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Local Teams Busy on First Day of NHL Free Agency

by Anthony Pucik
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Wikimedia Commons

Devils add offense, Rangers wave hello and goodbye, Isles do something but nothing.

As expected, the first day of free agency in the NHL was a wild one for everyone around the league, especially the local teams.

The Eastern Conference champion Rangers had a busy day. They parted ways with Benoit Pouliot (5 years, $20 million with the Oilers), Anton Stralman (5 years, $22.5 million with the Lightning) and Brian Boyle (3 years, $6 million with the Lightning), but welcomed in defenseman Dan Boyle (2 years, $9 million), grinder Tanner Glass (3 years, $4.35 million) and depth players like defenders Mike Kostka and Matt Hunwick and center Chris Mueller. They also re-signed center Dominic Moore (2 years, $3 million).

Having to buy out Brad Richards early on in the offseason (who ended up signing a one-year deal for $2 million today with the Blackhawks), the Rangers knew they were going to be handcuffed when it came to the salary cap with a handful of free agents looking for raises. In the end, Pouliot’s price on the open market was too steep, Brian Boyle was looking for more money in an expanded role that the Rangers were unwilling to give him and Anton Stralman was looking for a long term deal at a high price that the Rangers might not have been willing to offer, so they ended up having to let them go.

They did, however, replace Stralman with Dan Boyle, who is a very formidable, albeit old, defenseman and a decent point man for the struggling Rangers’ power play and added grit in Glass to replace Derek Dorsett, who was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for a third round pick on the day of the NHL Draft. Additionally, bringing back Dominic Moore, who was a huge role player and essential to the Rangers’ fourth line down the stretch, was also a very good signing for them.

The Rangers still have over $14.6 million in cap space, and they certainly are not done on the free agent market. RFAs Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and John Moore have yet to be signed, and finding another potential top line center and third line winger would not hurt either. The Rangers have plenty of question marks and not a great deal of cap space. It will be interesting to see how they end up making enough room to fill out the roster, and if they will attempt to sign another center or just trust their younger players on the Hartford Wolf Pack.

The Devils are not in the same situation the Rangers are in. They did not have as many free agents and did not have as much cap space to work with, but were still able to make some moves today that improved their team. After buying out Anton Volchenkov and re-signing Adam Larsson (1 year, $900,000) already this offseason, the next order of business was to fix the Devils huge scoring issue. Well New Jersey wasted no time in doing that today, signing Mike Cammalleri to a five year deal worth $25 million. Cammalleri had 26 goals 45 points with the Calgary Flames, a perfect secondary scoring option that will be able to help take pressure off of Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr.

The team also picked up Martin Havlat, who was recently bought out by the San Jose Sharks, for one year at $1.5 million. Havlat had 12 goals and 22 points last season with the Sharks, but was a much more prolific scorer earlier on in his career. This is a solid deal for the Devils, and if Havlat benefits from a change to scenery and goes back to playing like he did earlier on in his career it could be a steal. The only other moves they made were re-signing Stephen Gionta (2 years, $1.6 million), Steve Bernier (1 year, $600,000) and picking up Scott Clemmensen insurance at the goalie position with Martin Brodeur testing the free agent market. The only player they lost was defenseman Mark Fayne (4 years, $14 million with the Oilers), but they are confident in their young defensemen and wanted to give them more playing time which allowed them to let Fayne walk.

With a little over $5.6 million in cap space left, the Devils will not be making many more moves. They will perhaps go after another forward to help their scoring issue while attempting to resign UFA Ryan Carter and RFA Jacob Josefson. All eyes will be on New Jersey until Brodeur finds a new home, but I think the Devils made their big splash of the offseason signing Cammalleri.

The Islanders are by far the most interesting of these three teams. Probably the team in need of the most help locally and one of the teams with the most cap space in the league, the Isles should have been like the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers, attempting to sign any player they could, even if they overspent a bit, to help their team. But while the Sabres and Panthers succeeded in this today, the Islanders failed. The few signings they made weren’t major, picking up Chad Johnson (2 years, $2.6 million), defenseman TJ Brennan (1 year, $600,000) and goalie David Leggio of the Hersey Bears. As expected, they did lose Evgeni Nabakov, who signed a one year deal worth $1.55 million, but that was expected after signing Jaroslav Halak earlier in the offseason.

What’s more troubling, however, is that the Islanders missed out on other players that they offered a great deal of money to, who decided to go to other teams. The team made a push for Thomas Vanek again, but he ended up going to the Minnesota Wild for supposedly less money (3 years, $19.5 million) and also lost out on Dan Boyle, who they trade the San Jose Sharks a pick for to simply talk to him. Bottom line, players are willing to go to other places for less money rather than play with the Islanders, and that’s a problem. The team has the most cap space in the league at over $24 million and only has young RFAs like Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan, Casey Cizikas, Anders Nilsson and Anders Lee that won’t garner much money and one UFA in Martinek Radek.

There are plenty of free agents left on the market, but playing for the Islanders is apparently not a very inciting sell for players. Whether it is the lackluster play over the past few decades or not being comfortable moving to a team that has to move to a new home in a year when they head over to Brooklyn, the Islanders are not giving free agents enough of a reason to come to New York. I expect the Islanders to make a push for another defenseman and maybe some more offensive depth, but the big question will be whether or not players want to come there, because as it stands now it seems that nobody does.