It doesn’t have a name yet, but the most interesting of the new divisions in the NHL is the one with the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Just about all of the major player moves on the first day of free agency Friday, involved this Eastern Conference division with the Wings, Leafs and maybe, depending on your loyalties, the Sens as the winners.
Surprisingly, by losing six of the 20 players they dressed in the Stanley Cup final, the Bruins were among the losers – although they are still miles ahead of the Sabres and Panthers, who stood still as the rest of the division pulled away.
However, by grabbing the player who spurned him at the trade deadline, right-winger Jarome Iginla, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli eased the pain of the departures.
At 36, Iginla’s days as one of the NHL’s best power forwards are over but, ironically, he should thrive more in head coach Claude Julien’s defensive system than he did with the go-go Pittsburgh Penguins.
By Friday night, the Bruins lost forward Nathan Horton, defenceman Andrew Ference and backup goaltender Anton Khudobin as free agents (with forwards Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley leaving a day earlier in a trade with the Dallas Stars). Also gone is free-agent forward Jaromir Jagr, who will not be re-signed. None of those players were among the top five on the Bruins roster, but all save Khudobin made contributions during the playoffs.
Well, Seguin’s playoff performance left much to be desired with accusations of too many extracurricular activities following him to Dallas. However, the second-overall pick in the 2011 draft is only 21 and can still become a star player.
While Ference’s departure was due to the fact youngsters Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski are ready for bigger roles, taken as a whole, the loss of those six players was significant. This is especially so considering the steps their division rivals took.
The Red Wings created the biggest noise early in the day by snatching 40-year-old franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson away from the Senators, but their most significant move was signing centre Stephen Weiss from the Panthers.
At 30, he is one year older than ex-Wings centre Valtteri Filppula, who signed with the Lightning, but Weiss is a two-way centre with good wheels who is good on faceoffs and is a steady 60-point-per-season producer. Filppula hit 60 points for Detroit just once, in 2011-12.
“We felt last year, we were challenged to score some goals,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who needs to shed nearly $2-million (U.S.) to get under the salary cap, said of Weiss and Alfredsson.
Weiss said he was told Babcock plans to move Henrik Zetterberg permanently to the wing beside No. 1 centre Pavel Datsyuk to create a spot for him as the No. 2 centre. Alfredsson will likely play on the right with Weiss.
While Lightning GM Steve Yzerman addressed at least one of his needs by signing Filppula, Florida’s other NHL team once again stood still thanks to its usual money woes. This left Panthers GM Dale Tallon to lamely talk about yet another youth movement while signing three journeymen: forwards Joey Crabb and Jesse Winchester and defenceman Mike Mottau.
Given the wealth of owner Terry Pegula, the inaction in Buffalo was puzzling. The only person connected to the Sabres who made a roster upgrade Friday was winger Steve Ott, who got married.
The NHL owners, who cried poor during the recent player lockout, handed out 52 contracts worth a total of $361-million by TSN’s estimation. None of them were in the $100-million range seen a year ago, but there were some head-scratchers, such as the $37.1-million Horton got over seven years from the Columbus Blue Jackets. That one comes with a built-in vacation as Horton will have shoulder surgery in the next few days that will keep him out from four to six months.
Other nutty contracts included the $22-million over four years given to centre Mike Ribeiro by the Phoenix Coyotes and, worst of all, the five-year deal worth an average salary of $4.85-million that Ryane Clowe and his three goals in 35 games got from New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello.
It was an astonishing outlay of money by the cash-strapped Devils even if they were trying to replace power forward David Clarkson. He was the hottest commodity of the day and went to the Maple Leafs.
As a group, centres were the most popular item, with those considered top-six forwards going for average salaries from a high of $5.5-million to a low of $4.2-million. It made the Philadelphia Flyers’ signing of Vincent Lecavalier last Thursday to an average salary of $4.5-million quite a bargain.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, believe it or not, actually made a sensible move with a goaltender. He signed Ray Emery away from the Chicago Blackhawks for $1.65-million for one year. He will compete for starts with Steve Mason.
If the buyout for Ilya Bryzgalov is included, the Flyers will spend $4.77-million next season on goalies. Compared to the departed Bryzgalov’s salary-cap hit of $5.67-million last season, that represents progress.
Editor's Note: The original print headline and an earlier online version of this story gave incorrect information concerning the contract status of the Boston Bruins players. This online version has been corrected.