Where Are They Now? 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning
Considering how much money NHL teams invested in signing each year’s top unrestricted free agents, one can assume those clubs believe these moves will improve their chances of becoming Stanley Cup contenders. But if the notable UFA deals of the last decade are any indication, such efforts do not guarantee championship glory.
In 2007, the biggest UFA signings saw Scott Gomez and Chris Drury join the New York Rangers, Daniel Briere head to the Philadelphia Flyers, Paul Kariya sign with the St. Louis Blues, Ryan Smyth joining the Colorado Avalanche, Sheldon Souray inking a deal with the Edmonton Oilers and Brian Rafalski move to the Detroit Red Wings.
Of these deals, only the Rafalski signing contributed to a team winning the Stanley Cup. Briere would help the Flyers stage their underdog run to the 2010 Cup Final.
2008’s notable signings included Marian Hossa to Detroit, Markus Naslund and Wade Redden to the Rangers, Rob Blake to the San Jose Sharks, Todd Bertuzzi to the Calgary Flames, Mike Commodore to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Brian Campbell to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Hossa helped the Wings reach the 2009 Cup Final. Campbell played a key role in the Hawks 2010 championship.
In 2009, Hossa moved on to Chicago while Marian Gaborik joined the Rangers, Martin Havlat headed to the Minnesota Wild, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta went to the Montreal Canadiens, Mike Komisarek left the Habs for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Alexei Kovalev inked a deal with the Ottawa Senators.
Only the Hossa deal panned out. He played a significant part in the Blackhawks’ Cup titles in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
It was a shallow pool of notable UFA talent in 2010. Sergei Gonchar went to Ottawa, Paul Martin moved to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Tanguay went to Calgary, Antti Niemi to San Jose and Dan Hamhuis joined the Vancouver Canucks.
Hamhuis was an important part of the Canucks blueline for several years. He also helped them reach the 2011 Cup Final.
Brad Richards headlined the 2011 UFA class, signing a long-term deal with the Rangers. Other notables included Jaromir Jagr returning to the NHL with the Flyers, Erik Cole head to Montreal, Ed Jovanovski to the Florida Panthers, Mike Smith to the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes, Simon Gagne to the Los Angeles Kings and J.S. Gigeure join the Avalanche.
Richards helped the Rangers advance to the 2014 Cup Final. He was later bought out by the Rangers, signed with the Blackhawks as a free agent and helped them win the Cup in 2015.
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signing with Minnesota were the biggest UFA moves of 2012. Others included Ray Whitney going to the Coyotes, Jason Garrison to Vancouver, Jiri Hudler heading to Calgary, Matt Carle joining the Tampa Bay Lightning and Alexander Semin signing with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Following a lockout shortened season, the summer of 2013 saw Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss go to Detroit, Jarome Iginla to the Boston Bruins, Nathan Horton to Columbus, David Clarkson to Toronto and Valtteri Filppula to Tampa Bay
The summer of 2014 saw Ignila on the move again, this time to Colorado. Paul Statsny went to St. Louis, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik joined the Washington Capitals, Dan Boyle went to the Rangers, Thomas Vanek to Minnesota, Dave Bolland and Jussi Jokinen signed with Florida, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin headed to the New York Islanders and Anton Stralman signed with the Lightning.
Stralman played a key role in Lightning’s march to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
In 2015, the notable signings included Mike Green to Detroit, Justin Williams to Washington, Andrej Sekera to Edmonton, Alex Semin to Montreal and Joel Ward to San Jose. Ward helped the Sharks reach the 2016 Cup Final.
Last summer saw Milan Lucic sign with Edmonton, Eric Staal head to Minnesota, Loui Eriksson sign with Vancouver, David Backes moving to Boston, Troy Brouwer going to Calgary, Andrew Ladd join the Islanders, Frans Nielsen land with Detroit and Kyle Okposo shuffle off to the Buffalo Sabres.
So far none of those moves pushed their respective clubs any closer to championship contention, though some of these deal could pan out over time.
As we can see, very few notable UFAs played a significant role in helping their new clubs reach the Stanley Cup Final. If that trend continues, this summer’s big signings – Kevin Shattenkirk to the Rangers, Patrick Marleau to Toronto, Alexander Radulov to Dallas, Karl Alzner to Montreal – could become costly moves that fail to push those teams any closer to a championship.
The argument can be made that the salary-cap era has drained the UFA market of any significant talent. Teams tend to re-sign their best players, leaving mostly second-tier talent available in the free-agent pool. However, that was usually the case before the advent of the cap.
But as I noted in May 2014, teams from that era rarely had success landing talent that carried them to championships. The Dallas Stars’ signings of goaltender Ed Belfour (1997) and Brett Hull (1998) and the Red Wings’ additions of Hull and Luc Robitaille in 2001 are the only notable examples from that period.
The UFA market does have some value for clubs seeking depth in talent. Over the years, teams have added players that improved their rosters to various degress. Championship teams also benefited from free agency, usually through the addition of affordable depth players.
Free agency can help an NHL club build a contender, but it’s never been a sure path to a championship. In today’s salary-cap world, pursuing expensive, often overhyped veterans can do more harm than good, tying up invaluable salary-cap space necessary for retaining homegrown talent.
Game recaps, stars of the week, Luongo and Ovechkin reach milestones & more in your NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo picked up career win 448 and career shutout 73 as he backstopped his club to a 3-0 blanking of the New Jersey Devils. Luongo moves past Terry Sawchuk into fifth on the all-time wins list.
Alexander Ovechkin tied Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice Richard in career goals (544) and moved to within one point of 1,000 to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-1 victory over the Canadiens. Ovechkin scored a goal and set up two others, leaving him tied with Richard for 29th on the all-time goal list.
Connor Hellebuyck made 28 saves as the Winnipeg Jets shut out the Calgary Flames 2-0. Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler tallied for the Jets.
Patrick Sharp and Radek Faksa each collected three points and Jiri Hudler scored his first goal of the season as the Dallas Stars downed the Los Angeles Kings 6-4. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty each had two points for the Kings.
TSN.CA: New York Rangers right wing Michael Grabner, Edmonton Oilers left wing Patrick Maroon and Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby are the NHL’s three stars for the week ending January 8, 2017.
NEWSDAY: Despite his club’s struggles this season, New York Islanders captain John Tavares insists he remains committed to improving the team.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Isles’ struggles this season prompted some Toronto-area pundits to daydream about Tavares joining the Maple Leafs as an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Far too early to start musing about that. Given the rise of young Leafs such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, the Leafs won’t need to bring in an expensive free agent in 2018.
SUN-SENTINEL.com: Former Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant claims his strong opinions, rather than management’s devotion to analytics, were responsible for his firing.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Noble of Gallant to put the blame on himself, but I believe panic in the front office was the reason he was fired. I don’t expect he’ll be unemployed for long.
EDMONTON SUN: The Oilers placed backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson on waivers and demoted rookie winger Jesse Puljujarvi to their AHL affiliate.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets placed backup goalie Curtis McElhinney on waivers.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As the Sun article observed, maybe the Oilers will put in a claim for McElhinney.
VANCOUVER SUN’s Ben Kuzma reports via Twitter that Canucks defenseman Ben Hutton could be placed on injured reserve after blocking a shot with his left hand on Friday.
Freelance writer Dhiren Mahiban reports via Twitter former NHL center Mike Richards still hopes to play this season and could look at Europe for options.
YAHOO SPORTS: Adidas is phasing out third jerseys, leaving some NHL teams to decide whether to adopt their alternative jerseys as their primary ones.
Ben Bishop was nearly dealt to the Calgary Flames, plus speculation on Mike Richards getting a training camp invite from the Edmonton Oilers.
THE TAMPA TRIBUNE: Joe Smith reports Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop believed he was close to being dealt to the Calgary Flames during the NHL Draft in June. At one point, his camp was in the process of working out a potential contract with the Flames. However, Calgary management opted instead to acquire Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues.
Bishop is in the final season of his current contract with a $5.95 million cap hit and a no-movement clause. He’s eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency.
GM Steve Yzerman has acknowledged he’ll have to eventually reach a decision regarding his goaltending before the June expansion draft. Bishop understands trade rumors could persist throughout this season, but said he’ll keep his focus on winning games for the Lightning this season.
SPORTSNET: Among his “10 bold predictions for the 2016-17 NHL season,” Eric Engels believes the Lightning’s need to free up salary cap space to re-sign key players Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat means this season will be Bishop’s last with the Bolts. Engels believes promising Andrei Vasilevskiy is ready to take over the starter’s job with a veteran goalie backing him up.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bishop’s apparent willingness to talk contract with the Flames indicates they could become among his potential destinations if things don’t work out with Elliott. No word on the Lightning’s possible asking price, but I’m guessing it was high enough to push the Flames toward Elliott.
A Bishop trade is certainly possible by the Feb. 28 trade deadline, but not a certainty. His no-movement clause limits potential destinations, as does his nearly $6 million cap hit. His UFA status next summer is also a significant stumbling block.
Teams interested in Bishop will want assurances he’ll re-sign with them. Otherwise, it makes little sense to waste valuable assets on a rental goalie who could depart via free agency on July 1. Of course, much will also depend upon how desperate a playoff contender becomes to bolster their goaltending by the trade deadline.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: David Staples offers up his take on recent local speculation suggesting the Edmonton Oilers could extend a professional tryout offer to veteran center Mike Richards. While noting Richards’ weak scoring, Staples suggests the center’s puck sense and competitiveness could interest Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli.
630 CHED (VIA TODAY’S SLAPSHOT): Chiarelli said he’d had some discussion earlier this summer about shoring up the right side of his defense. He could pick up those talks again but feels he’s pretty much done making moves for the foreseeable future.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Bringing in Richards on a training camp tryout would be an inexpensive, low-risk option for the Oilers to fill their fourth-line center role.