A year removed from its third lockout in two decades, the NHL opened its free agency doors and saw massive amounts of spending. On Friday, the teams spent over $350 million combined. Big money was tossed in the direction of David Clarkson, Nathan Horton and, you guessed it: Ryan Clowe… OK, maybe you didn’t guess Clowe would get rich, but the New Jersey Devils are paying him handsomely for some reason.
A little more than a week removed from winning the Stanley Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks decided only to bring back familiar faces, rather than take a chance on someone new. They know they are going to have to pay their stars in the years to come, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they weren’t in the bidding for Vinny Lecavalier or Danny Briere. As of press time, the only free agents the ‘Hawks had signed were defenseman Michal Rozsival, center Michal Handzus and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
The two Michals each played key roles in the Blackhawks run to the championship. Both players provide experience and a sense of security. Neither player would be considered a spring chicken. It will be interesting to see how they are used as the league returns to a full 82-game schedule.
Fans and management alike are rooting for the AHL’s leading scorer, Brandon Pirri, to be ready to play in the big leagues. If the coaching staff thinks he could still use some time in Rockford, you can expect Handzus to start the season centering the second line. Both he and Rozsival will spend time killing penalties.
After three years in Edmonton, the “Bulin Wall” returns to Blackhawks. Khabibulin spent four years in Chicago highlighted by the 2009 playoff run where he helped lead the team into the Western Conference Finals. He won 90 games while donning a ‘Hawks sweater and saved 90.4 percent of the shots he saw.
Things have changed a little bit since then: the team has won two championships and they aren’t overpaying their goaltender tandem. The team’s starter, Corey Crawford, and Khabibulin combine to make a little over $4.6 million. “Khabi” and Cristobal Huet made almost 4 times that amount during the 2008-09 season.
The Blackhawks did lose a couple players in free agency. Goalie, Ray Emery, is returning to Philadelphia where he’ll have a much better chance of claiming the starting gig than he did while playing in Chicago. The Flyers won 23 games last year; Emery won 17 while splitting time with “Crow”. He will battle Steve Mason for time between the pipes and if he plays anywhere near the way he did last year, you can expect to see Philly return to the playoffs.
Another player who will be changing his address is Viktor Stalberg, who signed with the Nashville Predators. Stalberg never really met expectation after being acquired for Kris Versteeg in the summer of 2010. Don’t be surprised to see him play top line minutes for the Preds.
Nashville ranked at the bottom of the league in scoring with fewer than 2-and-a-half goals per game. Their leading scorer was Shea Weber, who plays on the blue line. Over the past four seasons, Nashville’s points leader hasn’t had more than 51. Stalberg may not reach that number in his first year, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get there at some point during his four-year contract.
Stalberg wasn’t the only forward the Predators signed. They also inked centers Matt Cullen and Matt Hendricks. Eric Nystrom will play for his fourth NHL franchise when he suits up for Nashville in the upcoming season. None of these players will force coach Barry Trotz to change his system. They’ll probably score more goals this year, but they will still be known as a defensive team.
The rest of the teams in “Division B” were fairly quiet. The biggest acquisition for the Colorado Avalanche was Nathan MacKinnon who they took first overall in last week’s entry draft. The same can be said for the Dallas Stars who made noise by making trades. They acquired Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins and also were able to land Shawn Horcoff from the Edmonton Oilers.
The Winnipeg Jets didn’t make any free agent signings of note either. The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues each signed agitators. Former Penguin, Matt Cooke, will be in the Twin Cities after signing a 3-year deal with the Wild. Meanwhile, Maxim Lapierre, will play for the Blues. St. Louis also added veteran center, Derek Roy.
Follow on Twitter: @MidwayJoe