bright, sunny personality with him and will be more of a physical presence in the defensive zone than Pavel Kubina ever was.
And Exelby? At 27, he has one more year on his contract at $1.75 million before unrestricted free agency next summer. Exelby, born in Manitoba but raised in Saskatchewan, is strictly a defensive defenceman but a dangerous open ice hitter. Forward Colin Stuart, 26, is another big body, likely to spend time with both the Marlies and Leafs next season.
With Schenn, Komisarek, Exelby, the oft-injured Mike Van Ryan and maybe even a youngster like improving Phil Oreskovic, the Leafs have the making of a big, nasty blueline corps.