Be it free agency, the draft or via trade, there is plenty to talk about since the NHL season ended in mid-June with the Penguins hoisting the Stanley Cup. All 30 teams are probably happy with what they did this offseason, believing they enter the 2009-10 season in better shape than they left 2008-09.
As they say, that's why the games are played. But here's a division-by-division look at what I think are the best and worst moves made this offseason, plus which team did the best job at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. We'll kick it off in the Eastern Conference.
Best Move: Mike Knuble to Washington for 2 years, $5.6 million — While the signing of fading Brendan Morrison is questionable, you can't fault the Caps on this deal. Knuble is a rugged, reliable and durable forward who is a big upgrade on the departed Viktor Kozlov. In each of the past six NHL seasons, Knuble has managed at least 20 goals and 20 assists. As if Washington's power play wasn't scary enough, it got scarier with Knuble parked in front.
Worst Move: Nik Antropov to Atlanta for 4 years, $16 million — Antropov wasn't the answer for the Leafs or Rangers, and he won't be for the Thrashers either. Don't get me wrong, the big forward can take over games from time to time, but he simply does not do it on a nightly basis. I feel bad for Don Waddel, because he's desperately trying to save his job and overpaid to get someone — anyone! — to help.
Honorable Mention: Kurtis Foster to Tampa Bay for 1 year, $600,000 — If Foster can recover from his horrific broken leg, this could be the best move made by anyone in the league this offseason.
Best Move: Aaron Ward to Carolina / Patrick Eaves and a fourth-round pick to Boston — A brilliant move by Jim Rutherford. You can argue about whether or not Ward is a guy who puts you over the top, but the fact he was acquired for basically a mid-round draft pick (Eaves had lost his place in the lineup and his salary was a burden) is a testament to Rutherford's abilities. Ward should complement Joni Pitkanen well.
Worst Move: Steven Reinprecht to Florida / Stefan Meyer to Phoenix — Sure, Meyer hasn't made the the impact the Panthers expected when they took him in the second round in 2003, but I guarantee Reinprecht isn't the answer at second-line center in South Florida.
Honorable Mention: Todd Fedoruk and David Hale to Tampa Bay / Radim Vrbata to Phoenix — Addition by subtraction for the Bolts. Vrbata's deal last offseason turned out to perhaps be the worst of several bad ones made by the Tampa Bay front office. To find a way to trade him is remarkable.
Best Draft: Atlanta — Yes, Tampa Bay got Victor Hedman, but the trio of Evander Kane, Carl Klingberg and Jeremy Morin could prove to be quite the haul for the Thrashers.
Best Move: Jay McKee to Pittsburgh for 1 year, $800,000 — It's hard to argue with this one: when healthy, McKee is a valuable defensive defenseman and, I'd argue, an upgrade over either the departed Rob Scuderi or Hal Gill. Even if McKee winds up a bust, the Pens didn't break the bank to take a chance on him.
Worst Move: Ales Kotalik to New York Rangers for 3 years, $9 million — I don't doubt that Kotalik can help the Rangers — specifically on the power play and in the shootout — but the price tag is quite steep for someone who will get around 40 points. Marion Gaborik was a huge risk for the Blueshirts as well, but at least he could pay out.
Honorable Mention: Martin Biron to New York Islanders for 1 year, $1.4 million — Best-case scenario: Biron re-establishes himself as a legitimate NHL starter, then you can trade him or try and old on to him if Rick DiPietro continues to be injured. Worst-case scenario: you trade him at the deadline to a team desperate for help in net and land a decent draft pick or prospect. Not bad for just $1.4 million.
Best Move: Christopher Higgins, Ryan McDonaugh, Pavel Valentenko and Doug Janik to New York Rangers / Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Gusto to Montreal — Not only did New York get out from under Gomez's contract, but they got good assets in return. Sure, they subsequently blew the cap space, but they had to do something.
Worst Move: Chris Pronger, Ryan Dingle to Philadelphia / Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, two first-round picks and a conditional third-round pick to Anaheim — Yes, the Flyers get the best player in the deal, but at what cost? Seeing that the Broad Street Bullies already have some cap issues, shipping out young talent and assets for high-paid ones seems short-sighted. For this to be a success, the Flyers need to win a Stanley Cup with Pronger.
Best Draft: New York Rangers — The selections of Chris Kreider, Ethan Werek and Ryan Bourque stand out among the Atlantic's five teams.
Best Move: Mark Recchi to Boston for 1 year, $1 million — Recchi's old, but he's still valuable. At a million bucks, the Bruins get a guy who wants to win another Cup and can deliver.
Worst Move: Brion Gionta to Montreal for 5 years, $25 million — This is a real head-scratcher. It's one thing to give the 30-year-old Gionta $5 million a season, it's a whole other thing to do it for the next five years.
Honorable Mention: Colton Orr to Toronto for 4 years, $4 million; Derek Morris to Boston for 1 year, $3.3 million — These two go under "Honorable Mention Worsts." To give any enforcer a four-year deal is absurd, even by Brian Burke standards. As for Morris' signing ... I can understand seeing Morris as an upgrade to Ward, but to pay him in excess of $3 million for next season doesn't make sense, especially for a cap-strapped team.
Best Move: Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart to Toronto / Pavel Kubina and Tim Stapleton to Atlanta — Not a bad move by the Thrashers, but Toronto had enough high-paid defensemen — especially after signing Mike Komisarek — and found a willing partner in Atlanta.
Worst Move: Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Gusto to Montreal / Christopher Higgins, Ryan McDonaugh, Pavel Valentenko and Doug Janik to New York Rangers — If anyone knows what Bob Gainey is doing, please let me know. Really.
Best Draft: Montreal — Choosing Quebec native Louis LeBlanc in Round 1 in their home arena served the Habs well, but the selections of Joonas Nattinen and Mac Bennett are what could make this draft special for the Canadiens.
* * *
Let us know your picks on the moves around the Eastern Conference. We'll tackle the Western Conference in the near future.