Ice Chips: Summer Madness Edition
July 1 marked the start of NHL free agency, an amazing time of hope and rebirth for just about every NHL team. Who were some of the big winners and the losers? We’ll examine the Eastern Conference this week, and next week will focus on the Western teams.
The Habs made a huge splash before free agency even started, trading for Alex Tanguay. Tanguay’s numbers in Calgary weren’t great, but he was used in more of a two-way role. In Montreal, probably playing with Alex Kovalev and Saku Koivu, look for Tanguay to revert to his Colorado numbers, where he flirted with 30-goal seasons. Playing for the Canadiens, Tanguay could finally hit that plateau.
The Capitals made some, um, interesting goaltending moves, not re-signing Cristobal Huet whom they had traded for, and not re-signing Olie Kolzig, who suddenly lost his starting job when Huet arrived. Instead, the Caps signed the consistently inconsistent Jose Theodore. Theodore had a solid season in Colorado, but there’s no reason to assume he’ll repeat that success in Washington. He’ll be an OK third goalie on your fantasy roster, but keep an eye on him. He might need a quick hook.
The Penguins made more news for who they didn’t sign (Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone) than for who they did sign (Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko). Both players came off low-scoring seasons with the Islanders, but were playing without much talent around them. Fedotenko’s never been a goal-scorer or a puck distributor, so don’t expect that to change in Pittsburgh. If Satan gets time on the top line, which he might, he could be a 30-goal scorer. But that’s a big if from a player who has lost some speed and some shot accuracy.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning probably made the biggest splash in the free agent market, grabbing Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Radim Vrbata, Adam Hall, and goalie Olie Kolzig. Despite all of the off-season attention heaped upon Malone, he’s never had a big season. And he’s played with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. There’s no reason to think the numbers will get any better playing on a second line. While the new acquisitions (and first-round draft pick Steven Stamkos) will take the pressure off Tampa’s big line (Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Prospal), the presence of other players who can score will probably lower everyone’s numbers, since the scoring will be better distributed. Also, while Kolzig doesn’t project to start over goalie Mike Smith, look for Kolzig to get a relatively hefty workload for a backup. Kolzig is a competitor who’ll push Smith and occasionally save games. Sure he’s old, but he’s old and mad about how things ended in Washington.
When the Panthers traded Olli Jokinen to the Coyotes, they also traded away their top scorer. Who will fill in for Jokinen? Nathan Horton could have an 80-point season as the Panthers’ only scoring option. And free agent signee Cory Stillman might have the big season he’s never had his whole career, although realistically, he’s much more of a defensive forward.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers were uncharacteristically quiet during the free agent signing frenzy. Significantly, they didn’t re-sign Jaromir Jagr, who instead opted to play in Russia. They signed Markus Naslund, who didn’t put up great numbers playing with the Sedin Twins, so shouldn’t be counted to do much better playing with Scott Gomez and a winger to be named later. The absence of Jagr should spread the scoring around the Rangers a bit better, though. Gomez, who dished like a madman all season, might get a few more goals, and Chris Drury should see more scoring opportunities. And Petr Prucha, the small, yet speedy wing, might be a sleeper pick, even though he was a healthy scratch down the stretch. He scored 30 goals as a rookie before disappearing into the Ranger depth. It’s possible his goal-scoring touch will return.