It’s early in Free Agency, just a couple days in, but all of the top players are signed so it is time to grade the teams.
Boston Bruins: C-
Their biggest need was on defense. Not just a high end player that eat twenty two to twenty five minutes a night, but someone who can pick up the defensive slack as Chara ages and with Seidenberg a thing of the past. They failed to do that. Their second biggest need was to fill out the right side, and they did that with a hand in glove signing of David Backes. Style wise, experience wise, attitude wise it would be harder to find a better right wing for the team even if there is a decent amount of risk. Third on the list was filling the bottom six and getting depth at forward that can be called up from Providence and provide veteran leadership there. They first didn’t make the mistake of resigning Chris Kelly long term (or at all, so far), and brought back Tyler Randell, and added Riley Nash which are solid signings. They also signed an injury prone backup goaltender who will at least fit into the room comfortably being a retread.
Buffalo Sabres: B+
The Sabres did what they needed to continue a rebuild that is going along solidly but they took on some risk to do so. Kyle Okposo brings size, skill, physicality, playoff experience and undeniable injury history to the Sabres. They added some minor league depth, but honestly there wasn’t a lot for them to do. They have some RFA’s to resign who play a big part in the Sabres machine, and are targeting Jimmy Vesey, but they have enough depth at all the skating positions they should with only reasonable health at worst still be in the playoff conversation in late November assuming they get Rasmus Ristolainen, and Marcus Foligno signed without alienating anyone. The biggest failure would be in letting Chad Johnson go and picking up Anders Nilsson who has largely been a 3rd goalie as the seeming replacement.
Detroit Red Wings: C-
Generally peaking when your two most notable UFA acquisitions are a former all star known for scoring who barely does any more, and a former agitator who barely does that anymore you’ve already admitted you’re rebuilding. Except the Red Wings haven’t done that, and yet they went and grabbed Tomas Vanek who has seen his stats plummet in the last few years, and Steve Ott who has had exactly one twenty goal season in his career. Ott will be thirty-four when the puck drops in October. It is quite hard to be optimistic when a team that 23rd in the leagues last season in Goals For does nothing noticeable to help themselves in that category. What about Frans Neilsen you say? Good question. He’s undeniably talented, but he is also 32, the least well known of the three (outside Long Island), and has never cracked 60 points. Did Zetterberg and Kronwall lobby that hard for players who listen to the same music as they do?
Florida Panthers: B+
On paper the Florida Panthers have spent the last several days sweeping up all the talent they need to maybe, just maybe become the front runner for Atlantic Division Title. They inked Jason Demers long term, and they also made two sneaky smart pickups signing Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault both playoff tested guys still at the height of their athleticism. If there is a concern in the moves made over the off season as a whole, it is that the team may have gotten worse defensively. That’s a bit concerning given that their number one goaltender is within a season or so of playing in his 1000th NHL game.
The Montreal Canadiens: C-
While there is nothing wrong with the talent the Canadiens have brought in, one wonders what is wrong with the decision making process in the front office. The mantra according to both deed and word is to have a locker room without personality problems, at least that was the official reason for moving Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban. But when you bring in Alex Radulov and Andrew Shaw to the mix any observer can be forgiven for wondering if there wasn’t perhaps if that official reason wasn’t even close to the skin of the matter. Al Montoya as a backup is nearly as confusing as the other moves as their were several backups available with better career numbers.
Ottawa Senators: No Grade
While they didn’t throw too much term or too much money at any big name free agents and certainly there are occasions when the signing you don’t make is the best deal of the off season, they failed to improve. That said, they did a lot of major movement towards the middle of last season, and didn’t have a lot of roster spots to fill.
Tampa Bay Lightning: No Grade
The Bolts didn’t have a lot of needs from the UFA market, if any at all. And they made no moves there. They did lock up most of their core and have a good deal of room to sign up the RFAs they have at loose ends.
Toronto Maple Leafs: C-
The Leafs added two UFAs worth naming since free agency opened, and the same thing can be said about both of them. They are tough, physical, blue collar players who can be nice contributors. What Matt Martin and Roman Polak aren’t are cornerstones or top of the roster players. Neither is really even a middle of the roster player. Toughness, and even headedness are great but this team’s needle hasn’t been pushed closer to playoff participant yet.