With NHL free agency set to commence on July 1, we take a look at 10 recent free agent signings that resulted in a massive impact, either positive or negative.
2010: Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils
It was apparent that the Atlanta Thrashers were an organization that wasn’t going to be able to hold onto its stars as seasons went by.
With the likes of both Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa already gone, the next to go was Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. In the middle of the 2009-10 season, the Thrashers traded Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils.
That off-season, after much drama, rumors and more, the Devils signed Kovalchuk to a 15-year deal worth $100 million. This signing helped grandfather in the contracts of Roberto Luongo, Chris Pronger, Marian Hossa and Marc Savard.
Through two years of the deal, Kovalchuk has done his part to make the Devils a better hockey team. He has produced and has also picked-up his play in the defensive end as well.
It will be interesting see how the rest of Kovalchuk’s 13 years are.
2007: Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, New York Rangers
Going into the 2006-07 off-season, the top free agents were Daniel Briere, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.
Being that the New York Rangers were coming off a successful 2006-07 regular season and had the money to spend, general manager Glen Sather went out and signed both Gomez and Drury to long-term contracts. Gomez’s deal was a 7-year deal worth in excess of $7 million per while Drury’s deal was a five year deal worth about the same in salary.
Five seasons later, both players are no longer with the organization. Both came up extremely short in their time with the Blueshirts and both ended up being players that the team could afford to lose.
While Drury is retired, Gomez, for now at least, is still with the Montreal Canadiens. He was traded to the Canadiens, along with Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto, during the off-season of 2009 in exchange for defenceman Ryan McDonagh, Doug Janik and Pavel Valentenko.
It is easy to say that the Rangers won that deal, eh?
2011: Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers
When it comes to the Philadelphia Flyers, it can be said that goaltending has been a major cause of concern for the franchise.
Going into the 2011-12 season, the Flyers thought that they had solved their goaltending problem by going out and signing UFA goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The team signed him to a 9 year deal worth $51-million.
While Bryzgalov was not exactly terrible for the Flyers this season, he certainly was not great. The 32-year old Russian went 33-16-7 with a 2.48 GAA, a .909 save percentage and 6 shutouts.
The numbers may not look bad but the truth of the matter was that Bryzgalov was extremely inconsistent both in the regular season and the postseason. It was a tale of two netminders for the Flyers and unfortunately, they have 8 more years of this.
2008: Wade Redden, Ottawa Senators
It should come as no surprise that Rangers’ general manager Glen Sather likes to throw money around and unfortunately, it sometimes goes to players that do not deserve it.
This was exactly the case when Sather signed defenceman Wade Redden to a 6-year deal worth $39 million. While Redden was an extremely talented defenceman with the Ottawa Senators, he was not that way for the Blueshirts.
Redden did not produce, gave up the puck a lot, was booed by the Madison Square Garden faithful and ultimately, did not prove to the organization or its fans that he was worth the money. Prior to the start of the 2010-11 season, Redden was demoted to the team’s farm team, the Hartford Wolf Pack/Connecticut Whale.
2011: James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets
When it comes to signing a free agent, whether it is a forward, goaltender, defenceman, etc., the move can always be looked as a risky one.
In the 2011 off-season, the Columbus Blue Jackets made a risky free agent pick-up by signing defenceman James Wisniewski to a 6-year deal worth $33 million. While Wisniewski is a talented defenceman, we are not talking about a Brian Leetch, Raymond Bourque, Paul Coffey, Nicklas Lidstrom or even an Erik Karlsson.
No, we are talking about a player whose highest point-production was 51 points in a split season with the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens. Other than that season, Wisniewski had been average at best and someone who never played a full season in the NHL.
Last season, Wisniewski played in just 48 games with his new team and had 27 points (6 goals and 21 assists). His shortened season was due to a suspension and some injuries.
This is not exactly the start that the Blue Jackets or Wisniewski were hoping for.
2008: Cristobal Huet, Chicago Blackhawks
As mentioned previously in this piece, signing goaltenders to multi-year deals can be very risky and sometimes, it just does not end up working out.
In the off-season of 2008, the Chicago Blackhawks went out and signed netminder Cristobal Huet to a 4-year deal worth 22.4 million. At the time, the deal seemed okay because Huet was coming off a strong showing in the 2007-08 season where he split the season with the Montreal Canadiens (21-12-0-6, 2.55 GAA, .916 save percentage, and 2 shutouts) and Washington Capitals (11-2, 1.63 GAA, .936 save percentage and 2 shutouts).
Huet turned out to be more of a question mark for the Blackhawks than anything. In his first season with the team, Huet split the season with goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and went 20-15-0-4 with a 2.53 GAA, a .909 save percentage and 3 shutouts.
It was in his next season that Huet showed inconsistency as he had a below average goals against and save percentage in 48 games. This led the team to use back-up netminder Antti Niemi, who helped lead the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
In September of 2010, Huet was loaned to HC Fribourg-Gotteron SA of the Swiss National League A to help relieve the Blackhawks’ cap issues.
2007: Sheldon Souray, Edmonton Oilers
There was no doubt that for a few seasons, defenceman Sheldon Souray was a hot commodity in the NHL.
The Edmonton Oilers certainly did as they signed Souray to a 5-year deal worth $27 million. At the time, Souray was coming off a 64-point (26 goals and 38 assists) campaign with the Montreal Canadiens.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, they did not get exactly what they paid for. Instead, they got a defenceman who got injured a lot, was inconsistent on the production side of the game and someone who even complained about where he was and said he wanted out.
Things got so bad for Souray that prior to the 2010 season, Souray was placed on waivers. In October that same year, Souray was assigned to the Hershey Bears as he was loaned to the Washington Capitals’ minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL).
Souray accepted his demotion and played well enough in the AHL to earn himself a spot on the Dallas Stars for the 2011-12 season. While he had a successful comeback season, he is no longer the offensive presence that he was with the Montreal Canadiens back before the Oilers went out and signed him.
2006: Rick DiPietro, New York Islanders
Prior to signing Ilya Brazgalov, the Philadelphia Flyers should have learned a valuable lesson from what the New York Islanders did back in the off-season of 2006.
Back then, Islanders’ general manager signed goaltender Rick DiPietro to a then record-breaking 15-year deal worth $67.5 million. Looking at the deal now, it is easy to see that the Islanders have gotten nowhere close to the return on investment that they thought they would get when they made the signing in September of 2006.
Since the signing, DiPietro has had two decent seasons (2006-07, 2007-08) and has missed a lot of time due to injury. In fact, over the last four seasons, DiPietro has played in an average of 4.7 games.
While DiPietro says he feels like he can still play, it is highly unlikely that he will regain the form that made him one of the league’s best netminders in both 2006-07 and 2007-08.
2008: Jeff Finger, Toronto Maple Leafs
While the above-mentioned players had some success at the NHL level, this next free agent signing is impactful because it was an absolute no-name signing.
In 2008, then Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Cliff Fletcher signed unknown defenceman Jeff Finger to a 4-year deal worth $14 million. Prior to the signing, Finger had played just 94 games in the NHL and posted 24 points on 9 goals and 15 assists.
Finger continued to play like an unknown defenceman for the Leafs in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons he posted just 33 points in 105 games. That production and his contract certainly never ended up adding up.
Finger spent the remaining years of his contract with the Leafs’ affiliate in the AHL, the Toronto Marlies. Much like the NHL, he remained pretty much unknown down in the minors.
2002: Bobby Holik, New York Rangers
In the off-season of 2002, the New York Rangers signed Bobby Holik away from the New Jersey Devils to a deal that was considered the gold-standard for bad deals.
The Blueshirts signed Holik to a 5-year deal worth $45 million. Prior to the signing, Holik was coming off a decade with the Devils in which his highest offensive output was 29 goals and 65 points.
Unfortunately, this signing proved to be another free agent bust for the Blueshirts. In his next five seasons, two of which were played with the Rangers, Holik scored just 82 goals, which is an average of just more than 16 per year.