Although the flurry of activity this summer has provided storylines for all 30 NHL teams, some deals are more important than others – and not every impactful inking was of an unrestricted free agent.
Here’s a look at the signings and re-signings so far that shaped the summer and will have the biggest effect on the hockey world’s future as well.
10. Ian White, D, Detroit. $5.75 million over two years
The surprise retirement of Brian Rafalski left a big hole on the Red Wings blueline and though White has bounced around the league during the past two seasons, he will bring power play acumen to the Detroit point. The big question is whether White and fellow newbie Mike Commodore can replace Rafalski’s overall contributions. Otherwise, that Detroit slide might finally actually occur.
9. Erik Gudbranson, D, Florida. $2.7 million over three years (plus bonuses)
With the Panthers striving to turn over a new leaf, it would have been both a setback and an embarrassment had they failed to sign Gudbranson for a second straight summer. With the 2010 first-rounder now in the fold and veterans Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell in town, the Cats blueline has all sorts of new sandpaper and firepower.
8. Jaromir Jagr, RW, Philadelphia. $3.3 million over one year
One of the great early storylines of the summer was the imminent return of Jagr, one of Europe’s finest exports. Before finalizing his NHL comeback from the Kontinental League (where his presence helped legitimize the fledgling circuit), Jagr danced with Montreal and Pittsburgh before settling on the Penguins’ main rival across the state. His effectiveness will be a microcosm of the Flyers’ big summer spending spree.
7. Brent Burns, D, San Jose. $28.8 million over five years
Say this about Sharks GM Doug Wilson: The man loves big contracts. After another season without a Cup, the Sharks went out and dealt for Burns and Martin Havlat in separate deals with Minnesota. Burns was later rewarded with a big contract extension, putting the pressure on the talented yet injury-studded blueliner. Adding Burns to a defense corps already featuring Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray makes San Jose an imposing foe – nothing new there.
6. Tomas Vokoun, G, Washington. $1.5 million over one year
A cautionary tale in mathematics: There are still just 30 starting jobs in the NHL and a lot of good goalies to fill them. Vokoun took a big haircut from his usual salary after realizing there weren’t many spots left in the game of UFA musical chairs. Luckily for the veteran standout, he inked a deal with one of the best teams in the NHL. The Caps made out like bandits here, getting an Olympic goalie for the price of a third-line forward.
5. James Wisniewski, D, Columbus. $33 million over six years
Overpaid? Maybe. But the Blue Jackets finally got a point threat for their power play and, more importantly, proved to fans they were serious about a culture change. Between ‘The Wiz’ and Jeff Carter, Columbus at last has the offensive personnel to hang in the West. Wisniewski’s contract was also an early indicator just how crazy the summer would be in terms of dollar amounts.
4. Brad Richards, C, NY Rangers. $60 million over nine years
This one had it all. The most marquee UFA on the market went to a flagship franchise on a front-loaded, super-long deal. For some, it represented everything wrong about the current CBA’s machinations. But for fans of the Blueshirts, it was heaven. ‘B-Rich’ takes his game to Broadway, where he is reunited with his Cup-winning coach from Tampa, John Tortorella, and a host of young talent in need of a catalyst. Plus, sniper Marian Gaborik gets one of the premier passers in the game to play with.
3. Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Philadelphia. $51 million over nine years
Call him the Brad Richards of the crease. ‘Cool Bryz’ jetted from the desert and joined the Flyers’ Frankenstein Cup challengers as that long-awaited star goalie, doing so on a massive deal. Done in by netminding in so many post-seasons past, Philadelphia now has a stopper capable of big things – as long as he doesn’t run into Detroit in the final.
2. Zach Parise, LW, New Jersey. $6 million over one year
The Devils are playing Russian roulette with their best asset, re-signing the RFA Parise to a one-year pact ahead of arbitration. Not that GM Lou Lamoriello had much choice, given his cap situation. But that problem just gets pushed to next summer, when the gifted left winger will be unrestricted and (presumably) not coming off a season lost to injury.
1. Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay. $37.5 million over five years
Stamkos’ RFA signing would have been important based simply on the fact he has quickly become one of the best players in the league and will challenge for that crown for a decade to come. But factor in the impact of the construct of his contract and it becomes even more intriguing. ‘Stammer’ didn’t go for big term like his forebearers Crosby and Ovechkin, instead settling on a medium length. No doubt this has been brought up in Doughty’s negotiations with L.A. Even though he’s a blueliner and Stamkos a center, they were drafted 1-2 in 2008 and have similar importance to their franchises.