Marian Gaborik

NHL Free Agency: Which Signings Will Have the Most Impact?

IginlaJarome Iginla’s signing is a big boost for the Avalance and a blow to the Bruins (photo courtesy of sportsglory.com)

by Alli Baker

The first of July is like Christmas for hockey fans. Once free agency begins, every team has a chance to ink a big-name player and drastically change their upcoming season. This year’s free agency frenzy didn’t disappoint, as many superstar players moved around the league on July 1. These new additions will no doubt have a sizable impact for their new teams in the 2014-2015 season:

Dan Boyle and the New York Rangers: After losing Benoit Pouloit and Anton Stralman to free agency, the Rangers had some holes to fill. Not having much cash to work with, GM Glen Sather made some shrewd moves, signing veteran defenseman Dan Boyle to a two-year, $9 million contract. The 38-year old  provides a veteran presence and experience. The defenseman made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004 and won gold in the 2010 Olympics with Team Canada. Boyle can provide offense for the Blueshirts, as well – the ex-Shark scored 12 goals in 75 games last year with San Jose. In signing Boyle, the Rangers acquired a top defenseman for a low price, allowing the team to also sign Tanner Glass and resign Dominic Moore.

Jarome Iginla and the Colorado Avalanche: In order to follow up its impressive turn-around season and playoff push during the 2013-14 season, the Avalanche knew a top player would be needed if the team was to continue to be a contender. Losing Paul Statsny to the Blues was not a step in the right direction for the Avs. Signing Jarome Iginla to a three-year, $16 million contract was. One of the younger teams in the NHL, the Avalanche are definitely going to benefit from having the veteran added to the roster. The former Boston Bruin is undoubtedly a top six forward for Colorado and will provide the team with extra offense. In 78 games last year with Boston, Iginla posted 30 goals and 61 points. The 37-year old doesn’t look to be slowing down, either, and should become a solid part of Colorado’s lineup over the next few years.

Mike Camallerri and the New Jersey Devils: The New Jersey Devils desperately needed to make a big move this offseason and acquire a player or two to provide some much-needed offense. GM Lou Lamoriello did just that, inking ex-Calgary Flame Mike Camallerri to a five year deal worth $25 million. The 11-year NHL veteran scored 26 goals in 63 games last year with the Flames and has consistently been a 20-plus goal scorer. The Devils had tried on two other previous occasions to acquire Camallerri, and finally did so on the first day of free agency. The 32-year old said that he was most looking forward to having the chance to play alongside superstar Jaromir Jagr. The Devils also added Martin Havlat, hoping the two new acquisitions will be able to boost the team’s lackluster offense from the previous season.

Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and the Washington Capitals: After a less-than ideal finish to the 2013-14 season, the Caps had some serious work to do this offseason. The organization started by hiring former Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz in hopes that he could provide some wisdom for the defensively-challenged team. Washington, home to NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin, didn’t have a problem scoring goals. Defense, on the other hand, was a challenge. GM Brian MacLellan added some depth by signing Penguins’ defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to massive contracts. Niskanen was signed for seven years and $40.25 million, while Orpik got five years and $27.5 million. Although these signings will definitely reinforce Washington’s defensive depth, they are considered to be the worst deals of free agency thus far by many. Orpik, who is already 33 years old, has been injured often throughout the past few seasons and may not provide the consistency the Caps need. The contracts also take up a sizable amount of cap space.

Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks: The Vancouver Canucks added some talent in goal Tuesday by signing two-time Olympian Ryan Miller to a 3-year, $18 million contract. The 33-year old will bring his experience and work ethic to Vancouver and it’s the hope of GM Jim Benning that Miller will become a good role model for many of the team’s younger players.Miller, who has reached 30-plus wins seven times, is without a doubt an improvement for the Canucks.

Brad Richards and the Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks started free agency already over the cap limit, but still needed to make a move to remain competitive in the Central Division. This goal was accomplished by signing veteran Brad Richards to a one year, $2 million contract. Richards, who scored 20 goals last year with the Rangers, will no doubt add offensive talent to the Blackhawks. For this bargain, the Hawks also get a number two center who could possibly play alongside Patrick Kane. Although this isn’t a massive deal, it’s exactly what Chicago needed to do.

Thomas Vanek and the Minnesota Wild: It was the deal everyone knew would eventually happen: the Wild finally acquired Minnesota native Thomas Vanek on Tuesday, signing him to a three-year, $19.5 million contract.  The 30-year old will replace the holes left by the departure of Dany Heatley and Matt Moulson. Vanek, who played college hockey at the University of Minnesota, should help to fix the Wild’s goal-scoring problem. The former Montreal Canadien scored 27 goals and had 41 assists in 78 games last year. It’s that ability that GM Craig Leopold is counting on to make the Wild a legitimate Stanley Cup contender next year.

Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman and the Tampa Bay Lightning: The former New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan gave the Tampa Bay Lightning some inside information on Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman and quite possibly provided an incentive for the two other ex-Rangers to head to the Bolts. The trio played together in New York for parts of three years, so a Tampa reunion was not out of the question. Stralman signed for five years, $22.5 million; Boyle signed for three years, $6 million. The Lightning moved Nate Thompson and Teddy Purcell in order to make enough room for the two new contracts, so the big question is whether the addition of Boyle and Stralman will make Tampa better or worse.

Free agency is far from over and signings will continue to occur throughout the summer, but the biggest names are already off the market. Now all there is to do is wait three months to see how the moves will work out when the 2014-15 season begins.

1 – CBC.CA

2 – ESPN.com

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23

2014 NHL PLAYOFFS: SHARKS VS. KINGS

Antti Niemi Sharks 2014 playoff preview

Goalie Antti Niemi may be on a short leash, with Alex Stalock waiting to take over.

by Christopher Wenrich

“Always a bridesmaid, never the bride” is a phrase that sums up the San Jose Sharks very well.  Many times over the past 10 years or so, the Sharks were among the favorites in the National Hockey League to win the Stanley Cup, only to suffer embarrassing first-round exits in the playoffs.  Once again, they have a very talented team that may be among the favorites to win, but there is the cloud of a goalie controversy hanging over the club as they prepare to face the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.

Despite the collective talent and potential of the Sharks, the team enters the post-season with some doubts about their number one goaltender.  Antti Niemi was 39-17-7 this season with a 2.39 goals-against-average (GAA), a .913 save-percentage (SV%) and four shutouts.  Although Niemi’s overall numbers are good, he struggled at times and has been outplayed recently by backup Alex Stalock. In 24 games, 18 of them starts, this season, Stalock was 12-5-2 with a minuscule 1.87 GAA, a .932 SV% and two shutouts.  Niemi is the starter for Game 1, but could be pulled in favor of Stalock, if he doesn’t perform up to, or above par.

San Jose Sharks
239 goals for (6th)
193 goals against (5th)
17.2 PP% (20th)
84.9 PK% (6th)

Joe Pavelski led the way for the Sharks this season, scoring a career-high 41 goals and 89 points in 82 games.  In addition to his offensive breakout, Pavelski was once again strong with his two-way play and won 56.0% of his faceoffs this season.  He’s expected to play on the third line to give the Sharks three solid offensive lines. Joe Thornton was once again the masterful playmaker on the team, dishing out 65 assists (2nd in NHL) and scoring 76 points in 82 games.  Like Pavelski, Thornton was also dominant on face-offs, having won 56.1% this season.

The speedy Patrick Marleau scored 30-plus goals (33) for the seventh time in his NHL career, and had 70 points in 82 games.  Marleau was yet another Shark that dominated face-offs as well (52.9%).  Youngster Logan Couture is a rising star in the NHL and one of the best two-way players in the game today.  Injuries limited him to 65 games this season, but he posted a productive 54 points and won better than half of his face-offs.

Rookie Tomas Hertl impressed in the early going this season with a four-goal game.  Hertl is an electrifying puck-handler whose one-on-one ability resembles the highlight reel plays of a young Jaromir Jagr.  A knee injury limited Hertl to only 37 games this season, but he amassed 25 points. Former defenseman Brent Burns has been a solid winger this season with 22 goals and 48 points in 69 games.  Burns possesses a heavy shot, but has not shown much consistency as a forward.  He’ll need to find the net with more consistency if the Sharks are to finally realize their potential.

On the blue line, Dan Boyle (36 points) and Jason Demers (34 points) led the way offensively.  Although the Sharks’ defensemen move the puck well in transition, their collection of defensemen are mostly defensive-minded.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic will never be mistaken for Bobby Orr, but he one of the best at breakout passes and provides a steady performance.

Los Angeles Kings
198 goals for (26th)
168 goals against (1st)
15.1 PP% (27th)
83.1 PK% (11th)

Unlike the Sharks, the Kings were a poor offensive team in the NHL this year, but were perhaps the best defensive team in the league.  Anze Kopitar was productive with a team-leading 70 points in 82 games.  Jeff Carter was second on the team in points with 50 in 72 games (27 goals).  Gritty winger Dustin Brown had a very disappointing season, posting only 27 points in 79 games.  Youngster Tyler Toffoli is a player to keep an eye on in this series.  Toffoli posted 23 points in 36 wins, but only six points in 26 losses.  In need of more offensive punch, the Kings acquired Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline.  .

On the blue line, the Kings have more offensive talent than the Sharks do.  Drew Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the NHL at leading a rush.  Doughty tallied 37 points in 78 games this season.  If not for the play of Doughty and Slava Voynov, the Kings would have scored even fewer goals this year.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick struggled mightily at the start of the season, but improved as the season progressed.  Quick finished the campaign 27-17-4 with a 2.07 GAA, a .915 SV% and six shutouts.  Quick returned to form after the Olympics, posting a record of 11-4-2 with a 1.86 GAA, .924 SV% and three shutouts the rest of the way.  When he is on his game, Quick is one of the top goaltenders in the league.  He has superb reflexes and is a very athletic goaltender, however, he has a tendency to play the angles poorly at times and be forced to sprawl while being out of position.

nhl bracket

Ultimately, this series may come down to an oft-overlooked stat:  faceoffs.  Both the Kings and Sharks were tied for second in the NHL in face-off win percentage this season.  The Sharks have the edge offensively, so the key to victory for the Kings are a strong defense and a steady Quick.  LA will need to play keep-away – the Sharks cannot score if they do not have the puck.  This should be an excellent series, but the Sharks’ firepower should help them come out on top.   Toffoli, Carter and Gaborik will have to find the net early and often if the Kings are to have a chance.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).

Men’s Olympic Hockey Wednesday – Czech This Out

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Henrik Lundqvist celebrates the 2006 Gold Medal

 

Men’s Olympic hockey gets underway Wednesday with a pair of Noon EDT games.  The Czech Republic skates against one of the favorites, Team Sweden, and Latvia goes up against Switzerland.

In a surprising twist, Czech coach Alois Hadamczik has chosen KHL goalie Jakub Kovar over the Winnipeg Jets’ Ondraj Pavelec. Then again, if you saw Pavelec’s performance in the NHL this season, maybe it’s not such a big surprise. The team is captained by Montreal Canadians center Tomas Plekanec, while a pair of New Jersey Devils teammates, Patrick Elias and Jaromir Jagr, will don the assistant captain ‘A’ on their uniforms. (Elias captained the 2010 Olympic squad)

Jagr will turn 42 on Saturday, but he’s not the oldest player on the team. That honor belongs to former NHLer Peter Nedved who celebrated his 42nd birthday in December. The team will count heavily on its younger players though to make it to the medal round. In addition to Plekanec, Team Czech is counting on the Flyers’ Jakub Varocek, the Lightning’s Ondrej Palat, Ottawa’s Milan Michalek, Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal, and Boston’s David Krejci to put the puck in the net. 

The Czech blue line will be anchored by veterans Michael Roszival (Blackhawks), Marek Zidlicky (Devils), and former NHL defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

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Team Sweden has won the gold medal twice in the last 20 years. They captured the 1994 top spot when Peter Forsberg pulled a remarkable move out of his bag of tricks to defeat Canada in a shootout and captured the 2006 medal behind the goaltending of then 24-year old Henrik Lundqvist.

The team, coached by Pars Marts is chock full of NHL talent. In addition to the Rangers’ Lundqvist, the team has goalies Jhonas Enroth from the Sabres, and the Red Wings’ Jonas Gustavsson. The squad is captained by Detroit Red Wings’ standout Henrik Zetteberg, while his teammates – defenseman Niklas Kronwall and right winger Daniel Alfredsson – will sport the assistant captain jerseys.

You should remember the name Jimmie Ericsson. Why? The 33-year old Swedish Hockey League player is the only non-NHL player on the roster. Though standouts Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin will miss the games due to injuries, the team still has plenty of NHL firepower in Daniel Sedin, Alexander Steen (28 goals, 6th best in the NHL), and Henrik Sedin’s replacement Nicklas Backstrom (NHL 3rd best 45 assists). Manning the defense are Johnny Oduya, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Henrik Tallinder, and Alexander Edler.

It’s no wonder that team Sweden sits at 9/2 odds, behind Canada and Russia and ahead of the US, to capture the 2014 Gold Medal. Let the games begin.

 

Drew Sarver is the publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.