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NHL Free Agency: Day 1's Winners and Losers

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Buffalo's Tim Murray and Pittsburgh's Jim Rutherford made some of the better moves on July 1. (Getty Images)
Buffalo's Tim Murray and Pittsburgh's Jim Rutherford made some good moves on July 1. (Getty Images)

More NHL Offseason: NHL rumors | Rumor mill | Trade Tracker | 2014-15 preseason odds

As the dust continues to settle after an explosive first day of open season on unrestricted free agents, there is a lot to take in. Like always, big money got thrown around on a rather thin free-agent market, driving up prices for the best players and allowing others to make a little (or in some cases, a lot) more than their actual value.

That first day free agents can sign is always exciting. Watching big-name players go to this team or that team creates a level of optimism for fans that their teams are doing something, anything, to improve their team. Sometimes it's that one player that can change a team's fortunes. Other times, however, it's that big free-agent signing that can be looked at as an albatross on a struggling team.

Several teams spent a lot of money in free agency and at this early stage, it's always pertinent to wonder if it was all worth it. For some clubs, they filled holes, for others they papered over bigger problems. With that in mind, here's a look at the teams that could be considered winners and losers, and one that doesn't quite fit into either category. NHL writers Chris Peters and Brian Stubits weigh in with their picks:

Winners

Dallas Stars

C Jason Spezza (trade with Ottawa)
F Ludwig Karlsson (trade with Ottawa)
G Anders Lindback (1 year, $925,000)
F Ales Hemsky (3 years, $12 million)
F Patrick Eaves (1 year)

The good: Few teams injected instant improvement into their club more effectively than the Dallas Stars. Opening the day by trading for Jason Spezza to fill their No. 2 center role at a cost that was more than digestible was a sign that general manager Jim Nill was not going to mess around with chances to improve the team. Spezza has just one year left on his contract, but if things go well, he could re-sign at some point.

Nill couldn't just stop at one piece and he didn't. Bringing in Ales Hemsky on a three-year deal with a cap hit of $4 million is an affordable addition to the top six. Hemsky and Spezza played together a bit with the Senators after the former was added via trade with the Edmonton Oilers. That really seemed to spark Hemsky, who had 17 points in 20 games after joining the Senators.

The Stars were more of a one-line team last year with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn having to do almost all of the heavy lifting. These two additions give Dallas a top six that is going to give a lot of teams trouble.

Meanwhile, Dallas also brought in a solid backup goalie option in Anders Lindback and have some veteran foward depth with Patrick Eaves.

The Stars now have to focus on locking up restricted free agents like Brenden Dillon, Antoine Roussell and Cody Eakin.

The bad: The Stars didn't do anything to address their defense, which was not very good last season. They have some young guys like Jamie Oleksiak who could step into the lineup next season, but in order for the Stars to take a bigger leap forward as an organization, they'll need to find some help on the back end and there's nothing left in free agency to help them do that. -- Peters

Buffalo Sabres

D Josh Gorges (trade with Montreal)
F Brian Gionta (3 years, $12.75 million)
F Matt Moulson (5 years, $25 million)
F Marcus Foligno (2 years, $3.75 million)
D Andrej Meszaros (1 year, $4.1 million)

The good: Don't tell general manager Tim Murray he has to sit back during his team's rebuild. The Sabres had to get to the salary cap floor, but didn't do it by handing out a ton of bad contracts just because they had to. They targeted solid veteran players and picked up local boy Brian Gionta, who very well could be the Sabres' captain next season and beyond.

Murray also secured the return of Matt Moulson, who spent a few months with the Sabres last season and gives the team a name player to keep fans engaged during the leaner years. He also was lauded for his enthusiasm during the rough times for Buffalo last season.

The club also locked up restricted free-agent forward Marcus Foligno at a sensible two years and $3.75 million, and acquired Josh Gorges via trade with the Montreal Canadiens to provide a veteran presence on the back end.

The Sabres will once again be leaning heavily on their young players, but by surrounding them with experienced players, it could be great for development. The fact that these vets want to be in Buffalo and want to be part of turning the team around is a huge help for organizational morale as well.

The bad: Handing Andrej Meszaros a $4.1 million deal is overpaying, but it's only for a year, which minimizes the risk. The Sabres needed some help on D after buying out Christian Ehrhoff, but this felt like the one deal the Sabres made to be sure to clear the cap floor. -- Peters

Pittsburgh Penguins

D Christian Ehrhoff (1 year, $4 million)
F Blake Comeau (1 year, $700,000)
G Thomas Greiss (1 year, $1 million)
F Nick Drazenovic (1 year, 2 way)
C Marcel Goc (1 year, 1.2 million)
D Taylor Chorney (1 year, 2 way)
F Steve Downie (1 year, $1 million)

The good: We can't go far in talking about the Penguins without mentioning hands down the best contract of the day: One year and only $4 million for Christian Ehrhoff is an absolute bargain. He was the best defenseman on the market in many estimations and yet he came much cheaper than many, including two former Penguins. You can't look at what the Pens did Tuesday without looking at what they didn't do as well; Ehrhoff's deal compared to the one Matt Niskanen signed in Washington is quite flattering for GM Jim Rutherford, and compared to Brooks Orpik's it is a work of art.

Also, the addition of Greiss is very nice and gives them what sure looks like a nice upgrade behind Marc-Andre Fleury.

Finally, the late addition of Downie for just $1 million could be a steal. He has his issues but at that price it's a very worthwhile risk and he could be a big boost to their bottom six. Again in comparison to a player who left (Tanner Glass, for example), it looks even better. We leave you with this thought:

The bad: There's not a whole lot here, honestly. The Penguins still are a little thin on the bottom six but they are addressing that (getting Goc and Downie on cheap deals is nice and add in Nick Spaling via trade) and still have plenty of cap space to add some guys yet. They are getting closer to a solid up-and-down lineup but still have a little more work to do. We'll worry about it more when the season starts. -- Stubits

Tampa Bay Lightning

D Anton Stralman (5 years, $22.5 million)
F Mike Angelids (1 year, 2 way)
F Mike Blunden (1 year, 2 way)
C Brian Boyle (3 year, $6 million)
G Evgeni Nabokov (1 year)

The good: If Lightning fans had questioned the sincerity of owner Jeff Vinik's plans to turn the team into a contender, they were likely put at ease over the past few weeks. Though the Ryan Callahan deal looks like a generous overpayment, Steve Yzerman's work on July 1 showed that his owner will invest in a winning roster.

Nabbing Anton Stralman, one of the top defensemen available but not the No. 1 target for most teams, was actually a keen addition by the Lightning. At a $4.5 million cap hit over the next five years, the Lightning have a legitimate second-pairing defenseman that makes them a lot better defensively, which was a need. Add him to the mix with Victor Hedman, Jason Garrison and Matt Carle, and you have a pretty formidable top four and a vast improvement from last season's D corps.

The Lightning also acquired veteran Evgeni Nabokov as an affordable backup to Ben Bishop, who may have a fall-back-to-earth season after his Vezina finalist campaign in 2013-14.

Additionally, Yzerman signed Brian Boyle to an extremely affordable three-year, $6 million deal to get a gifted penalty killer and fourth-line center with good defensive abilities. He makes the forward crop deeper down the middle and brings needed size to the lineup.

The bad: The Lightning very well could have tried to make a push for Christian Ehrhoff. Seeing that he signed in Pittsburgh on a one-year, $4 million deal might have been disappointing. He probably makes a bigger impact than Stralman in the short term, but the former Rangers defenseman is a great consolation prize nonetheless. -- Peters

Losers

Florida Panthers

F Jussi Jokinen (4 years, $16 million)
C Dave Bolland (5 years, $27.5 million)
G Al Montoya (2 years)
F Shawn Thornton (2 years, $2.4 million)
C Derek MacKenzie (3 years, $3.9 million)
D Willie Mitchell (2 year, $8.5 million)
G Sam Brittain (2 years)

The good: Jokinen. Pretty reasonable deal for a guy who meets one of their stated needs for scoring on the wing. He won't score as much as he did in Pittsburgh but should be a lift and a possible fit with fellow Finn Aleksander Barkov. Mitchell: Perhaps a little high on the price but not a lot of term for a veteran defenseman who remains responsible in his own zone and can fill the leadership void left by Ed Jovanovski's buyout as a mentor for the young corps.

The bad: Bolland. Hoooo boy, the Panthers just spent $5.5 million per season for the next five seasons for a guy who, at best, is a third-line center. It's next to impossible to rationally defend this deal for what Bolland gives even if he's healthy, which will remain a question.

Then they committed three more years to Derek MacKenzie, presumably as a 4C. They have blocked the path of very promising Vincent Trocheck and Drew Shore at center and probably necessitated a move of another center, Brandon Pirri, to wing. Center was the one thing they didn't appear to need and they signed two of them ... for almost a combined $7 million. They also committed another $1.2 million per for Shawn Thornton. That's a good amount of money for a fourth-line guy whose best attribute is punching.

Florida has been very clear about wanting to put together a team that can win now so ask yourself this question: Did they take a major step to that end? From here it looks like they got better, but not much and considering they were 29th in the league last season, that's not great news. They need the kids to grow up in a hurry. -- Stubits

Calgary Flames

F Mason Raymond (3 years, $9.5 million)
G Jonas Hiller (2 years, $9 million)
D Deryk Engelland (3 years, $8.7 million)

The good: By signing Jonas Hiller to a two-year deal, the Flames have some affordable goaltending help. It was a position of weakness for the team last season and though they likely won't be much better as a team in 2014-15, they should be better in net.

The bad: Losing Mike Cammalleri after making every effort to re-sign him is going to hurt. That's a lot of production out the window as Cammalleri put up 26 goals last season. He signed a five-year deal with the Devils.

That hole will be plugged by speedy winger Mason Raymond. Getting Raymond is a good signing in theory, but he comes at a premium of $3.15 million annually. He was the best value forward of any last year, while putting up 45 points on a $1 million contract for the Maple Leafs. He'll help up front, but that's high cost for a player with some injury history.

The Flames also have the dubious distinction of awarding the most puzzling contract of the first day of free agency. Calgary signed defenseman Deryk Engelland a three-year deal worth nearly $3 million annually. This is a player who was paid $575,000 last year by the Penguins and wasn't even an everyday player. He'll get into some fights every now and again, but doesn't do much else of note.

It's just hard to see if there's any real direction for this franchise after the July 1 moves. -- Peters

Detroit Red Wings

C Riley Sheahan (2 years, $1.9 million)
G Petr Mrazek (1 year)
C Kevin Porter (2-way deal)
F Andy Miele (source)
D Kyle Quincey (2 years, $8.5 million)

The good: Really, we're struggling to find much here. The Red Wings didn't do anything with a big impact, just re-signing a rew players and adding AHL-level players. As to the big club, they made very little impact. Of course the bright side of that is they didn't spend a bunch of foolish money in free agency (ahem, Stephen Weiss) but when you're out to improve a club that has some weaknesses, that's not necessarily a good thing.

The bad: Remember when Hockeytown was a destination? We're having a hard time too. Once again the Red Wings were targeting defensive help and once again they missed out on all of the big names. They wanted a right-handed shot which ruled out Christian Ehrhoff but they were reportedly interested in Matt Niskanen and Dan Boyle among others. They didn't get one of them, not a single one.

They have a bunch of cap space now which is always positive moving forward but any impact player that was available to sign was missed. The one defenseman they did sign (or re-sign) was Quincey at a steep price for his services. The Wings have never made their way in free agency but times have changed some and they could have used a little help on the market. Instead even Mike Commodore couldn't resist taking a shot. -- Stubits

Somewhere in Between

Washington Capitals

G Justin Peters (2 years, $1.9 million)
D Brooks Orpik (5 years, $27.5 million)
F Michael Latta (2 years, $1.15 million)
D Matt Niskanen (7 years, $40.25 million)
D Jon Landry (source)
D Mike Moore (source)
F Chris Conner (1 year, 2 way)

The good: Frankly, the Capitals needed defensive help, as new GM Brian MacLellan stated, and they got it. No matter how you feel about the term and money committed to Niskanen, there's not much denying he was one of the best options on the market and the Caps snagged him. It was a slight overpay but he'll give them points, minutes and it shouldn't be a deal they forever regret. Don't lose sight of the Peters signing either; that's a very good backup to Braden Holtby (or even somebody to push him).

The bad: A day later and that Brooks Orpik deal still doesn't look a whole lot better. When you put it together with Niskanen, it's hard not to get a little scared at the Capitals paying $67.5 million for two of the Penguins' defensemen, not even their best. They needed help on defense and paid a lot for it, we'll just have to wait and see if it works to get them back to the playoffs because going beyond that right now still doesn't seem hopeful. -- Stubits

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