The Winners and Losers of Free Agency

The Caps shocked the league by signing elite goalie Tomas Vokoun to a $1.5 million, 1-year contract. (Getty Images)

The Winners

George McPhee. (Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals: The Caps have upgraded and modified their roster in some very significant ways since the beginning of the off season, and it should make them serious contenders for the Stanley Cup next season, even more so than they already were. George McPhee traded the Caps 1st round pick in the 2011 draft, widely considered to be less deep than usual, to the Blackhawks in exchange for power forward Troy Brouwer. Afterward, he re-signed Brooks Laich, the extremely versatile (and fan favorite) forward who was originally acquired way back in the 2004 Capitals fire sale from the Ottawa Senators and has now worked his way to become part of the "core" of the team. McPhee also added veteran free agent defenseman Roman Hamrlik (ostensibly a replacement for Scott Hannan, though likely Tom Poti as well), along with veteran forward Joel Ward (most notably nearly a point-per-game playoff performer) as well as former Capitals captain and local product, free agent forward Jeff Halpern. Halpern replaces the departed Boyd Gordon (signed with the Phoenix Coyotes) as the fourth line center but posses more offensive upside, allowing him to easily slot into higher lines without missing a beat. Ward came at a bit higher price ($3 million per season) than many thought he was worth, but McPhee acknowledged that he ended up in a bidding war for Ward's services, and was forced to overpay by about 18% (leaving a $2.5 million cap hit before the overpayment; much more reasonable for a player like Ward). Out the door in addition to Boyd Gordon went Marco Sturm (Vancouver) and Matt Bradley (Florida) while Scott Hannan remains unsigned. McPhee's best move of the off season, however, came as a surprise announcement on day 2 of free agency - McPhee and the Capitals signed veteran Czech netminder Tomas Vokoun to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. In a true coup, McPhee upgraded his goaltending by both sending Semyon Varlamov, who would not re-up with the Caps due to a lack of a guarantee for having the #1 goalie position, to the Colorado Avalanche for both their 2012 1st round draft pick as well as the Capitals' choice of either the Bruins' 2012 2nd round pick or the Avalanche's 2013 2nd round pick, as well as signing one of the best, if not the best free agent goalies to a contract that has him take a massive pay cut. Of course, this was helped greatly by Vokoun's desire to both play for a contender as well as play for the Capitals, revealing they had been one of the few teams he would have accepted a trade to under his last contract (which presumably had some sort of no-trade or no-movement clause). McPhee, who had neither trading Varly or signing another goalie in his plans, was more than happy to go along with the changing course of events to greatly improve his team. Tomas Vokoun is regarded league-wide as a top-10, if not top-5 goaltender and has consistently played well on poor teams since the lockout. As of now, the Washington Capitals are easily the biggest winners in the off season so far, as George McPhee's many moves so far have, for the most part, been lauded league wide, particularly the Vokoun deal as well as his absolute fleecing of Colorado. The Capitals also resigned their RFA Troy Brouwer to a 2-year, $2.35 million per season contract, as well as RFA defenseman Karl Alzner to a $1.285 per year, 2-year contract. GMGM solved the slight cap issues in part by sending Eric Fehr to Winnipeg, and will likely put veteran defenseman Tom Poti on LTIR to start the season as well.

Everyone who signed with the Florida Panthers: Holy overpayment, Batman! Dale Tallon isn't even at the cap floor yet, but you wouldn't know at the rate his is giving out cash in Florida. Sean Bergenheim, playoff breakout star for the Lightning (16 GP, 9G, 2A, 11PTS) and 29 point scorer last season got $2.75 million per season for the next 4 years. Tomas Kopecky and his 15 goals in 81 games got $3 million per season for 4 seasons. Scottie Upshall, who scored a career high of 22 goals last season as well as a career high of 34 points, got $3.5 million per season over 4 seasons. Tomas Fleischmann, most recently missing about half the season with blood clot issues after being traded from the Capitals to the Avalanche (he was a spare part on the Caps) in exchange for Scott Hannan last November, will be the Panthers highest-paid forward, getting $4.5 million per season over 4 seasons. Former Blackhawks Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell came in as well via trades, bringing their $3.083,333 and $7,142,875 cap hits along with them. 35 year old defenseman Ed Jovanovski returned to Florida as well, signing a 4 year contract with a $4.125 million cap hit. Goalie Jose Theodore also joined the party, receiving an actually quite reasonable $1.5 million per season for 2 seasons. Honestly, the players are all winners as they all cashed in pretty damn well here in sunny Florida, but I have a feeling few of these deals are going to be anything close to worth the cap hits and salaries they bring. Sure they're nice guys, but not worth nearly as much as they're getting paid.

Ville Leino: Talk about rags to riches, except in this case, it's more Helsinki Jokerit to Buffalo Sabres. Ville Leino, signed in 2008 as an undrafted free agent by the Detroit Red Wings, has gone and signed a 6-year contract paying an average of $4.5 million per season with the Buffalo Sabres. Leino has once scored more than 10 goals in a season (last season when he recorded 19 with a stacked Flyers offense) and has only once eclipsed 15 points (last season, with 53). Sure, the 27 year old Leino is probably a late bloomer, but no way in hell is he worth $4.5 million per season right now. Actually, looking back, this makes George McPhee look even smarter - he essentially locked Brooks Laich, a proven forward with two 50+ point seasons and one 48 point season, as well as three seasons of scoring 20+ goals, for the exact same contract as Ville Leino. Bravo. I do congratulate Leino for cashing in in Buffalo, though I don't know how well he will live up to expectations with a much worse supporting cast than he had in Philly last season.

Ilya Bryzgalov: Talk about winning. The Philadelphia Flyers, horribly misjudging the free agent goalie market for the second season in a row, mortgage much of their future to sign Bryzgalov to a monster 9-year, $51 million total (about $5.7 million per season) contract. Partially in order to make cap space for Bryzgalov (though there almost have to be other reasons), the Flyers sent offensive stars Jeff Carter and Mike Richards packing, trading them to Columbus and Los Angeles respectively and effectively blowing up a roster that was clearly a Stanley Cup competitor. Bryzgalov is definitely a winner here, but the Flyers are losers right now (though maybe that will be rectified later… or it won't)

Jaromir Jagr: Really Philadelphia? This is your answer to trading away your top 2 offensive stars? To bring in an aging superstar who very well might not be able to survive an entire NHL season...during the World Championships his shifts were only about 30 seconds long, a far cry from an average 50 second NHL shift. I may be proved wrong but the only beneficiary of this deal in my opinion is Jagr's bank account. P.S. Flyers... if you need to waste some more money on players who won't really help their team, I would take a 1 year deal in a heart beat.

The Losers

The Winnipeg Jets: Don't get me wrong...I'm extremely pleased to have the NHL return to Winnipeg and especially excited that they will be the Jets not the Manitoba Moose. However, the immediate future does not look particularly bright due to the lack of legitimate stars. Evander Kane is a good player but he is no Brad Richards or Ilya Kovalchuk and they couldn't even bring in elite goaltending with their enormous cap space. The Jets have nice players in Byfuglien and Johnny Oduya but they are hardly enough to capture the attention of the hockey community. In the end...it's a nice story to see a team in Winnipeg again but they need to make a concerted effort to rebuild before there will be anything in the win column to cheer about.

The Philadelphia Flyers: Is there even a good place to start? NO! The Flyers started their offseason by trading away their two best forwards: Mike Richards (THEIR CAPTAIN!) and Jeff Carter, who has one of the best shots in the league. The Flyer's next move was to sign 31 y.o. goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9 yr $51 mil deal only to see Tomas Vokoun sign with fellow Stanley Cup contenders, the Washington Capitals, for a fraction of the cost. Finally, the Flyers signed Jaromir Jagr, an aging superstar, to a 1 yr $3.3 mil deal but we already covered that. In the end...the Flyers went from contending for the Eastern Conference crown to a mediocre team fighting to make the playoffs. Only time will tell whether Paul Holmgren has gone completely bonkers.

Tomas Vokoun: Well that was unexpected...Tomas Vokoun decided to sign with the Stanley Cup favorite Washington Capitals for a measly $1.5 mil and only 1 year instead of the multi-year big money contracts that were offered. However, upon closer examination, his options were extremely limited and by Vokoun's own admission, not many offers came his way and to make it worse, none of them were from Stanley Cup contenders. On the bright side, the elite veteran net-minder is now in prime position to hoist his first Stanley Cup which begs the question: Did Tomas Vokoun really lose this offseason? Only time will tell.

General Managers: Overpayment much??? Their were some deals to be found in this extremely limited free agent market but in general GMs were suckered into paying too much for average players and the players were happy to accept the excessive salaries. Like many things in life, it eventually comes down to supply and demand. In this instance, there was high demand for NHL proven talent and an extremely scarce supply. For example, Joel Ward was reportedly pursued by 16 NHL team. 16!!! That's over half of the league. As a result, he went from about a $2 mil player to $3 mil. In the end, we saw some of the craziest contracts and wackiest decisions all to try to reach everyone's ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

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