Hockey fans were left more than a little underwhelmed by a quiet NHL trade deadline that was without a blockbuster move.
There’s no promise things will be any more exciting during the league’s next unofficial holiday—the opening of free agency on July 1.
All signs point to it being a talent pool short on impact players. The biggest name poised to become an unrestricted free agent is centre Brad Richards, who remained a member of the Dallas Stars after Monday’s trade deadline and could still sign a new deal with the team before hitting the open market.
Beyond him, there are only two other players in the top-40 in league scoring who are eligible to become UFA—and there’s no way Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne or Detroit Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom will be changing addresses if they decide to continue their respective careers.
Some of the most enticing names are likely to be goaltenders, although that group lost two potential members this week when Detroit signed Jimmy Howard to a two-year extension and San Jose inked Antti Niemi to a new four-year deal.
Ilya Bryzgalov could attract quite a bit of attention. He’s helped the Phoenix Coyotes stay in playoff contention in the Western Conference but hasn’t yet received any firm offers for an extension.
“He’s a top-10 goaltender in this league and it doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to figure out he’s going to get paid a good salary,” Coyotes GM Don Maloney said this week in an interview.
Maloney is hamstrung by the team’s uncertain ownership picture as the deal to sell the Coyotes to Matthew Hulsizer still hasn’t gone through.
The GM referred to Bryzgalov as a “priority” for the team but isn’t yet sure if he’ll be able to provide the kind of deal need to keep him.
“I’ll have a conversation with Bryzzy,” said Maloney. “Realistically, (the situation) hasn’t changed since training camp. Until our ownership is decided, we just aren’t in a position to sign Bryzzy to the kind of contract that he’s going to get.
“I mean, whether it’s here or elsewhere.”
Among the other goalies scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer are Craig Anderson, Tomas Vokoun, Dwayne Roloson, Johan Hedberg, Jose Theodore and J.S. Giguere.
Up front, most of the available players will only add depth to an organization. Simon Gagne, Alexei Kovalev, Jason Arnott, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, Ville Leino and Jussi Jokinen all have expiring contracts.
It seems the best way to build a team remains developing players from within. Entering play Tuesday, only five of the league’s top-25 point-getters had ever been traded or signed as a free agent by a NHL team—Martin St. Louis, Richards, Patrick Sharp, Jarome Iginla and Selanne.
That was the conclusion Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk came to when he elected not to deal Richards ahead of the trade deadline.
“I get a kick out of watching all of the media, in Toronto especially, saying who could use Brad Richards,” Nieuwendyk told reporters in Dallas on Monday. “Well you know what? Our team could use him, too.”
There’s a new team on top of our weekly look at No. 1 through No. 30 in the NHL (with previous ranking):
1. Philadelphia (2): Paul Holmgren sent a message by not making any moves on deadline day. The GM believes his team is good enough to make another run at the Stanley Cup.
2. Vancouver (1): The Canucks have slipped a little of late. Down the stretch, it will be interesting to watch Daniel Sedin chase the scoring title twin brother Henrik won last season.
3. Detroit (3): Henrik Zetterbeg is on pace for his most productive year since registering 92 points in 2007-08. A big reason for that is the fact he already has a career-best 51 assists.
4. Tampa Bay (4): Steven Stamkos appears to be on the way to another 50-goal season. He’s poised to get his first taste of the NHL playoffs, too.
5. Boston (6): The team has been hot since GM Peter Chiarelli started wheeling and dealing. Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley seem to have fit in well.
6. Pittsburgh (5): Alex Kovalev has looked pretty motivated early in his second stint with the Penguins. The team remains without captain Sidney Crosby, putting up an 11-9-3 record since a concussion knocked him out of the lineup.
7. San Jose (12): Despite a sizzling stretch the team remains in the “danger zone,” according to captain Joe Thornton. One area that could use improvement is the Sharks play on home ice.
8. Washington (13): Jason Arnott and Dennis Wideman have been added to a lineup that has gone through its share of struggles. The Caps still look like a challenger in the Eastern Conference.
9. Phoenix (11): Keith Yandle continues to quietly lead all NHL blue-liners in scoring. He’ll garner consideration when it’s time to vote on the Norris Trophy.
10. Los Angeles (14): A smart move by GM Dean Lombardi to lock up Justin Williams for the next four years. He would have been another intriguing unrestricted free agent.
11. Dallas (8): The calls have started for Mark Cuban to step in and purchase the Stars. The team’s uncertain ownership situation could play a big role in determining where Brad Richards plays next season.
12. Montreal (10): Brent Sopel is awfully excited to join the bleu, blanc et rouge. It remains to be seen whether GM Pierre Gautheir should have added more pieces to his battered blue-line.
13. Chicago (17): Jonathan Toews earns the NHL’s player of the month honours in February after helping Chicago surge back into playoff position. Look out for the Hawks.
14. Nashville (7): The Predators have decided to rely on some of the kids. Jonathan Blum, Blake Geoffrion and Matt Halischuk are currently skating with the big team.
15. Minnesota (15): The Wild are counting on the return of captain Mikko Koivu for a boost of energy after GM Chuck Fletcher stood pat at the deadline.
16. Calgary (16): It’s hard to believe Brendan Morrison started training camp without any NHL team willing to give him a contract. The veteran forward is on pace for a 50-point season.
17. Anaheim (9): With Jonas Hiller on the sidelines, they’re running with Dan Ellis and Ray Emery in goal. It could be a rocky road.
18. N.Y. Rangers (18): Henrik Lundqvist leads the league with eight shutouts. That’s a good sign for a team hoping to make some noise come playoff time.
19. Columbus (19): It will be a little strange to see Rostislav Klesla in another sweater. He was the first-ever draft pick by Columbus—No. 4 in 2000—but was dealt to Phoenix at the deadline.
20. Carolina (20): The best deadline day acquisition was arguably seeing captain Eric Staal return to practice. He’ll be key to the team’s fortunes as it tries to hold on to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
21. Buffalo (21): There’s an optimistic feeling around the Sabres after the arrival of new owner Terry Pegula and the acquisition of forward Brad Boyes.
22. St. Louis (22): Chris Stewart has been a tremendous pickup with six goals in his first six games with the Blues. This organization has a lot of intriguing pieces—they just have to put them together.
23. Atlanta (23): Times have been tough for the Thrashers, who remain without No. 1 goalie Ondrej Pavelec. It looks like they’ll be facing another season out of the playoffs.
24. Toronto (27): They’ve put together a nice run by going 8-2-4 since the all-star break. But recent overtime/shootout losses to Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Atlanta could prove costly in the playoff chase.
25. New Jersey (26): Johan Hedberg has proven to be more than a capable replacement in goal for Martin Brodeur. It’s worth noting he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
26. Florida (24): Who is left on this blue-line? Defencemen Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen and Dennis Wideman all found new homes ahead of the trade deadline.
27. Colorado (25): The bottom has fallen out with only one win in the past 14 games. Despite the bad run, GM Greg Sherman tells the Denver Post that coach Joe Sacco will be back next season.
28. N.Y. Islanders (28): Goaltender Al Montoya has been surprisingly good since being acquired in a desperation trade. Entering play Tuesday, he had a .926 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average.
29. Ottawa (29): Craig Anderson arrives and a young teams starts winning. A sign of things to come next season?
30. Edmonton (30): With Dustin Penner shipped off to L.A., Taylor Hall is the team’s goal-scoring leader. The teenager has really picked up his play of late.