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Which free agents will either flourish with their new team, or fall flat on their face? With the free agent frenzy one week passed and most of the intriguing names off the board, here are five newly signed free agents that will ultimately be ‘boom or bust’ while donning their new sweater.
1. Erik Cole, Canadiens
Cole, 32, is a risky signing by the Montreal Canadiens. He was locked up on a four-year, $18 million deal during the frenzy, but has a few question marks. The biggest one is if he can succeed outside of Carolina.
For roughly nine and a half of his 10 NHL seasons, Cole has been a Hurricane. He’s really only had three stand-out seasons in his career (including last year’s 26-goal output), and a good majority of that success came with Eric Staal as his center. In his only time outside of Raleigh, Cole had 27 points in 63 games with the Edmonton Oilers and wasn’t a fit; he was dealt back to the ‘Canes at the subsequent trade deadline.
Cole definitely fills a need in Montreal as a top-six winger and just might be that much-needed goal-scorer to help out Michael Cammalleri. But without a center like Staal to dish him the puck, or without proving he can fit in anywhere other than Carolina, can Cole put the puck in the back of the net like the Habs hope he can?
2. Jaromir Jagr, Flyers
Philadelphia made the bold decision to ship out top forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last month. Who is one of their replacements? The 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr. Yes, the same individual that tag-teamed with Mario Lemieux to bring Pittsburgh back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early 1990’s.
After Pittsburgh and Detroit dropped out of the running to sign Jagr, he turned his attention to the Flyers, who offered him a surprising $3.3 million for one season. Was this the smartest by all of the parties involved? Time will only tell. However, the Flyers are relying on an aging forward that has been away from the NHL for three years to be a key contributor this season.
If Jagr can rekindle some magic to at least show some signs of his old self and contribute on the power play, this could end up being a nice pickup for Philly. His ego is bigger than the state of Pennsylvania, though, and he’s joining a team that has had locker room issues in recent history.
3. Mike Smith, Coyotes
Coyotes GM Don Maloney decided to go a cheaper route in net and bring in Mike Smith, rather than re-signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a big contract. Smith was a part of a platoon in Tampa Bay the last few seasons, but will get a chance to start on more of a regular basis in 2011-12.
In three-plus years with the Lightning, Smith went 43-52-17 with a 2.85 goals-against average – certainly not the kind of numbers you would expect from a goalie that is supposed to get the bulk of the starts. On the other hand, Smith’s two best years were actually in Dallas as a backup to Marty Turco (24-14-2, 2.34 GAA). More importantly, he was playing for Dave Tippett at that time, who is now the bench boss in Phoenix.
Smith, who signed a two-year deal, could easily wind up feeling comfortable under Tippett once again and benefit from a defense-first system in the desert. Contrarily, having to rely on a head-case netminder could cost the Coyotes a third consecutive trip to the playoffs if things don’t work out.
4. Sean Bergenheim, Panthers
As the frenzy came to a close last Friday, Panthers GM Dale Tallon handed out a four-year, $11 million contract to Bergenheim. The Finn had a big postseason for the Lightning, scoring nine goals and turning into an unsung hero on the team’s road to the conference final. That came on the heels of a solid all-around first season in Tampa Bay.
Before arriving in Tampa, Bergenheim was nothing more than a fringe third-liner with the New York Islanders. After one clutch postseason, which reminded people of John Druce and Fernando Pisani, Bergenheim, 27, will make almost four times the cash ($2.75 million) that he raked in last year ($700,000).
Tallon knows what he’s doing as a general manager and has a good plan in store for the Panthers. But if the team is expecting Bergenheim to produce even close to the same level he did in the playoffs, then fans in South Florida will be disappointed.
5. Ville Leino, Sabres
When Leino came over from Finland to the Detroit Red Wings, some people talked him up as the ‘next Henrik Zetterberg.’ Now, we all know that was a little much, but he was a perfect fit with the Flyers after being acquired for the one and only Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. Despite the short track record of success, the Sabres opened up the checkbook in a big way, signing Leino to a six-year, $27 million contract.
Leino was a key piece to the Flyers heading to the Stanley Cup final in 2010 with 21 points in 19 games. He followed that up with a solid 53-point campaign last season. With that being said, those are the only impressive things on Leino’s resume. His previous career-high for points in a season was 11, which was done in 55 games during 2009-10.
The aggressive Sabres certainly made their offense better by signing Leino; and if he can fill the void at center on the second line, it will be an even bigger coup. However, giving someone like Leino a hefty six-year deal has risk written all over it. Will GM Darcy Regier regret the contract three years from now?
Photo credit: Getty Images
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