Caps Draft and FA News plus NHL team analysis

July 03, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Caps Free Agency and Draftee News

As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story (and sometimes more than two!) and as we heard from Caps GM George McPhee he felt the team eventually met goalie Cristobal Huet’s demands only to see Huet and his agent choose the open market which led to the goalie becoming a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. One of the flip sides to this story is if the Caps wanted Huet so bad then why didn’t they just ask him what he wanted up front (which it sounds like they ultimately did at some point based on what McPhee said during yesterday’s press conference) and offer that to him right away rather than very slowly working their way up to the contract figures Huet was demanding from the Caps (which would have been a discount over what he got from Chicago)? Were the Caps not totally sold on Huet or was McPhee just intent on trying to play hardball on salary numbers, something he has a reputation for doing all the way back to his Vancouver days? That tactic sometimes ticks certain agents and players off which can lead them down the path of seeking other options, as Huet did. Regardless of what transpired, the book is closed and Huet is gone and the Caps now have Jose Theodore for two years. Theodore is either going to be a very good signing or a disaster. He does have a reputation for playing his best in the final year of his contract.

I spoke with a Western Conference scout Tuesday night about the Caps two first round draft choices and got some interesting scoop on Anton Gustafsson and John Carlson. The good news is on Carlson and the scout mentioned he is a good power play guy and has a good shot. The scout said that his team had Carlson rated in the same area where the Caps picked him and that the young defensemen needs to improve his skating and conditioning. As for Gustafsson, let’s just say that the Caps are either going to get a total bust or a very good player. The younger “Gus” has incredible talent and skills, however, when I asked about his back the scout said, “his back is fine, it’s his heart that is the problem.” Apparently Anton has a reputation for “getting hurt” right before a big game or event. He was named to the Swedish Under-18 team this spring but, as the scout told me, he backed out due to injury just like the team’s European scout had predicted would happen. He also relayed a story about talking to Bengt about his son last fall and Gus seemed quite frustrated with Anton’s desire and drive to play hockey. Anybody who saw Gus play knows that was never the case with old #16. As a result, this scout said his team had no intention of drafting Anton, even in the later rounds. So we’ll see about Anton, he has the talent, but only Anton knows if he has the desire to put in the work that it will take to become a top six forward in the NHL. I noticed that in today’s announcement of players who will attend the Caps development camp on July 7-12 (open to the public) that Anton Gustafsson’s name was not listed. Hmmm…

NHL News

Tuesday was one crazy day in the NHL and money was flying around all over the place with some contracts and trades making very little sense. Wednesday saw some more of the same. The scout I spoke with Tuesday night just could not believe the money that was given out to some players and when I hinted to him that this might give his team a better advantage from a cap standpoint he said it wouldn’t because other players would now demand higher salaries like those doled out the past several days. The scout seemed flabbergasted with many of the GM’s around the league although he did single out one GM who he thought clearly outdid every other one and that was Kevin Lowe of the Edmonton Oilers. Lowe and the Oilers are definitely the early winners in this off-season getting forward Erik Cole from Carolina for defensemen Joni Pitkanen and 2005 first round pick Gilbert Brule from Columbus for forward Raffi Torres, a player who has been known to have personal problems. Lowe also picked up defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky from the Los Angeles Kings over the weekend for defenseman Matt Greene and forward Jarret Stoll.

Here is my rundown on several active teams so far in free agency based on my thoughts as well as input from the scout:

Edmonton Oilers: Winners; getting Cole, Visnovsky, and Brule and dumping Pitkanen and Torres were shrewd moves; The scout I spoke with said the Oilers will likely contend for the Northwest Division title next season depending upon their goaltending (Mathieu Garon). Only downer was not landing forward Marian Hossa despite being the highest bidder. Grade: A

Toronto Maple Leafs: Losers; Has GM Cliff Fletcher lost his mind? How could he sign defensemen Jeff Finger, a guy who has only played 94 NHL games, to a four year deal at $3.5M a season? Add to that the Niklas Hagman and Curtis Joseph signings combined with the trade of three draft picks to get Jamal Mayers and draftee Luke Schenn at #5 overall and I see no way the Leafs sniff the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Are they really committed to re-building? Grade: F

Columbus Blue Jackets: Losers; Worst job of any team from the Raffi Torres acquisition to the unconscionable signing of Mike Commodore to a 5 year, $18.5M contract to Wednesday’s signing of former Flames forward Kristian Huselius for 4 years at $4.75M per season. The scout I spoke with said Commodore flat out can’t play hockey. What was GM Scott Howson thinking and why did he let his former boss Lowe take him to the cleaners on the Brule/Torres trade? Today’s trade of forwards Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche to the Rangers for defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman will likely help a weak defense but leaves holes for them up front. Columbus will be the worst team in the league next year. Grade: F

Tampa Bay Lightning: Losers; 7 years and $31.5M for former Penguins forward Ryan Malone, are you kidding me? They also spent too much money on aging veterans Gary Roberts and Olie Kolzig and they overpaid for role players in Radim Vrbata and Adam Hall. The new ownership is making a splash with their signings of players and bringing back “The Mullet” but I don’t see it translating to a lot more wins. Word is they are also forcing out GM Jay Feaster, who at least got some good talent for Brad Richards at the trade deadline. Grade: D

Colorado Avalanche: Losers; Darcy Tucker can be a real cancer in a locker room, especially if he isn’t getting the power play time that he thinks he deserves, so signing him to a two year, $4.5M contract was not wise. They lost goalie Theodore to the Caps and signed Andrew Raycroft on the cheap as another goalie. If Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg don’t come back then this team has no chance of making the playoffs. They did re-sign restricted free agent forward Wojtek Wolski. Grade: D

New Jersey Devils: Winners; Forward Brian Rolston repeatedly told Wild GM Doug Risebrough that he wanted $5M a year to stay in Minnesota but the GM balked allowing Rolston, who reportedly was very highly sought after on the open market, to sign a four year, $20.5M contract to go back and play for the man who drafted him, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello. The Devils also signed back forward Bobby Holik for one year at $2M. They re-signed role players Jay Pandolfo and Bryce Salvador as well. Grade: B

New York Islanders: Losers; Signed former Canadiens defensemen Mark Streit to a five year, $20.5M contract and signed over the hill forward Doug Weight to a one year deal. Grade: D

Calgary Flames: Semi-Losers; If GM Darryl Sutter keeps trading 2nd round draft choices for third line (at best) forwards like Rene Bourque then Flames ownership needs to send him back behind the bench and turn the GM reigns over to someone else. The re-signing of defensemen Jim Vandermeer and the signing of forward Curtis Glencross are fringe type moves. Re-signing forward Daymond Langkow was big for this team. Grade: C-

Pittsburgh Penguins: Winners; They re-signed superstar forward Evgeni Malkin and solid defensemen Brooks Orpik for five and six years, respectively. Now what they need to do to keep their core intact is to lock up goalie Marc Andre-Fleury long term. They lost out on re-signing Hossa but all they gave up for him and Pascal Dupuis at the deadline was a first round draft pick (the other three players won’t amount to much) and that got them to the Stanley Cup Finals. Dupuis is now signed to a three year deal. The Pens were smart to let Ryan Malone go, anyone can score 25 goals playing with Malkin, so all that would have done was hurt them salary cap wise. Grade: B

Detroit Red Wings: Winners; They won the Marian Hossa sweepstakes getting him for one year at the INCREDIBLE discount price of $7.4M so they will definitely make a run at repeating as Stanley Cup Champions. They also re-signed defensemen Brad Stuart for only $3.75M a season (why did Flames GM Sutter let him go after last season after he traded Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ference for Stuart and Wayne “4th line” Primeau??). The Wings also signed Ty Conklin as a back-up goalie. They also re-signed defensemen Andreas Lilja to a two year deal. Grade: A

Washington Capitals: Semi-Losers; The scout I talked with said the Caps overpaid for Mike Green primarily because he only had one good season. He also thought they should have paid Huet what he wanted sooner to prevent him from hitting the open market as he thinks Theodore represents a decent dropoff from Huet. The key will be for Washington to re-sign Shaone Morrisonn because the free agent pool on defense is now ultra-thin. I think Green will earn his money. If Theodore plays well the Caps easily switch to the winners category. The other good news for the Caps is the rest of the teams in their division made poor moves. Grade: C

Chicago Blackhawks: Losers; Vastly overpaid for defensemen Brian Campbell at $7.1M a season for 8 years and did the same with Huet at over $5M a season for 4 years. They are in a tough division and will really have to play well to make the playoffs. Grade: D

Nashville Predators: Winners; They re-signed defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber at decent prices well before July 1 ($3.5M a year for Suter and $4.5M a season for Weber) and re-signed goalie Dan Ellis. GM David Poile knows what he is doing and they will finish 2nd to Detroit in that division next season and make the playoffs. Grade: B

Atlanta Thrashers: Losers; Ron Hainsey at 5 years for $22.5M total??? How does GM Don Waddell still have a job? Grade: F

Carolina Hurricanes: Losers; Traded Erik Cole for Joni Pitkanen and then promptly overpaid the inconsistent defensemen. Grade: D

Florida Panthers: Losers; Trading Olli Jokinen was bad enough and now their big moves were re-signing (and overpaying) for injury prone forward Rotislav Olesz and 34 year old Corey Stillman for three years. That won’t get this team close to the playoffs. Grade: D

That’s it for the grades for today. Basically if your team didn’t do much then they probably were winners because as mentioned above, the contracts given out to some of these players are just ludicrous. Mats Sundin and Jaromir Jagr are still on the market so we’ll see where those guys land.

I will be down at the AT&T National PGA Golf Tourney on Thursday so if you post a comment I will read it and approve it late Thursday night.