Mario Lemieux

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

Bennett, Ekblad, Lead Pack of 2014 NHL Prospects

aaron_ekblad_barrie_colts[1]Aaron Ekblad is expected to be the #1 pick in the NHL Amateur Draft (photo courtsy of fansided)

by Alli Baker

The 2014 NHL draft is upon us ( 7 pm EDT).  And while this year’s group of prospects may not look as dynamic or exciting as last year’s crop, this annual event always seems to have an impact in some way.

These prospects now have the chance to change the 2014-2015 season for their new teams. Take the Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, for example. MacKinnon, who was the first overall pick last year, provided a huge presence for Colorado this year, and won the Calder Trophy in the process. While this is the goal of all draft prospects, only a few succeed in truly having a dramatically positive effect.

This year’s draft prospects are not projected to have this same sort of influence. “I don’t recall a year recently when there were as many question marks.” an NHL scout recently commented on this year’s prospects. “Skilled kids who lack size; players who might have issues with attitude or commitment. It seems to be a really volatile draft.” 1 Nonetheless, these top prospect like Samuel Bennett, Aaron Ekblad, and Sam Reinhart who are expected to go near the top of the draft, are still projected to provide some kind of an impact.

Here’s a closer look at the projected Top Ten prospects of the 2014 NHL draft:

10. Jake Virtanen: Known for his scoring ability, Virtanen would provide any team with extra offense and aggressiveness. The Calgary Hitman scored 45 goals last year in the WHL.  He also accumulated 100 penalty minutes, demonstrating that he has both goal-scoring talent and a mean streak. Although he possesses obvious talent, it has been said that he lacks “great vision or hockey sense,” which puts Virtanen at the bottom of our top 10. 2

9. Haydn Fleury: Considered the second-best defenseman available in this year’s draft, Fleury is quite the package. The 6’3″, 201 lb. Canadian possesses size, speed, and good hockey sense. However, unlike defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Fleury doesn’t display the same offensive knack. Although he scored 46 points last year in the WHL, Fleury lacks offensive explosiveness.

8: Nikolaj Ehlers: A speedy player with good puck-handling skills, Ehlers would provide any team with some explosive offense. The Dane scored over 100 points while playing in Halifax, however, he played alongside Jonathan Drouin, who was also a very talented goal scorer. This leads one to wonder whether Ehlers has goal-scoaring talent, or he just had an extremely talented line mate. Ehlers’ size is also somewhat of a concern. At 5’11”, 162 lbs, he may end up getting pushed around in the NHL.

7: William Nylander: Son of veteran NHL player Michael Nylander, William has inherited his father’s hockey skills and is known for his impressive agility, quickness, and great hands. Nylander scored an insane 16 points in seven games during last year’s under-18 games, proving he has offensive talent. However, at 5’11”, 175 lbs.,the left wing is small in size and he has some strength to gain. He has also been said to be “sometimes selfish, always a diva.” Although he definitely has talent, his attitude problems have lowered his draft value. <sup>2<sup>

6: Nick Ritchie: This big forward possesses both formidable size and scoring talent. Ritchie scored 39 goals for the Peterborough Petes, showing his goal-scoring talent. On top of that, Ritchie isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. At 6’3″, 236 pounds, this combination of size and offensive talent lands Ritchie at number six on the list.

5: Leon Draisaitl: Draisaitl appears to be the total package; he has size, speed, and he has been a consistent goal scorer. Nicknamed “The German Gretzky,” Draisaitl is set to become the highest-drafted German player. This center for the Prince Albert Raiders scored 38 goals in 64 games during the 2013-14 season, and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down offensively. Yet, he has been said to lack hockey instincts and therefore he likely won’t be draft higher than number five.

4: Michael Dal Colle: Dal Colle is a talented goal-scorer with a solid two-way game. The left wing has been compared to Ryan Getzlaf and has the ability to provide a real offensive impact wherever he plays. However, his lanky frame and lack of weight are a possible concern at the NHL level. If Dal Colle bulks up, he really doesn’t have many other flaws. 3

3: Sam Reinhardt: Reinhardt has intelligence on the ice and the ability to handle the puck, yet his size is nothing extraordinary and his speed has caused him to be described as “barely an average skater.” However, it’s possible for his smart play and exceptional puck-handling to make up for his lack of speed and size. With a little more time to develop, Reinhardt has the potential to develop into a solid NHL forward.

2: Sam Bennett: Bennett’s character and play on the ice have been given rave reviews by almost everyone out there, and there’s no doubt he has offensive skill. However, Bennett failed to do even a single pull-up at the draft combine, leading some to wonder about his strength. Even so, Bennett is still a solid goal scorer and his NHL future is most likely not going to be impacted much by the fact that he couldn’t do a pull-up. “He’s a fantastic player and a highly skilled guy,” according to Matt Nichol, a former strength coach for the Maple Leafs. With that being said, Bennett is projected to be taken within the top three. 4

1. Aaron Ekblad: Ekblad, a defenseman for Barrie Colt, has been projected to go within the top three by every scout that has surveyed him. The 18-year-old from Winsdor, Canada, stands at 6’4″ and weighs 213 pounds, making him a physical force as well as a talented puck handler. He leads the OHL in goals scored by a defenseman (23), and he has been compared to Shea Weber and Chris Pronger. A scout recently told the Toronto Sun that “He’s an NHL passer already. He’s the most flawless of the top players and he’s the most NHL-ready.” Ekblad has a little bit of everything and is by far the best defenseman of the 2014 draft, making him the top pick on this list. 1

1 – TSN CA

2 – Bleacher Report

3 – Pro Hockey Talk (Colle)

4 – Pro Hockey Talk (Bennett)

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