I know it is still early in the off-season, there are still lots of UFA signings and trades to be made plus all of the RFA’s need to be dealt with, but I thought it was still a good time to work on the “Off-Season Progress Reports for every team. I am only going to include the impact additions and subtractions. Today I start with the Eastern Conference, South Eastern Division and will enter them in alphabetical order.
In – Pavel Kubina (Trade, Tor), Nik Antropov (UFA, NYR)
Out – None
It was difficult to anticipate how active the Thrashers would be this off-season. The ownership situation is in flux and there were rumors of a potential sale and re-location. I have been highly critical of GM Don Waddell in the past but to date I have to give him kudos for his off-season moves. After making re-signing franchise LW Ilya Kovalchuk to a long term extension before he hits unrestricted free agency after this season his top priority, Waddell knows his best shot to do that is if the Thrashers compete for a playoff spot this season. By moving Garnet Exelby to Toronto for Pavel Kubina, Waddell has added a solid 2-way defender with only 1 year left on his deal. Kubina will work with Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey and Tobias Enstrom on what is shaping up to be a pretty good blue line.
The signing of Antropov to a 4 year, $ 16 million deal is a good investment. Antropov may never be an all-star or franchise type player but after recording 54 total goals over the last two seasons, Antropov will provide solid secondary scoring for the Thrashers this season. It will be interesting to see if Antropov plays at Center and/or on a line with Kovalchuk, who reportedly pushed Waddell to add Antropov.
Waddell has some more work to do; deciding whether or not Kari Lehtonen is the Thrashers goalie of the future, adding another solid defenseman and scoring line forward are at the top of the list. So far, Waddell has added two key pieces without making any terrible, long term commitments.
In – Chad LaRose (UFA – Re-signed), Erik Cole (UFA – Re-signed), Jussi Jokinen (UFA – Re-signed)
Out – None
After a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hurricanes entered the off-season with a number of UFA’s and RFA’s that needed to be dealt with. LaRose, Cole, Jokinen, and Dennis Seidenberg were UFA’s while Tuomo Ruutu and Anton Babchuk both entered RFA status. GM Jim Rutherford took a calculated risk by only re-signing Jokinen before free agency started. It worked out well with Cole and LaRose both re-signing for less than they originally asked for as the UFA market never really developed for them.
Now Rutherford has to figure out how to re-sign Babchuk and Ruutu and decide whether Seidenberg can/should be brought back. Currently, the Hurricanes have 11 Forwards, 6 Defensemen and 2 Goalies under contract and less thn $7 million of cap space left. He also has to cast an eye toward next season when Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen, Scott Walker, Frankie Kaberle, Nic Wallin and Joe Corvo all hit UFA status and Cam Ward will be a RFA.
In – Jordan Leopold (Trade – Calgary), Scott Clemmensen (UFA – NJ), David Booth (RFA – Re-signed), Radek Dvorak (UFA – Re-signed), Steven Reinprecht (Trade – Phoenix)
Out – Karlis Skrastins (UFA – Dallas), Craig Andersen (UFA – Colorado), Jay Bouwmeester (Trade – Calgary)
If Randy Sexton doesn’t at least receive serious consideration for the full time gig as GM of Florida it will be a travesty. With outgoing GM Jaques Martin not maximizing the trade value of pending UFA Jay Bouwmeester and dealing him at the deadline, Sexton inherited a program in which his best player was an UFA with no possibility of returning and his second best player, David Booth, a pending RFA. Sexton waited out several teams interested in the right to get a head start on negotiating with Bouwmeester and forced a 3rd round draft pick and the rights to another pending UFA, Jordan Leopold from Calgary. He was subsequently able to re-sign Leopold, a solid top 4 defender, to a very affordable 1 year contract. Sexton also re-signed David Booth to a six-year contract extension. Sexton then brought back Radek Dvorak and brought in Scott Clemmensen, who performed so admirably while filling in for Marty Brodeur last season, to replace outgoing UFA G Craig Andersen. Before Free Agency started, Sexton swung a deal with Phoenix to acquire dependable veteran Center Steven Reinprecht.
Sexton does still have to decide whether or not to re-sign veteran defenseman Nick Boynton or add another defenseman via free agency and he could also add another scoring line forward if the price is right. Neither will be easy as the Panthers only have $5.725 million in cap space.
Tampa Bay Lightning
In – Lukas Krajicek (UFA – Re-signed), Matt Walker (UFA – Chi), Mattias Ohlund (UFA – Van)
Out – David Koci (UFA – Col)
An organization that looked like a mess heading into the off-season, re-grouped somewhat under GM Brian Lawton and did a decent job of addressing last season’s shortcoming, defense. After drafting Swedish D-Man Victor Hedman 2nd overall, the Lightning added countryman Mattias Ohlund to mentor him. Ohlund has had a very solid career and will lend stability to the Lightning blue line and will provide a good example for young stud Hedman. Walker is coming off a career year in Chicago and will add size and toughness tothe Tampa blue line.
After last season’s careless foray into the UFA market, this year’s quick strikes into the market addressed the team’s biggest problem at affordable prices. Lawton still needs to address the back-up goaltender situation as Karri Ramo was rumored to be headed to Russia. The Lightning could also use a scoring line forward (who couldn’t) but unlike some, the Lightning have the cap space to do something with over $8 million available.
Grade: a non- flashy B
In – Mike Knuble (UFA – Phi)
Out – Donald Brashear (UFA – NYR), Sergei Fedorov (UFA – Russia), Viktor Kozlov (UFA – Russia?)
Mike Knuble is the perfect addition to a team that pushed the eventual cup champion Penguins to 7 games in the Conference Finals. He is a solid locker room presence that can still put the puck in the net. He has been through enough playoff wars to help guide this young squad through the tough times.
The loss of Brashear will likely be felt some. He was an important enough presence for coach Bruce Boudreau to make expensive Center Michael Nylander a healthy scratch during last year’s playoffs. He is still one of the most feared “enforcers” in the NHL. With Fedorov and perhaps Kozlov both headed to Russia, the Caps will be lighter on scoring depth up front. The Caps are also tight against the cap with only about $4.6 million left to spend and Eric Fehr, stil an RFA.