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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Free Agency - Eastern Conference

What a ride!

In just two days we've seen contenders become pretenders and vice verse. All I can say is that I'm sure glad I'm not an Islanders, Devils, or Sabres fan. Here's my list of winners and losers from the first couple days.

New York Islanders
What were they thinking putting Garth Snow in charge? Any doubts that this was a bad move were horribly shattered in the last couple weeks. Someone needs to buy him a copy of "How to be a GM in the NHL" and fast.

First, they buy out Yashin in a move that appeared to free up the money necessary to re-sign Jason Blake and last minute addition at the trade deadline, Ryan Smyth. How wrong they were. Blake headed north to Toronto to join Vesa Toskala and after a fierce bidding war, Smyth went to the Avs. Just to add insult to injury, Tom Poti left for the Caps.

Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres meanwhile stood back and watched their two co-captains from last season bolt within hours. Daniel Briere became the latest addition in the Flyers' hopes of a return to glory after being the worst team in the league in 06/07. Kimmo Timmonen and Jason Smith should help as well.

New York Rangers
The Rangers stunned most of the hockey world by signing both Chris Drury and Scott Gomez for over $7 million each. I'll admit, I laughed at the Gomez deal. Yes he's a good player, but 13 goals last season for a guy who has cracked the 20 goal mark only once in his career? That should be illegal.

These signings now put a potential squeeze on the budget with still having to sign Prucha, Lundqvist, Avery and veteran Brendan Shanahan.

What remains to be seen with the Blueshirts is how their defense will be. There's no doubt that they just fully upgraded their offense, but history has proven that defense wins championships. With guys like Marek Malik and Fedor Tyutin, fans still hold their breath. Now if the Rangers could play the whole game on the powerplay, I'll retract the previous statement.

New Jersey Devils
The Devils were big losers as well. I'll try to leave out the fact that I loathe their unbearably boring playing style and how Marty Brodeur gets way too much hype. Again, yes he's a good player but you could put a pylon in net and it'd win a majority of the games the Devils do.

Anyway, losing Brian Rafalski to the Red Wings and the aforementioned Gomez to the division rival Rangers has got to hurt. Rafalski was a rock on defense even after having an off year last season. The did however bring in replacements in Danius Zubrus (4G 4A in 19 games with Buffalo in 06/07) and Karel Rachunek. Zubrus could turn out to be a solid player, but the Devils will struggle to fill the void Rafalski.

Boston Bruins
Boston still will have issues next season as the still lack a core on defense. Chara is fine and dandy, but he seems to be wanting to put up Bob Probert penalty minutes. He got beaten badly all the time last season, but if he stays out of the box and the Bruins are on the powerplay all the time he can unload the heavy slapper.

One question they seemed to answer is in net. Getting Manny Fernandez from Minnesota is a vast upgrade over Tim Thomas. I'm going to apply the Patrick Roy rule here. Roy was arguably the best goalie of all time, but in his final days in Montreal where he had zero defense to speak of, he was garbage. A goalie truly is only as good as his defense, so I'm going to call this move a push until they get someone who can help out on D.

Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens meanwhile lost out on two guys, but quickly signed two others. Reports said that GM Ray Shero was going hard after Scott Hannan and Paul Kariya. To make up for it the Pens signed hard-nosed defenseman Daryl Sydor and sniper Petr Sykora. Both of these moves should help out drastically. The Pens lacked another top 4 d-man last season and it showed in the playoffs along with the lack of experience. Sydor and shot-block artist Mark Eaton will compliment each other nicely.

The Sykora signing brings a different aspect to the Pens. Sykora has shown that he can score goals in bunches. Twice in his career he's lit the lamp over 30 times, but while his production trailed off over the last couple years he has championship experience to bring to the kids. Also and most importantly, this move will allow for Rookie of the Year Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to return to their natural center positions.

Montreal Canadiens

Two words: Roman Hamrlik. This move prety much assures me that fantasy hockey stud Sheldon Souray won't be back, but Hamrlik is a decent replacement. Also the addition of veteran forward Brian Smolinski should add some depth up front. One fact still remains, the Canadiens do not want to have a meltdown like last season where they watch the playoffs from home. With what has happened in the division already, they may have just pushed themselves into the playoff picture.

Once things calm down and the season draws near, I'll take a look at each division and give predictions for standings and playoffs. Stay tuned, up next free agency in the Western Conference. Look out Nashville, I'm coming for you.

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