Almost $300 million of contract dollars were spent yesterday during the frenzy. Most of the deals left us saying “What the –?” while some others were actually some signings. So which team was the biggest winner on Day 1 of free agency? Erika and I debate… George McPhee and the Caps By Erika Schnure
While Capitals General Manager George McPhee is known for being a savvy drafter, his strength is not free agency. In the past few years, the Capitals have remained relatively quiet during the free agent frenzy. But this year, the Capitals made several moves, and none of them small, and all of them smart signings.
First, the Capitals signed Jeff Halpern to a one-year contract, bringing the hometown boy (Halpern is from nearby Potomac, Md.) and former Capitals captain back to DC. With Boyd Gordon on his way out, signing a deal with the Phoenix Coyotes, the Capitals fulfilled their need of a fourth-line center who can headline the penalty kill.
The biggest Capitals deal of the day came after Halpern’s signing. The Capitals ended the confusing Semyon Varlamov saga by trading him to the Colorado Avalanche for a first and second round pick. Particularly considering that pundits expect 2012 to be an amazing draft class, the Capitals made out like bandits on the trade, possibly obtaining a lottery pick in the 2012 draft.
The Capitals then announced the signings of ex-Predator Joel Ward and ex-Canadien Roman Hamrlik within minutes of each other. Ward had a fantastic postseason with the Predators, leading the team in goals, assists and points in the playoffs. He’s a big body that adds power and scoring in a potentially third-line position. Also, his defensive game is highly regarded.
Unlikely to re-sign Scott Hannan, the Capitals got a replacement in the form of Roman Hamrlik, another veteran defenseman that adds experience to the blue line. In the Capitals’ series against the Canadiens two postseasons ago, Hamrlik was one of the defensemen who was a total nightmare for the Capitals offense. He led the Canadiens in blocked shots last season with 192, while John Carlson, who led the Capitals, had 160. Hamrlik adds a strong defensive presence to bolster the Capitals blue line.
Dale Tallon and the Panthers By Ryan Porth
The Florida Panthers entered July 1st approximately $24 million below the salary cap floor ($48.3 million). When the day ended, GM Dale Tallon catapulted the team to within $2 million of the cap floor with a mind-boggling six signings (plus a trade).
In free agency, Tallon inked forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc; defenseman Ed Jovanovski; and goaltender Jose Theodore to multi-year deals. While a lot of people made a big deal about the money given out to these players, the Panthers have to get to the cap floor, lest we forget. In the process, he scooped a few of the more coveted free agents.
Up front, the Panthers have five new forwards. The versatile Fleischmann should be a nice complement to David Booth and Stephen Weiss on the top line. Bergenheim is a shrewd pickup after his playoff performance; being able to take him off the hands of a cross-state rival was gravy for Tallon.
Versteeg came at a price (two second-round picks), but Tallon knows him well and could be on a line with former teammate Tomas Kopecky. Goc and Upshall, if they can stay healthy, are nice signings to the third line.
Defensively, Jovanovski still has gas left in the tank, but a four-year deal was shocking at his age (35). He joins Brian Campbell as the new faces on the Panthers blueline. After opting not to re-sign Tomas Vokoun, they turned to the veteran Theodore; he and Scott Clemmensen will battle it out for the starter’s spot in training camp.
Some wondered how the Panthers would reach the cap floor. By being aggressive and handing out some rich contracts, Tallon just about accomplished that in one day as he continues to put his stamp on this franchise.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.