As anyone who follows hockey was made well aware by every media outlet in the weeks leading up to it, July 1 was the day in which unrestricted free agents could begin entertaining offers and sign contracts with different teams. The first day of July also happens to be Canada Day and there was no shortage of action involving Canadian teams.
The following is a grading of the new acquisitions made by Canada’s teams on the first day of the off-season free agency period:
Justin Schultz, D, 2 years, $1.85M–A
The Oilers get a high grade for signing Schultz simply for the fact they finally added a potential star defenceman. While many thought the club should have drafted a d-man with the first overall pick in each of the past two drafts, the signing of Schultz will certainly have changed a lot of minds. The highly sought and highly touted Schultz emerged as one of the more talked about players this off-season with just about every team seemingly interested in obtaining his services. An impressive looking talent with a tremendous skating ability, Schultz will be able to jump right into the lineup and provide the Oilers with some offensive punch from the backend–much like his former Wisconsin teammate Jake Gardiner did in Toronto last year.
Colby Armstrong, RW, 1 year, $1M–C
After having the remainder of his contract bought out by the Leafs, Montreal quickly snagged the oft-injured Armstrong to a one-year deal. Limited to just 79 games over his two years with the Leafs, Armstrong’s inability to stay on the ice has largely decreased his value from when he scored 22 goals as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009. If he can remain healthy the Habs can expect a hard working player like Armstrong to certainly earn his $1 million for the upcoming season, but his injury woes of late make that a big IF.
In looking at name only, this is a quality signing. Add in the $ and it doesn’t look as good. In Brandon Prust, Montreal knows exactly what they will be getting; a hard-nosed 3rd or 4th line winger who can kill penalties, lay the body, be an agitator, and score 5+ goals.
That type of player certainly fits perfectly for a Cup contending team like the New York Rangers, but when you’re the Montreal Canadiens it leaves you asking “don’t they need more than Brandon Prust?” There are players earning $2.5 million a year that score 15-20 goals on a consistent basis, and although Prust does a lot of good things, an offensive player at the same price seems like more of a need for the Habs right now.
Francis Boullion, D, 1 year, $1.5M–B-
Boullion returns to La Belle Province after three years in Nashville and is a cheap way for the Habs to add to their defensive depth. Defenceman never come cheaply and although 1.5 might be a little steep for a guy who will battle to be among the top 6, Boullion comes in familiar with the organization and will push youngsters like Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber in training camp. A seasoned, steady and reliable blueliner, Boullion isn’t spectacular but he can chip in at both ends of the ice and is very low maintenance.
Guillaume Latendresse, RW, 1 year, $1.25M–D+
Latendresse is a very intriguing signing and one that will likely be a big hit, or a big miss. A 27 goal-scorer in 2009-10, Latendresse has played just 27 games over the past two years and fell out of favour in Minnesota much like he did in Montreal. Being accused by the Wild of not getting back into shape following his hip injury, Latendresse seems to be far from the goal-scoring power forward he was becoming two years ago and the one year, $1.25 million contract is one that Bryan Murray could have probably used more wisely.
Mike Lundin, D, 1 year., $1.15–C
Another singning that might look a little odd, Murray apparently seems something in defenceman Mike Lundin that the Lightning and Wild didn’t. An in and out defenceman for much of his 5-year professional career, Lundin has never established himself as someone that can be an everyday blueliner. With the Sens losing Filip Kuba and Matt Carkner, it appears that Lundin is headed for a much bigger role than he saw last year in only 17 games with Minnesota.
Trade: Nick Foligno for Marc Methot–B
After losing two of their defencemen on the day, the Sens added to their list of replacements by acquiring Marc Methot from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Nick Foligno. Coming off a career year in which he scored 15 goals and totalled 47 points, it won’t be easy to see a guy like Foligno go, but in Methot the Sens are gaining someone who will now take over as the club’s best and most physical defensive presence.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Much like Montreal’s signing of Brandon Prust, the Leafs signing of Jay McClement is a solid one but it is not one that really fills a hole. The Leafs have failed time and time again with signings exactly like this one, and even though the 29-year-old McClement gives them a solid option down the middle, fans will be left wondering if and when Brian Burke is going to make a real splash in the FA market.
McClement is a responsible checking center but has a career high of just 12 goals and 36 points–fine for a contending team looking to shore things up down the middle, but for a team in need of offense it is questionable.
Jason Garrison, D, 6 years, 27.6M–B+
One of the more attractive free agent defencemen, Garrison turned his career year into a hefty new contract with Vancouver. The White Rock, BC native went from having 10 career goals in two seasons to scoring 16 last year with the Panthers, becoming a dangerous power-play weapon in the process.
While much of Garrison’s success was credited to being paired with Brian Campbell, there is no denying that he possesses a bomb of a point shot; one that is coveted by any team that already features a load of power-play skill. In Vancouver there will be no drop-off in talent around Garrison and that should allow him to thrive once again.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, 1 year, $1.8M–B
Coming off a lengthy playoff run with the Devils, Ponikarovsky will continue his tour of duty by joining what will now be the sixth different organization of his career. A veteran of over 600 regular season games and a Stanley Cup to his credit, Ponikarovsky proved that he still has a lot of hockey left throughout the playoffs with New Jersey. The 32-year-old winger will reunite with his long time former Toronto teammate Nik Antropov and will provide the Jets with a strong two-way game as someone who can play physical and hit double digit in goals.