The last big name in NHL free agency seems to have settled on his location.
He also appeared to be the only top six winger the Montreal Canadiens were at all interested in adding this summer. Ex-Hab Andrei Kostitsyn seems to be still available.
To recap who gained and lost from the freedom of player movement this summer:
Quality puck moving defenseman Matt Carle bolster’s Tampa Bay’s weak defensive corp.
After failing to make the playoffs yet again, Calgary added both Wideman and Hudler, while their center, Olli Jokinen switched Prarrie cities by going to Winnipeg. Colorado and Anahiem also added new players.
If this off-season had a theme it was free agents moving to non-playoff teams while the cup competitors stood pat and retained their own or lost parts. This even holds true for trades, the only high stature established player a team that finished in the top 4 of their conference was New York’s trade for Rick Nash. The flow of veteran talent has been heavily biased towards the bottom of the league. In general this means there was a leveling effect due to this years transactions. The teams that made the greatest additions seem to be the ones most desperate for the help and the enticement of playing for a contender was not nearly so strong.
Nothing illustrates this better than Minnesota and Carolina, the two squads with the strongest additions to their team. Even with two impact players added, both squads look like they could very well miss the playoffs.
The willingness of the league’s weaker sisters in terms of revenue to shell out new spending was also notable and may be telling on CBA negotiations. The weak teams look hypocritical in crying poor but they also could be cynically looking to sign players to dollar values they expect to be cut in the new CBA deal, effectively bargaining in bad faith.
For Habs fans this also seems to indicate that the roster’s talent will be “as is” whenever hockey resumes again. This presents a great opportunity for some younger talent, but the lack of depth at the winger position, which is the easiest thing for a team to address on free agency is worrying. Bourque seemed to be an inadequate 4th winger already, that he suffered a torn abdominal muscle on top of it.
While the team remains far better than 15th on paper, it looks like new management has decided to be conservative and wait on re-inforcements from the prospect pool and for veteran salaries to begin to expire. This was likely a sensible career move for Marc Bergevin, he looks to push his competitive window later rather than going directly for the playoffs in his first year. Also the team is bound to improve over 15th in a new full season just due to less bad luck. Bergevin is positioned to take credit for moving in the right direction without doing anything to help the team’s immediate fortunes. Plus a work stoppage could burn a season regardless. If there was a season he was positoned to not care so much about success, it would be 2012-13.
The risk he’s running is falling behind the curve of decline in key veterans faster than youthful improvement lifts them up. 3 critical roster players in Markov, Gionta and Cole are around 33 years old and have few high impact years remaining. These are more players that may need replacing in any youth movement.