Ninety-nine days separate July 1 from the start of the NHL’s regular season and, believe it or not, we’re already closer to official puck drop than we are to the free-agent frenzy kickoff. And while there’s still a good chunk of players weighing offers (or desperately searching for a new home), the majority of big names — Ilya Kovalchuk excluded — are long gone.
With that proviso in mind, here are the top and bottom performers of the summer shopping season so far:
Key Gains: Fernando Pisani, LW; Marty Turco, G; Jeff Taffe, LW; Ivan Vishnevskiy, D; John Scott, D; Viktor Stalberg, LW
Key Losses: Antti Niemi, G; John Madden, C; Andrew Ladd, LW; Adam Burish, RW; Kris Versteeg, C; Brent Sopel, D; Ben Eager, LW; Dustin Byfuglien, RW; Kim Johnsson, D
The Hawks were bleeding players, no doubt, but GM Stan Bowman did a remarkable job securing assets for skaters he was forced to get rid of under the crush of the cap. His moves will keep his club a contender now and restock the coffers for years to come. The biggest loss is arguably Niemi, but Turco could very well end up as an upgrade. Stalberg, who showed impressive flashes with the Leafs, and Pisani, picked up for the league minimum Wednesday, will help ease the loss of depth, assuming Pisani can stay healthy. Chicago’s still a favorite in the West.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Key Gains: Sean Bergenheim, LW; Dominic Moore, C; Mathieu Roy, D; Chris Durno, LW; Marc Pouliot, C; Simon Gagne, LW; Brett Clark, D; Niklas Persson, C; Pavel Kubina, D; Dan Ellis, G
Key Losses: Matt Walker, D; Ryan Craig, LW; Zenon Konopka, C; Alex Tanguay, LW; Kurtis Foster, D; Antero Niittymaki, G; Andrej Meszaros, D
Not only has new GM Steve Yzerman had an impressive showing with his on-ice additions — with surely more to come thanks to his $13 million in cap space — but his coaching, scouting and management hires will prove to be just as lucrative as the Lightning attempt to rebuild their winning culture. Oh, and Ellis will prove to be the steal of the summer; the 2007-08 Roger Crozier Award-winner, making a relatively meager $1.5 million, is primed to steal the No. 1 job from incumbent Mike Smith and lead the Bolts back into the middle of the playoff pack.
Key Gains: Dan Hamhuis, D; Manny Malhotra, C; Joel Perrault, RW; Jeff Tambellini, LW; Keith Ballard, D; Victor Oreskovich, RW
Key Losses: Pavol Demitra, W; Brad Lukowich, D; Nathan McIver, D; Andrew Raycroft, G; Michael Grabner, LW; Steve Bernier, RW; Ryan Johnson, C; Willie Mitchell, D; Kyle Wellwood, C
The Canucks still have some cap issues to work through once Sami Salo comes off injured reserve (they’re currently $2.6 million over), but the revamped blueline makes them a complete team from front to back and THN’s preseason pick for ’11 Stanley Cup champs. Hamhuis, who plays an all-around game, will get a chance to shine after being buried behind Ryan Suter and Shea Weber in Nashville. Ballard, who has missed only 13 games over his five-year career, will get a chance to shine on a contender after skating for Phoenix and Florida to kick off his career. An underrated move is the addition of Malhotra, who’s the perfect third-liner on any club and last year finished with a 62.5 faceoff percentage.
Los Angeles Kings
Key Gains: Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW
Key Losses: Alexander Frolov, LW; Raitis Ivanans, LW; Sean O’Donnell, D; Jeff Halpern, C; Randy Jones, D; Fredrik Modin, LW
In their much-ballyhooed attempt to woo Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings failed to address their other shortcomings and round out a roster on the cusp of joining the West elite. Instead, they end up in Marlon Brando territory. Ponikarovsky is a safe pickup and helps spell the loss of Frolov, but where Frolov has 40-goal, 80-point potential, Poni caps out at 25 and 60. The saving grace for GM Dean Lombardi is the cap space: He has still got $12.8 million at his disposal.
Key Gains: Mike Weaver, D; Christopher Higgins, LW; Michael Grabner, LW; Steve Bernier, RW; Marty Reasoner, C; Dennis Wideman, D
Key Losses: Victor Oreskovich, RW; Keith Ballard, D; Gregory Campbell, C; Nathan Horton, RW; Kamil Kreps, C
Adding GM Dale Tallon, who was unfairly painted as a bad manager for his snafu with a couple of contracts last summer in Chicago, is a move in the right direction. But the Cats need a completely new look and while the skinning has begun, things look to be growing darker before they get brighter in the Sunshine State. The additions of Bernier and, more specifically, Grabner may help the rebuilding cause, but neither player has Horton’s goal-scoring potential, no matter how unmotivated he was. And the question remains: Is the real Wideman the ’08-09 version or the much less impressive ’09-10 model?
Key Gains: Matt Walker, D; Nikolai Zherdev, RW; Andrej Meszaros, D; Jody Shelley, LW; Sean O’Donnell, D
Key Losses: Riley Cote, LW; Simon Gagne, LW; Ryan Parent, D
The Paul Holmgren Collection is still awe-inspiring, with a group of forwards and blueliners few in the league can match (you didn’t think their Cup run was a fluke, did you?), but standing pat on the goalie front has a lot of fans nervous. And rightfully so. Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher did an admirable job last season, but doing crease on the cheap shouldn’t have been the answer in Philly. Wouldn’t have Meszaros’ $4 million cap hit have been better spent on a goalie? Losing Gagne isn’t insignificant, either. O’Donnell for a million is a good, economical depth addition, however.
Edward Fraser is the managing editor of The Hockey News. His blog appears weekly.
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