Hockey (Last) Night In Canada: Free Agent Frenzy

July 1st had it all going on. It was the start of NBA Free Agency which kicked off LeBronukkah. In Canada, it was a national holiday and Canada Day. I mean that it was the start of NHL Free Agency and the country’s birthday. The 30 teams continued their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup which started at the draft. At least “Free Agent Frenzy” is better than being named after one man. Unless you call this “Koval-up-chuk.” Anyway, did your favourite team make a big move over the last 24 hours? A recap of the day’s events and analysis after the jump.

To Toronto – Kris Versteeg, Bill Sweatt
To Chicago – Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomineco, Philippe Paradis
So what we have here is a business deal. The Hawks need to clear cap space so they send $3 million to a basement-dweller in the other conference. Enter the Toronto Maple Leafs who need to find some scoring. They have goaltending. The defence is serviceable to make the playoffs. Versteeg becomes the second top-six forward to join the ranks of the Make Believes. Gotta believe that Burkie robbed Bowman the Younger blind.

Ottawa buys out Jonathan Cheechoo
He had 56 goals the year after the lockout. Another 37 the following season. Then it all fell apart. In the last three seasons, he’s managed just 40 total goals. In his seven pro seasons, 55% of his output come in two years. In the grand scheme of things, his $3 million against the $59 million payroll isn’t a big deal. It’s a big annoying, however, to pay him $3.5 million to play in the AHL for a year. Now, the Sens will have to eat $1 million against the cap this year and another million next year because of the buyout. It’s dead space against the cap but if they get rid of Spezza, they won’t be pushed against the cap.

To Philadelphia – Andrej Meszaros
To Tampa Bay – 2nd Round Draft Pick
The Flyers get somebody to shore up that 5/6 defensive pair. Meszaros isn’t much of a defensive defenceman but the Blackhawks exploited that 3rd pair to the point that a change had to be made. The good news for Tampa is that they dump a $4 million cap hit. The question becomes whether or not the Flyers can make their cap work anymore.

Ottawa signs Sergei Gonchar (D) for 3 years at $16.5 million
It’s taken them a couple of years but the Sens finally have a #1 defenseman. Here’s the guy they’ve desperately needed since Wade Redden stopped being Wade Redden. Sure, this deal eats most of their remaining cap room but if Spezza is dumped, there’s all that room back. Even with a near $60 million salary cap, a $5.5 million cap hit over the next three years is a large chunk of change. The more dangerous thing is that it sets the market for the rest of the top pair defencemen. Dan Hamhuis and Paul Martin sure are happy right now.

Phoenix re-signs Derek Morris (D) for 4 years at $11 million
Morris is your classic journeyman blueliner. He’s a decent enough player to be a second pair blueliner. Considering what Gonachar went for, Morris signing for exactly half that is a coup for the Coyotes. I think I’m not presuming too much to say that Morris definitely better than half of Sergei Gonchar.

Pittsburgh signs Paul Martin (D) for 5 years at $25 million and Zybnek Michalek (D) for 5 years at $20 million
So the Pens lose the #1 UFA defenseman to Ottawa but make up for it with two of TSN’s top five. Martin won’t match Gonchar’s offensive firepower but he’s generally a steadier presence on the backend. And a man named Paul Martin on a team with a strong Canadian leadership only seems appropriate. Zybnek Michalek is a name you’ve probably never heard before. That’s because he was previously employed by the Coyotes and no one knows who plays there, even residents of Glendale. Near as I can figure, he’s a second pair blueliner. The pair is a good signing for the Pens as long as you forget that they still haven’t found a winger for Crosby or Malkin.

New Jersey signs Anton Volchenkov (D) for 6 years at $25.5 million and Henrik Tallinder (D) 4 years at $13.5 million
So you lose your top defenseman and your top rental player. What do you do next? Steal from everyone else. Ottawa’s Volchenkov is a throwback to the Lemaire days. He’s defensive defenseman and never met a shot he didn’t want to block. Henrik Tallinder continues the seemingly never-ending exodus from Buffalo. I’m not sure who was the last UFA they re-signed after July 1st. Anyway, the oft-injured blueline will fit in as a second or third pair guy. The problem is that the two of them combined won’t match Martin’s offensive output. It’s a good plan if the Devils want to make life easier for Marty Brodeur. After the last few playoffs, that’d be a good idea.

Vancouver signs Dan Hamhuis (D) for 6 years at $27 million
I’d say that the defensive situation in Van-city has been resolved. That was the biggest concern heading into last season and I think they’ve solved it. Hamhuis joins new addition Keith Ballard on the back end. Hamhuis is also the closest thing that Vancouver could get to a #1 for a reasonable price. Granted, this group of defencemen aren’t as good as the 2007 Anaheim Ducks or 2008/09 Red Wings but a Stanley Cup could go a long way to giving that perception.

Calgary signs Olli Jokinen (C) for 2 years at $6 million
Remember when Olli Jokinen played to regular crowds of 10,000 people and was the next big thing? He was better than a point a game and looked like he could be a huge star. Then he moved to a real hockey market like Calgary and fell silent. Most players would love to have the 0.67 PPG that Jokinen has with the Flames but most players weren’t superstars with previous squads. He underachieved under the bright lights of national TV and the ravenous Calgary fanbase. He was supposed to team with Iginla to make an unstoppable one-two punch to complement the cement wall that is Mikka Kiprusoff. Now he’s back in the Prairies. The G20 summit will look like a picnic thanks to this signing.

Toronto signs Colby Armstrong (RW) for 3 years at $9 million
You have to give Brian Burke some credit. He’s nothing if not consistent. Here’s another gritty character player that will be a good fit on the third line but might make the second line. Too bad that he needs real top six forwards. Armstrong wasn’t even a big scorer when he played for Pittsburgh, though he was good enough to be moved for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. The good news for Toronto is that it gives them another Canadian player. If you’re going to suck, you may as well support small town Canada.

New York Rangers signs Derek Boogaard (LW) for 4 years at $6.5 million
Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. A man averaging less than 3 points per SEASON in his career is making $1.625 million a year for the next four years? How is that possible under the salary cap? Glen Sather does realize that the salary cap is $59.4 million dollars. While I realize that if you evenly divide the cap by 23 players, it’s $2.58 million, a pugilist who logs about 5 minutes of ice time a game and plays less than two-thirds of the games in a season is not worth that sort of money. Think of it this way, Sean Avery is making $300k more a year and he can score. Where can I get a deal like this?

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