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Cullen: The Numbers for 2010 NHL Free Agent Frenzy

Scott Cullen
7/2/2010 4:57:11 PM
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Before the 2010 NHL Free Agent Frenzy kicked off, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the latest to, ever so graciously, offer the Chicago Blackhawks salary cap relief.

Major signings will get covered with Numbers Game columns, which will be linked in this blog, but this will serve as a central location for commentary, statistics and (ideally) some insights on the free agent signings.

You can also check out the Off-Season Game Plans for each team, to compare their acquisitions with the needs I laid out for them this spring.

Thought it worth noting that, of the top 12 free agent contracts last summer:
- Seven of those players were with teams that still missed the playoffs in 2009-2010 (Marian Gaborik Jay Bouwmeester, Martin Havlat, Mattias Ohlund, Mike Komisarek, Nik Antropov and Nikolai Khabibulin)
- Three more finished eighth in the Eastern Conference (Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Jaroslav Spacek)
- Marian Hossa won the Stanley Cup with Chicago.
- Rob Scuderi seemed to be a good fit wit the Kings in Los Angeles.

A quick trade before the free agent gates were opened: the Flyers acquired D Andrej Meszaros for a second-round pick.  Numbers Game treatment is here.

So, let's get things started...

BIRON
32-year-old Martin Biron played 29 games last season, his lowest total since 2000-2001, but there seems to be a good chance that by joining the Rangers, he's resigned himself to a role as a backup.

Even if the Rangers want to cut back on Henrik Lunqvist's workload -- he's played at least 70 games for four straight seasons -- it would be surprising for Biron to play more than 25 games next season.

Playing behind the Islanders' lacklustre defence may have contributed to Biron's career-low .896 save percentage last season, so he'll have to be better when he gets the opportunity to play with the Rangers.

Biron is signed for two years at a total of $1.75-million; a reasonable price for a solid backup goaltender.

Sergei Gonchar signed with the Ottawa Senators; a great move for the Sens and covered here.

TANGUAY
In years gone by, Alex Tanguay would have been a full Numbers Game column, but Tanguay is coming off the worst season of his career, scoring ten goals and recording the first minus rating of his ten-year NHL career.

At 30, he's still young enough to rebound from a down season, and isn't that far removed from scoring 139 points in 159 games for the Flames in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.

Strangely enough, Tanguay's one-year, $1.7-million deal includes a no-movement clause, but it's a low-risk shot for the Flames in an effort to upgrade the worst offence in the Western Conference last season.  Tanguay can play in a top-six role for the Flames and if he puts up 20 goals and 50 points, that would be a nice return.

MICHALEK
After losing Sergei Gonchar, the Pittsburgh Penguins filled in quickly on their blueline with the addition of Zbynek Michalek from Phoenix, signing him to a five-year, $20-million contract.

Michalek, 27, was a workhorse for the Coyotes last season, leading the team with 22:39 of ice time per game and doing it against the opposition's top lines.  In 2008-2009, he easily led the league with 271 blocked shots -- 33 more than runner-up Brett Clark -- and ranked 15th in the league in blocks last season, so he'll definitely provide an improved defensive presence on the Pittsburgh blueline.

With Sergei Gonchar gone, Pittsburgh's power play will give more minutes to Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang and Paul Martin (more on him later).

AULD
Signed to a one-year, $1-million deal, Alex Auld is a journeyman backup who has started at least 20 games in each of the last five seasons, but the 29-year-old is moving to the eighth team of his NHL career.

With a .904 career save percentage, Auld is a capable backup for starter Carey Price, but this move labels Price as the Canadiens' starter, one that should get into 60-plus games for the first time in his career.

ARMSTRONG
Armstrong, 27, is a solid two-way forward, but at three years and $9-million, he needs to play to the higher end of his potential because $3-million per season is too much if he duplicates last year's 29 points.  To his credit, Armstrong has been a plus player in each of his five NHL seasons.

Given the Maple Leafs' thin forward ranks, Armstrong may have an opportunity to play more than the career low 14:47 per game he skated in Atlanta last season, which could help his production, possibly giving him a shot at 20 goals.

San Jose has changed their picture in goal, signing Antero NiittymakiNumbers Game looks at the Sharks' goaltending here.

PERRAULT
Joel Perrault is a 27-year-old who has 26 points in 89 career NHL games.  Given the Canucks' depth down the middle, Perrault figures to be spending most of his time in Manitoba, but he's capable of filling in as part of the NHL lineup, if necessary.

In seven NHL games last year, Perrault scored two goals and has 85 points in 93 AHL games over the past two seasons. Perrault is signed to a one-year deal for $500,000.

O'DONNELL
38-year-old veteran stay-at-home defenceman Sean O'Donnell goes about his business efficiently and is quietly effective with an added dose of toughness.  He's durable, having played at least 78 games in 11 of the last 12 seasons and last year's plus-14 rating was the second-best mark of his 15-year NHL career.

Signed to a one-year deal for $1-million, plus games played bonuses, O'Donnell joins Andrej Meszaros on Philadelphia's third defensive pair and they represent a massive upgrade at a trouble spot. 

The Flyers were afraid to play their third pairing in the postseason, whether it included Oskars Bartulis, Lukas Krajicek or Ryan Parent, but that shouldn't be an issue any longer for the Flyers.

MALHOTRA
A terrific season in San Jose brought a nice payday for 30-year-old Manny Malhotra.  He set career-highs with 14 goals and plus-17 rating for the Sharks last season, winning a league-best 62.5% of his face-offs along the way.

Signed to a three-year deal with a no-trade clause for $7.5-million, Malhotra fits in as a very good third-line centre in Vancouver, perhaps easing some of the defensive responsibility on Ryan Kesler but, along with Henrik Sedin, also giving the Canucks a trio of centremen that appear to block top prospect Cody Hodgson.

Perhaps that makes Hodgson a trade chip. As expensive as Malhotra is for a checking centre, the Canucks are a better team for making this deal and there is more to come.

MORRIS
31-year-old Derek Morris isn't quite as erratic as he was earlier in his career, and playing in Phoenix's disciplined system appears to help him, but he wasn't a good fit with the Bruins last season before he was traded back to Phoenix. 

It's not a surprise that Morris would choose to re-sign long-term in Phoenix, where his family calls home after he played for the Coyotes from 2004 through 2009, particularly given the security of a four-year, $11-million contract. 

At the same time, Morris is at his best when not asked to do too much, so if the Coyotes need him to play more than 20 minutes per night (perhaps to make up for the loss of Michalek) that could bring trouble.

SHELLEY
While it's easy enough to dismiss 34-year-old Jody Shelley as an aging heavyweight, he's still effective in the policeman role and, more importantly, he played reasonably well with the New York Rangers late last season, putting up six points (including goals in the last two games of the season, against the Flyers) and a plus-4 rating in 21 games.

After fighting 85 times in his first three NHL seasons, Shelley has taken on a reduced role, scrapping 68 times over the last five seasons.

Shelley's offensive production, such as it is, should be considered a bonus.  In Philadelphia, he'll be the enforcer, taking on the guys who are in the higher weight class than those that normally tangle with the likes of Ian Laperriere and Daniel Carcillo

Three years and $3.3-million is a hefty price to pay for Shelley's services, but he fits the Flyers' mould and with the money the Flyers are saving on goaltending, apparently they can afford to overpay for a tough guy.

Tampa Bay needed a goaltender and Dan Ellis was looking for a chance to start.

Pittsburgh lost Sergei Gonchar to Ottawa, but brought in Paul Martin to help fill the void.

BOOGAARD
In perhaps the most mind-boggling signing of the day, and that's saying something, the New York Rangers gave Derek Boogaard a four-year, $6.4-million contract.

That's a lot of money for a forward that hasn't scored in four seasons.

That's a lot of money for a player that averaged a career-high 6:09 of ice time per game last season.

That's a lot of money for a player with 38 fights (with a 28-7-3 record, according to the voters on www.hockeyfights.com) over the last four seasons.  Sometimes, being the scariest guy on the ice doesn't lend itself to having others take up the challenge quite so often.

Sure, Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik might feel more at ease with Boogaard watching his back, but it's still an outrageous sum for a one-dimensional heavyweight, whether he's the champ or not and this contract could be prime buyout material at some point a couple of years from now.

LYDMAN
Signed for three years and $9-million, by no means is Toni Lydman going to make up for Scott Niedermayer heading into retirement, but the 32-year-old is a safe and steady type who can handle a spot in the Ducks' top four.

Though he played fewer minutes last year (18:52 last season compared to his usual 20-22 minutes), Lydman tied a career-high with a plus-10 rating as he wasn't charged with the most difficult defensive assignments. 

Playing a secondary defensive role in Anaheim should be a fit for his skills at this stage of his career.

Phoenix addressed their 28th-ranked power play by bringing in veteran Ray Whitney, who scored more points than any Coyotes forwards in 2008-2009.

Calgary surprised just about everybody by welcoming Olli Jokinen back into the fold.

TALLINDER & VOLCHENKOV
New Jersey changed the look of their blueline, after losing Paul Martin to Pittsburgh, by signing a couple of defensive-minded veterans, Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov.

Tallinder, 31, played more than 20 minutes per game for the Sabres last season, facing the opposition's best forward lines on a consistent basis and finished with 20 points and a plus-13 rating, both the second-best marks of his career.

He's not going to make an impact offensively in New Jersey, but can certainly handle a top-four defensive responsibility, which is a reasonable expectation for a four-year, $15.5-million contract.

While Tallinder plays a more understated positional game, Anton Volchenkov is more conspicuous in using his body to hit and block shots; despite missing 20 games, he was one of just seven players to have more than 150 hits and blocked shots last season.

28-year-old Volchenkov is also used to handling the toughest defensive matchups, so he and Tallinder will ease the defensive pressure on a returnee like Colin White.

The risk in signing Volchenkov for six years and $25.5-million is two-fold: one, it's difficult to justify that kind of spending for a defenceman that doesn't contribute offensively (and Volchenkov has never scored 20 points in a season)

Two, Volchenkov's disregard for his body, while admirable, leaves him prone to injuries and he's missed 47 games over the last three seasons.  As he gets older, it doesn't seem likely that Volchenkov would be able to continue playing with the same physical abandon while somehow remaining healthier than he's been to this point in his career.

In all, not bad moves for the Devils, but it does leave their back end a little light on mobile puckmovers, with Andy Greene contrasting with the likes of Tallinder, Volchenkov, White, Bryce Salvador and Mark Fraser.

Edmonton, preparing for life without Sheldon Souray it seems, brought in big-shooting Kurtis Foster.

Vancouver brought B.C. boy Dan Hamhuis home with a six-year deal.

Atlanta upgraded their goaltending by signing veteran Chris Mason.

More breakdowns to come...

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.

 

 

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