Even though Canada celebrated its 144 birthday on Friday, it also marked the most important day on the calendar for the hockey world. Free Agent Frenzy.
Both days saw huge surprises. The first one came by the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers who replaced departed forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter by the likes of two former Pittsburgh Penguins stars Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot. Both will add that scoring touch that the Flyers gave away but at 39 years of age, will Jagr keep up to the fast pace of the NHL?
The Florida Panthers dished out lots of cash in order to reach the salary cap floor but they signed quality players such as Ed Jovanoski who along with newly acquired Brian Campbell will bolster their defense corps. As well with the signings of Scottie Upshall and Tomas Fleischmann on the forwards, it will add scoring depth and gritt. The only signing that did not make sense was why would they let goaltender Tomas Vokoun leave and replace him with inconsistent Jose Theodore? That will be answered come playoff time when the Panthers end their long 11 year drought of missing the playoffs.
The Capitals added depth to their roster by signing two former Canadiens castoffs Jeff Halpern and Roman Hamrlik, former Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun and Nashvilles playoff sensation Joel Ward. While this stablizes their depth, the Capitals will once again falter in the playoffs due to the individualitic play among its core.
After Los Angeles acquired Mike Richards, they signed another former Flyer by the likes of Simon Gagne. Both scoring touches will put Los Angeles ahead of San Jose for first place in the Pacific division next year which will be the first time since the 1990-1991 season.
Once again, the New York Rangers land the premium player on the market due to overpayment. They landed Brad Richards who turned down more years that the Flames and Maple Leafs gave him so that he could play under head coach John Tortorella who coached him in Tampa Bay when they last won the cup in 2004. With him added to the mix along with Marian Gaborik and solid goaltending with Henrik Lundquist, expect to see the Rangers do more in the playoffs.
The highest paid player the last two days was James Wisniewski who signed a six year deal worth 33 million with the Columbus Blue Jackets. While they had to overpay to obtain him, they acquire a solid two way player who can make that breakout pass to goal scorers Rick Nash and newly acquired Jeff Carter. From this expect to see Columbus make the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.
Now on the Canadian front. While the Toronto Maple Leafs could not lure Brad Richards, they ultimately went to plan b which was signing Tim Connolly for 2 years. Even though the signing can benefit Phil Kessel, it is a risky decision due to Connolly's history of injuries such as numerous concussions. However, they will still miss the playoffs for a 7th straight year.
The Habs signed a player that they desperately needed by the likes of Erik Cole. He has played his best hockey whenever he plays in Montreal and it will help the Habs alot because they add a big power forward who can put the puck in the back of the net. The only questionable move was signing Peter Budaj to two years to replace Alex Auld as Carey Price's backup for the upcoming year due to his prior inconsistencies when he was with Colorado.
Vancouver and Calgary were relatively quiet only resigning players such as Sami Salo, Nolan Baumgartner and Steve Pizzonotto. The Sens, Oilers and the new Winnipeg Jets signed a few good names due to fill their own needs. Ottawa signed Alex Auld to backup Craig Anderson which will benefit them because they have a solid backup who has been in that situation numerous times. The Oilers got the centerman they needed to win draws by getting Eric Belanger and adding gritt by sigining Ben Eager who caused some controversy during the playoffs in the third round against the Vancouver Canucks. The Jets who are sticking to their plan of signing their own players and drafting signed Randy Jones and Derek Meech. Do not expect to see any more players joining the Jets as they are continuing to sign their own guys to commit to their plan of the future.