Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fast and Furious Free Agency: Top Five Moves In the NHL Free Agency Period

By Steve Vitakis

Every offseason we enter free agency and we see teams trying to add that one piece that will push them over the top or make that key trade that will bolster their roster and push them past the competition. It is a competition in of itself. General Managers making calls to agents, giving their offers and hoping it’s a better deal than what another team has offered. General managers making calls to other GM’s looking to switch players around, trying to get the edge in the trade that is not always a win-win for both teams.

Here are the top five offseason moves that will make the biggest difference in the 2012-2013 season.

1. Minnesota signs Zach Parise and Ryan Suter
This is the blockbuster free agent signing of this offseason and Minnesota scored big with the top two free agents by having Parise and Suter sign identical 13-year deals worth $98 million. Parise, who captained the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, will get to play with his good friend Suter and he will be able to play in front of his family and friends in his home state. Suter was a part of Nashville's one-two defenseman punch with Shea Weber that led the Predators deep into the playoffs in consecutive years.
Both players will have an immediate impact on a roster that needed a jump-start. The Wild did not make the playoffs last year after having a great start to the season. Parise will join a forward group with Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu. Ryan Suter will be joining a skeleton defenseman group and the team will be asking him to be their number one defenseman. This will be a new challenge for Suter to embrace considering he was always number two during his tenure in Nashville.

2. Nashville matches Shea Weber's Offer Sheet, music city keeps their man.
Talk about an easy decision. Nashville's captain and franchise defenseman Shea Weber began this offseason as a restricted free agent and has now emerged with one of the NHL's largest contracts. Philadelphia placed an enormous offer sheet of $110 million over 14 years, giving Nashville GM David Poile seven days to decide with the ownership group whether the Predators were going to match the offer. After six days, the Preds decided to match the offer and keep Weber in the music city.
This is huge for the small market team that Nashville is. Watching Ryan Suter leave through free agency to Minnesota had to be tough, but when seeing their captain having the chance to leave the Predators had to act. By matching the offer, will continue to be a top playoff contender. That is the presence that Weber, a three-time all-star and gold medalist with Team Canada, can bring to a team.  That is exactly why the Flyers offer sheet was so high.

3. Carolina trades for Jordan Staal and signs Alexander Semin; claims they are just getting started.
Carolina is looking to make it to the playoff dance this season. Since winning the cup in 2005-2006 and making it to the eastern conference finals in 2008-2009 where they lost to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Hurricanes have missed most of the postseason action since the lockout. GM Jim Rutherford has made some key moves this offseason by adding talented forwards Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin.
Carolina obtained Jordan Staal in a trade with Pittsburgh in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and Carolina’s first round pick in the 2012 draft. After the trade, he signed a 10 year, $60 million dollar extension that will keep him secured as a Hurricane for the next decade. Brother to Hurricane’s captain Eric, Jordan will be a powerful addition to a team looking to add some size to its group of forwards. Both Staal brothers can play center and wing and it will be interesting to see how head coach Kirk Muller plays them in what will be his first full season behind the bench.
The Canes made another splash in the free agency pool by signing Alexander Semin to a one year, $7 million deal. After Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed with Minnesota, Semin became the top free agent forward in a thin pool of players. Semen has a boat-load of talent and has shown it in previous seasons. He scored over 30 goals twice and scored 40 goals in the 2009-2010 season. Alongside Jeff Skinner and the Staal brothers, Semin will be able to focus on putting the puck in the net and get back to the numbers he is used to putting up after a rough last two seasons.
The Canes today just resigned Jeff Skinner to a six year extension.  Not only are the Canes looking outside the organization, but they are keeping the homegrown guys as well.  Carolina must be happy to see their hockey team is dedicated to putting the best possible team on the ice again.

4. New York Rangers trade for Rick Nash, looking to add scoring
With the Rangers in search of scoring after coming within two games of the finals, GM Glen Sather made his move. Rick Nash had been in the rumor mill for some time now and Columbus finally dealt him this offseason, trading him, a minor league defenseman, and a third round pick for forwards Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, prospect defenseman Tim Erixon and a first round pick. Talk about a trade with many parts, this was one of those deals revolving around the Rangers getting Nash.
While New York will lose two solid grinders in Anisimov and Dubinsky, they receive Nash and the presence that comes with him. Nash will be asked to power through defenses and obtain points for a team that relies on its defense and goaltending to win games. Marian Gaborik will be coming off surgery to start the season and may miss some games. Adding Nash will help Brad Richards and the rest of the forwards maintain the scoring expectations the team has for the season. Once Gaborik is healthy again and the forwards get the chemistry going, the Rangers could become a complete team that would be in prime position to win the President’s Trophy by season’s end.

5. Washington resigns Mike Green and sign Wojtek Wolski, under the radar moves that keep Washington a contender
Without 26-year-old Mike Green, I am a firm believer that Washington would not be the same team. Ever since coming off his battles with injuries, Green has developed into a more complete defenseman than the strictly offensive one who put up 31 goals in the 2008-2009 season. A core player entering his prime, Green will look to provide points from the blue line as he continues to improve his defensive game.
Keeping your core players on your team can be difficult.  The Capitals were unable to keep winger Alexander Semin, out the door to Carolina.  Washington found a decent replacement in Wojtek Wolski. A journeyman sniper, Wolski has been on 5 teams in the past 3 years including a stint with the Connecticut Whalers and despite injuries he has remained a productive member of whichever team he is on. Washington will be looking for the point production he had with Colorado to make up for the loss of Semin. Both of these signings should excite Capital fans heading into a year of uncertainty with new head coach Adam Oates at the helm.

Honorable Mention: Where will Shane Doan go?
In a perfect world, Doan, the 35-year-old longtime leader of the Coyotes and the last existing member of the former Winnipeg Jets franchise, would have resigned in Phoenix by now. This is not the case because Phoenix is still owned by the NHL and doesn’t currently have an agreement with the city of Glendale to play there. This leaves Doan with an important decision. He can either decide to wait out the ownership and building lease squabbles in Phoenix or he can choose to go elsewhere.

So far, he has been playing the waiting game with Phoenix while taking offers and visiting teams like any sought after free agent would do. He has already visited with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, both teams who could pay him well while putting him in a position to win his first Stanley Cup.  Both teams would be happy to have his leadership and scoring ability. The San Jose Sharks have also expressed interest in Doan, a player they have seen plenty of as rivals in the Pacific division.

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