By late afternoon, the great orgy of free agent spending had finally slowed to a few sporadic low-level deals. And around the NHL there was a great communal exhaling as though a great beast had finally been sated.
If you feel like contemplating the league as a whole luxuriously smoking a cigarette, feel free.
About half a billion dollars had been committed to 68 unrestricted free agents on July 1 alone, a record of spending for a league that is historically without restraint when it comes to spending on free-agent players.
The label "winners" or "losers" is of course a mug's game when training camps won't open for more than two months and the first game of the 2014-15 season is still more than three months away.
But it won't stop us or anyone else, of course, from sifting through the myriad deals to pick out the ones that seemed to fit and those that made us stop and pound our heads on the kitchen table in disbelief.
Deals That May Actually Help Teams
Everything about this seems right for the Penguins, a team in definite transition. The one-year term is like a trial engagement for both player and team, and the $4 million for a guy who made $18 million in the first two years of his bloated 10-year deal with Buffalo is likewise a win for a Penguins team that is still among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Blackhawks were keen to improve their strength down the middle, especially given the upgrades made by other Western Conference foes -- most notably Dallas, St. Louis and Anaheim -- and Richards is an interesting stop-gap for the Hawks. The one-year term and the small dollar figure would have been attractive to GM Stan Bowman, who still has lots of top young players coming out of their system but nobody who is a natural to slot in behind Jonathan Toews. In short, very little risk for the 2013 Cup champs and significant up-side if the former playoff MVP can stay healthy. Richards, of course, was bought out by the New York Rangers after their trip to the Stanley Cup finals last month. He did not have a particularly good final series but he established himself as a de-facto captain of the team and his leadership will be a nice add to a Chicago team already chock full of big-game players.
It's not necessarily that Stralman is going to make Bolts fans forget about Dan Boyle in his prime or anything like that, but he was the best defenseman game in and game out for the Rangers as they made their way to an unlikely berth in the Stanley Cup finals. What we like about this deal is that, at $4.5 million a year, it fits with what GM Steve Yzerman has done in recent days -- locking up Ryan Callahan long-term and adding Jason Garrison to a suddenly impressively-balanced blue line. Stralman isn't going to have to do anything more than he has already done for the Rangers, and that's the key to this signing.
You knew that Stastny was going to fetch around $7 million a year, but the key to this deal for the Blues is that they kept the term to a manageable four years instead of the five or six years most people figured the top center on the market was going to command. We know from overstating the impact of Ryan Miller in St. Louis at the trade deadline that no one player assures any team (especially, as it turns out, the Blues) a path to glory in the Western Conference. But Stastny seems to be a hand-in-glove fit for how this Blues team is built -- hard-working, grinding, gritty and, yes, skilled. Knowing how Ken Hitchcock wants this team to play, this looks like a pretty darned good fit without throwing away a whole bunch of the future if it doesn't work out.
"Have stick, will travel," should be Iginla's motto as he joins his fourth team (Calgary, Pittsburgh, Boston and now Colorado) since the start of the 2013 season. At 37 and with lots of hard miles traveled by the power forward, the three-year deal may be at least one year too long for the Avs. But it's clear from the team's posture that they're not prepared to be patient in terms of their evolution. They made the playoffs a year ago but couldn't close the deal in the first round against Minnesota. In the past two days, they have added clutch playoff performer Daniel Briere and the hard-working Iginla, presumably to bolster their chances of not just making the playoffs but of making some noise there. Iginla had 30 goals for Boston last season and, given the talent in Denver, no reason to think he'll drop off next season. Plus he'll be an invaluable resource for the team's young stars.
Dallas GM Jim Nill started Tuesday with a loud noise, acquiring Ottawa captain Jason Spezza. He then added another nice piece to what is now an impressive offensive arsenal in Big D with Hemsky, who lit it up for Ottawa with 17 points in 20 games after being acquired from Edmonton at last year's trade deadline. Not sure about the defense and we simply do not get signing Anders Lindback to a one-year deal to back up Kari Lehtonen even if it only cost the Stars $925,000. Did anyone watch tape of Lindback last year? But those are small quibbles given the overall strides taken by the Stars on this day.
The thing about Jokinen that no doubt appealed to GM Dale Tallon is his versatility and his easy disposition. Jokinen is a 25-goal threat and was the Pittsburgh Penguins' most consistent skater in the playoffs, scoring seven times in 13 games. He can play center, he can play wing (as he did often with Evgeni Malkin) and he can play up and down the lineup. Would a three-year deal have been better for the Panthers? Maybe, but this has the potential to quietly pay dividends from start to finish. And the bottom line is that Florida is still in a position where they have to overpay to get folks to come on down.
We're not sold on Jaroslav Halak being the workhorse guy to guide the Islanders back to the postseason, and as it turns out, maybe GM Garth Snow isn't sure either. Regardless, we like this signing a lot and it's entirely possible Johnson becomes the long-awaited "guy" between the Islander pipes. The 6-foot-3, 28-year-old was terrific spelling Tuukka Rask last season, turning in a 17-4-3 record with a .925 save percentage for the Bruins. Let the good times roll.
Deals That Should Have Come With A Detonator
Let's start by saying Orpik remains one of our absolute favorite players. Brutally honest, hard as nails, he is the kind of guy any team, and we mean any team, would love to have in their locker room. But at age 33, the fact new Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan offered a five-year deal at the astronomical number of $5.5 per year is just plain cuckoo. Two years at that number? OK. Five years at half that number? Still too long given the toll Orpik's style of play has taken on his body, but maybe. Now, is it possible Orpik's presence along with new head coach Barry Trotz helps take the Caps' a giant step forward? Wouldn't be surprised at all. But that doesn't excuse the ridiculous excess of this deal. Does the strangeness of this deal balance out the good work in locking down the top defenseman on the market in another former Penguin Matt Niskanen, whom the Caps inked to a seven-year deal worth $40.25 million? Well, let's just say both are fraught with danger, but Niskanen was expected to command that kind of deal. Orpik? Not so much.
We actually don't mind this deal as much as many do on social media (as though that is an accurate barometer of reality). We actually think the big-bodied Engelland will fit in nicely with the kind of hockey Bob Hartley's Flames want to play. And it's not so much the term, although we'd like it better if Engelland wasn't already 32. But $2.9 million annually does seem like an awful lot to pay for a guy who is destined to be the fifth or sixth defenseman for the Flames.
Dave Bolland to Florida Panthers -- five years, $27.5 million
Yes, Dale Tallon does love his former Chicago Blackhawks. And there's no doubt when he's healthy Dave Bolland can be an attractive part of a lineup, as he showed in Chicago where he won two Stanley Cups, although his role did become less important during the course of his time there. And he's coming off a season in Toronto in which he played just 23 games. For a guy whose top end is likely 20 goals, this just seems too much money and too much term, even if he's a winner whose presence in the locker room should be a boon to this young team.
Hey, we know the Sabres are rebuilding this thing one brick at a time (but not too quickly, as they eye one of the top picks in the 2015 draft). And we get that it's difficult to attract free agents to the worst team in the league by a country mile and that new GM Tim Murray has to get to the salary-cap floor somehow. You want to give Matt Moulson five years at $5 million per year, as the Sabres did, go ahead. But $4.25 million a year for three years for Gionta just seems like history repeating itself for a 35-year-old coming off an 18-goal season.
Again, Robidas represents one of the game's great warriors and a player with whom teammates will fall in love. But he's 37, coming off a broken leg and has always played the game with the kind of abandon that makes durability a relative term. Here's hoping Robidas makes it work in Toronto, but the odds seem stacked against both him and the Leafs.
Some Smaller Deals That Make You Go Hmmm
Zach Redmond to Colorado Avalanche -- two years, $1.5 million
The Avs have a short history of being able to turn out competent defensive talent without breaking the bank. Redmond comes over from Winnipeg at age 25. He's 6-foot-2 and is coming off a grisly leg injury in 2013, but it wouldn't surprise us if next season people are saying, hey, what a nice pick-up.
Martin Havlat to New Jersey -- one year, $1.5 million
It has been fashionable to bash the skilled Havlat in recent years and goodness knows folks in San Jose were only too happy to see the back end of him. But the Devils have a good track record of taking other teams' castoffs and making good with them. And at this term/dollar, there's no downside for the Devils, plus the off chance Havlat could make a meaningful impact if he can stay healthy for a change.
Clayton Stoner to Anaheim -- four years, $13 million
Stoner is 29 years old, 6-foot-4 and should love playing for the Ducks and Bruce Boudreau, and we're pretty sure the Ducks are going to enjoy having Stoner around to chew up some minutes.