Free-agent frenzy sees West try to keep up with Kings | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaFree-agent frenzy sees West try to keep up with Kings

Posted: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 06:23 PM

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Ryan Miller, left, shakes hands Tuesday with Canucks general manager Jim Benning after inking a three-year, $18-million deal. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press) Ryan Miller, left, shakes hands Tuesday with Canucks general manager Jim Benning after inking a three-year, $18-million deal. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

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There was some overspending and some prudent moves and only one long-term contract doled out on the first day of annual free-agent spending. But mostly what we saw were teams in the West loading up to keep up with the Los Angeles Kings.

You cannot ignore what the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers did with the magnitude of their moves to get back to the salary-cap floor and beyond on Tuesday.

But what did we learn from the latest edition of the NHL free-agent frenzy that saw 73 players (41 forwards, 20 defenceman, 12 goalies) and $503.1 million US worth of contracts signed in the first six hours?

First, unless you're the Washington Capitals and weren't afraid to sign a defenceman like Matt Niskanen to a whopping seven-year deal worth $5.75 million a season, clubs weren't willing to give more term than five-year contracts.

But mostly we learned the arms race remains in the Western Conference. If we thought the West was best with the likes of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, plenty of teams in the conference were enhanced in the last week.

The Ducks added Ryan Kesler. The Dallas Stars reloaded with the trade for Jason Spezza from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill and a second-round pick. The Stars also signed Spezza's linemate, Ales Hemsky.

Paul Stastny signed on with the St. Louis Blues, the team his Hockey Hall of Fame father, Peter, ended his NHL career with. Brad Richards, bought out by the New York Rangers, landed on the Blackhawks doorstep.

The Colorado Avalanche lost Stastny, but found sniper Jarome Iginla after adding veterans Brad Stuart and Danny Briere in trades with the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens, respectively.

On paper, the Stars, Blackhawks, Blues and Avalanche each improved their respective rosters. So did the Vancouver Canucks with the signing of goalie Ryan Miller to a three-year, $18-million contract.

But what happens in the summer with free agency doesn't always bring immediate success in the fall, winter and, most importantly, the spring.

Just take a glance at the roster of the Stanley Cup champions.

Of the 23 players who suited up for the Kings in their championship run, 12 were draft picks, another seven were acquired in trades and only four were free-agent signings.

The free agents signed included backup goalie Martin Jones as well as defencemen Jake Muzzin, Jeff Schultz and Willie Mitchell. Only the Mitchell signing was considered big news because he was coming off a concussion.

Schultz was a depth move last summer. Muzzin was signed as a free agent halfway through his overage junior season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Jones was signed after a free-agent tryout at Kings training camp in 2008 and returned to junior to the Calgary Hitmen.

This year's class of free agents wasn't deep. And maybe that's why we some eye-popping numbers. Florida will pay an injury-prone David Bolland $5.5-million a season for five years. The Capitals will dole out $5.5 million a season to defenceman Brooks Orpik. The Calgary Flames will hand over $2.9 million a season for tough defenceman/forward Deryk Engelland. Yikes.

But there were some prudent deals, too. The Penguins convinced Christian Ehrhoff, who was bought out by the Sabres last weekend, to a one-year $4-million contract.

Stastny's $7 million a year for four seasons is decent. He was the cream of the crop in this class. Another good move came from the Tampa Bay Lightning to be able to lasso defenceman Anton Stralman for five years with an average salary of $4.5 million.

After more than 70 players being signed on Tuesday, you may think there is nobody left. However, there are several players still looking for new addresses, including Martin Brodeur, Olli Jokinen, Dany Heatley, David Legwand, Ray Whitney, Derek Roy and Steve Ott.

It just was a heck of frenzy to start.

Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC

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