With all of the big new contracts signed this year, there are a lot of players with big shoes to fill. There are a lot of players with a new responsibility to be "the guy" for their respective clubs. There are a lot of players that need to step it up this season and show why they were worth the big bucks that their teams threw at them.
So which players are actually going to live up to those big bucks, and be "the guy"? It's hard to say just yet, but let's look at the guys to be watching when the puck drops this October.
1. Chris Drury - NY Rangers
. Chris signed with the Rangers for just over $7 million per season for five years. That is just over double the $3.5 million he made the last three seasons with the Sabres. Is it worth it? The Rangers obviously think so. After all they are paying him over $7 million, Scott Gomez mid 7's, and of course they have Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Henrik Lundqvist on the payroll as well. $7 million is a lot to pay one player in a salary cap world when you have that many big money players on the roster. It definitely affects the quality of players you have in the depth positions on your team, not to mention the Rangers nearly no-name defense corps. Drury does bring a lot to the table however. He is a former captain (co with Briere in Buffalo), has won the Stanley Cup, is one of the leagues premier face-off men and shut down forwards, yet also has a great offensive side to his game (he registered 37 goals and 69 points in 77 games last year). He is a great leader on and off the ice, and was a very sought after commodity on July 1st. There isn't a team in the league that wouldn't love to be able to throw Chris out against another team’s top line, have him on their PK, or their top power-play unit. Up until last season he was quite an underrated player, thus only making $3.5 million. People seem to have come around to how valuable a player he is.
Verdict: It was costly, but the Rangers were lucky to get Drury. If he can register 70 points again this season it will be worth it, as he will surely be playing against other teams top lines and not used in a primarily offensive role. And the leadership and versatility he brings is not easily matched by any player. He will prove to be very valuable to a team looking to make a run this season. Good pick-up. He will not disappoint.
2. Jason Blake - Toronto
. Blake was high on the Leafs radar coming into free agency, but then again a lot of guys were high on the Leafs radar, because they had some major needs to fill. And although I have never been a big fan of Blake's, he could fit in nicely with Mats Sundin on the top line. He was a late bloomer, but has been quietly putting together a pretty solid career on Long Island, with 40, 28, 22, and 25 goals seasons in his past four. And that has been without a guy like Mats Sundin on his line (Cashin Yashin doesn't count - plus he missed a bunch of games last year anyway). He isn't the top guy on the list for Toronto, but price plays a big factor in decisions like this.
Verdict: $4.5 million for a guy like Blake would normally seem high, but lately it seems to be bargain. So if he can put up another 40 goal season it will be well worth it for the Leafs. They needed a scorer to play with Mats, and he should be able to fill those boots. I'm surprised that Jason didn't hold off signing a longer, I'm sure he could have made more money if he waited. So (and keep in mind you won't hear this from me very often) good on JF Jr. He actually made a pretty good move. Shocking. The only thing I can say about this deal is that maybe 4 years would have been better, but at only $4.5 I can live with it.
3. Daniel Briere - Philadelphia
. Briere is a great offensive player. He tallied 95 points last season on a very talented Buffalo squad, and should be able to do the same this season with Simon Gagne on his wing. He'll be the set-up man, and Gagne the finisher. It could be one of the most dangerous lines in the league next year. The Flyers needed someone to come in and provide some offense, and Briere should be able to do the job. But I do have an issue with this contract, and it is the total dollar amount along with the length. Briere is small, is very injury prone, is already 29, and never really put up big numbers until two seasons ago. His over a point-per-game in Buffalo was very impressive, but will he be able to keep that up? Prior to the past two seasons and the Sabres offensive powerhouse of a roster, the most points Briere put up was 65. It just seemed as though until he was playing with very talented players, he was just a good player. Great players will put up big numbers regardless of who is on their line. I just am not convinced that Briere warrants what this contract is giving him for such a long term. Over the next two years, Briere may be one of the biggest stars in the league and be worth every penny, but by the time his contract is over in eight years, he may be the most over-payed third liner in the league.
Verdict: Just what the doctor ordered for the Flyers for this season, but the terms of the deal are ridiculous. Eight years from now, I'm quite sure that Paul Holmgren will no longer be the GM of the Flyers, and whoever replaces him is not going to be happy with the mess left for him to clean up. Flyers fans would be praising Holmgren if he could have locked up Briere for maybe half of that eight years. But because it is in fact eight, I have to say that I do not like the deal for the Flyers long-term.
Up next, Part 2; Hannan, Kariya and Timmonen.