The off-season has continued on nicely with some intriguing story lines, and it only got better the last few days as free agency kicked off. There have been some surprises, some great moves, and some just head scratching signings. So let’s look at some of the key movements after the 3rd day of free agency.
First, let’s take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. They did not resign top-notch offensive blueliner Sergei Gonchar as he signed a nice deal for 3 years at $5.5 million a season. But instead of waiting around for someone else or just sitting around, the Pens went right out and restocked their defense. They signed Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to 5 year deals, with Martin pulling in $5 million a year and Michalek making $ 4 million a year. Although I think the money for Michalek was high, it replaces the void from Gonchar offensively while also giving them another good defenseman. Michalek is a good defender in the middle years of his career that played great in the defensive system in Phoenix. Martin was the next best offensive blueliner behind Gonchar on the market this summer, and gives them someone to take that spot while also being a good 7 years younger then the leaving Gonchar. So adding a good offensive defenseman, while adding a good defender, and getting younger? While the Penguins committed a lot of money over the next 5 years, they have set their defense up for now and the future.
The Phoenix Coyotes had a interesting couple of days with subtraction and addition going on. The Coyotes lost Michalek to Pittsburgh but are in a tough financial situation so they had only a slim chance of convincing him to stay when teams were willing to pay more. But Phoenix was able to resign Derek Morris to a 4 year deal worth $11 million, which at least keeps some of the defensive system together. Offensively though, they lost Matthew Lombardi to Nashville but responded by convincing veteran winger Ray Whitney to sign on for 2 years. Whitney agrees to a deal for $3 million for each of the next two years, and gives the team from the desert a veteran player that can be a 50-60 point a season guy for maybe a few more years. The Coyotes still have some question marks as Lee Stempniak is a free agent and the financial situation is still a major concern with the uncertainty of the ownership. But Phoenix surprised some by pulling in Whitney.
The New Jersey Devils could not keep Martin, but were able to convince a couple of defenders to commit to the Devils. But again this might be a case of over-paying. New Jersey got Anton Volchenkov left Ottawa for a 6 year deal at $4.25 million a season. Volchenkov was one of the more sought after defenders on the market, and defensively is considered a great addition. So for what they lost in offense with losing Martin, they gained in their own zone defensively and Anton can put in a little offense. What I thought was a over-paying was the Devils then getting Henrik Tallinder from Buffalo, but at $3.375 million a season for 4 years. Tallinder is another addition to the defense and is not a bad player, but he is not worth that much money. He can move the puck some and is a good 4th or 5th defender, but he is not quite worth $3.375 a year and being signed until he is 35. But the Devils do improve their defense, and look to be a tough team to play against defensively for the next few years.
For a list of all the signings so far and who is still available, here is a link to ESPN’s free agent tracker. Some of the top name goalies like Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov are still on the market, and Ilya Kovalchuk still is seeking a huge contract but has yet to sign anywhere. The longer some of these guys stay on the market, the less they could see on their new paycheck. Next week we will continue to look at some of the free agency activity. Everyone have a great 4th of July, and God bless America.