July 1, the first day of NHL free agency, is always an exciting day for rabid hockey fans. This year’s crop isn’t as exciting as some of the previous years, with really only two elite players: center Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
While neither player has made a decision on his final destination just yet, a slew of others have inked new contracts with new teams — albeit for much smaller numbers than we expect for the two All-Stars.
These teams have a lot of work to do if they want to crack the odds of teams expected to make a run at the Stanley Cup next season. The Pittsburgh Penguins have the best shot, at 7-1, followed be a repeat from the Los Angeles Kings, at 11-1. A whole group of teams — the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks — have 12-1 odds to win it all, and the Boston Bruins also have a shot at 14-1.
The Montreal Canadiens could be early winners after sinking to the bottom of the Eastern Conference last year due to a lack of toughness and character. The Canadiens have added Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong as well as keeping Travis Moen. Prust is one of the best penalty killers in the league and adds the type of grit that the Habs so desperately lack. Armstrong is a good physical presence, and he comes with a chip on his shoulder after everyone in Toronto quit on him.
The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, appear to have made an upgrade on their blue line with the addition of 27-year-old defenseman Jason Garrison. The six-year, $27.6 million contract was a great move, considering Garrison was one of the top blue-liners on the market. He's just now entering his prime after 16 goals and 33 points with the Florida Panthers last season, and he's got a rocket shot from the blue line, which will help the Canucks power play. He'll help the Canucks recover from the loss of Sami Salo, who signed with Tampa Bay for two years and $7.5 million. Salo is a good puck-moving defenseman who can man the power play but is often injured. He's missed 104 games over the last four seasons.
The Anaheim Ducks were also very busy spending, targeting their blue line as an area of need. At the draft, they picked Swedish prospect Hampus Lindholm sixth overall. Then, in free agency, they added Sheldon Souray (three years, $11 million), Bryan Allen (three years, $10.5 million) and Jordan Hendry (one-year contract). Without question, they've added the size and toughness they'll need to deal with the big San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings forwards.
One of the surprise signings of the day was the Colorado Avalanche springing for forward P.A. Parenteau with a four-year, $16 million contract. He was the third-leading scorer among free agents, so the money shouldn't be too surprising. The 29-year-old winger has been a late bloomer, and some question how much he lived off of playing next to John Tavares. He's had 53 and 67 points in each of the last two seasons, respectively, and now he'll be playing next to another All-Star caliber youngster in Matt Duchene. Parenteau isn't a great skater, but he's an excellent passer and clearly has offensive skills. He's not exactly a big brand name, so some people may be wondering why he got so much money, but the truth is that Avs may have got the steal of the day — $4 million a year for a 50- to 60-point player is good value.
All eyes will be on Parise and Suter as they make their decisions in the coming days, but so far, it looks like the Canadiens, Canucks, Ducks and Avalanche have all made decent moves to bolster their teams.
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