-C Matt Cullen to Minnesota, 3 years, $10.5 million.
Lowdown: Cullen is play-making center with good speed, the sort that the run-and-gun Wild currently covet. While his price tag is comparable to similarly talented players with recently signed contracts such as Matt Stajan, Cullen is another injury concern for a team that already has Martin Havlat and is just getting over a split with its former franchise player, the oft-injured Marian Gaborik. In addition to missing some time, nagging injuries often yield inconsistent production and mixed form for the talented Cullen. He figures to be a second or third-line center and despite his career average of about a half-point per game is capable of generating assists in bunches.
-G Chris Mason to Atlanta, 2 years, $3.7 million.
Lowdown: Mason becomes the starter on yet another non-playoff team, a surprise given that he seemed well-suited for a 1A/1B type situation in Chicago or Philadelphia, last year’s Stanley Cup champions and runners-up. Mason may well split time in Atlanta, too, as the young goalie Ondrej Pavelec is still with the team. Still, it seems like Mason gets neither an improved situation nor a big paycheck here. For the Thrashers’ part, they get a veteran goalie who can provide strong legs and strong leadership despite questionable consistency.
-C, Olli Jokinen to Calgary, 2 years, $6 million.
Lowdown: Jokinen spent parts of the past two seasons with Calgary but never quite clicked as the Flames’ top-line center. He was sent to New York last year but obviously both he and the Flames were willing to give it another go at a reduced price. With the addition of Alex Tanguay, a full season of Matt Stajan and an expanded role for Mikael Backlund, Jokinen may be asked to return to his ways as a shoot-first center. His game was always suited for a winger, as his quick release peppered the net and his big body crashed the crease hard so perhaps Brent Sutter will reorient him in that direction on this second sojourn with the Flames.
-D Anton Volchenkov to New Jersey, 6 years, $25.5 million
Lowdown: Arguably the best defensive defenseman on the market this year, Volchenkov and Chris Phillips were a shutdown pair extraordinaire last season. Volchenkov relished one-on-one battles with star forwards, not only winning them regularly but more often than not leaving opposing scorers with bruises and aches. Further, Volchenkov has taken only a few seasons to establish himself as one of the best-known shot blockers in history. However, he has paid the price for his physical play at times. In seven NHL seasons, Volchenkov has played over 75 games just once. While his offense is limited and he may not give the Devils the power-play point presence they covet, Volchenkov is an indispensable asset in a division with players like New York’s Marian Gaborik, Philadelphia’s Mike Richards and Pittsburgh’s one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
-D Henrik Tallinder to New Jersey, 4 years, $13.5 million
Lowdown: Tallinder combines size, skating and solid position to be a major asset in his own zone. It seemed as though every contender coveted players like him at the deadline last season, with Volchenkov set to sign soon the Devils get two players that would have been on the wishlist of almost every team had they been available in March. With Kovalchuk exploring the market and seemingly little interest in offensive-minded free agents at any position, it seems clear that the Devils want to fight fire with water and Tallinder fits that approach very well.
-D Dan Hamhuis to Vancouver, 6 years, $27 million
Lowdown: Vancouver already added Keith Ballard on draft day and now with Hamhuis they seem to have effectively addressed the lack of depth on their blue line that hurt them so sorely against the Blackhawks last year. Hamhuis is a two-way defenseman with excellent endurance and solid wheels who plays in all situations. His $4.5M cap hit is a serious investment for a team with several players in that price range already but seems a fair value for a rearguard in his prime at age 27 who has also been durable enough to play in 78 or more games in each full season as an NHL player.
-D Kurtis Foster to Edmonton, 2 years, $3.6 million.
Coming off a career-best 42-point season and having remained reasonably healthy (played 71 games), Foster, 28, appears an excellent value for Edmonton. They did not over-commit in terms of salary or seasons and they get a respectable point producer with a big body. Despite his 6’5″ stature and 220-pound bulk, Foster is a finesse player who passes well and shoots the puck hard. He could easily wind up as Edmonton’s main man on the power play with Lubomir Visnovsky in Anaheim and Sheldon Souray packing up for a trade. Along with Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert, Foster fits the mold of a big, finesse blueliner that seems to be chic in Edmonton at the moment.
-D Paul Martin to Pittsburgh, 5 years, $25 million.
Lowdown: Martin joins a Penguins team seeking to build on its strength up the middle with centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal as well as netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. Perhaps the biggest name in New Jersey’s “no-name” defense, Martin got a pretty big payday that locks him up until he is 34 years old. A two-way blueliner who produced 35 points per game in the four seasons heading into the ’09-’10 season, Martin missed three quarters of last year with a broken arm though he did set a career-best in per-game production with 11 points in 22 games. Martin is neither an insanely slick puckhandler or a huge hitter but his sound decisions with the puck, solid skating ability and sound defensive positioning made him one of top five free agent defensemen on the market.
-D Zybnek Michalek to Pittsburgh, 4 years, $20 million.
Lowdown: Michalek is the sort of player who tends to get less recognition than he deserves until days like these when contending teams covet him. A reliable player in all three zones going both ways, Michalek is the type of earnestly tough and quietly effective rearguard we have seen from Europe in recent years. Solid on the breakout and eager to give up his body to block a shot (he led the league in blocks two seasons ago), Michalek makes a fine addition to a Pens team that sorely missed departed defenders like Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi last season in its failed title defense.
-D Sergei Gonchar to Ottawa, 3 years, $16.5 million.
Lowdown: Anchored defensively by Phillips and Volchenkov, perhaps the league most under-touted pairing, the Sens also saw what a solid power-play quarterback could do for their team as Erik Karlsson’s emergence provided a huge boost in the team’s performance. Here they get one of the slickest power-play players in the business and an offensive defenseman who is not a severe liability in his own end (he is +54 in his career despite playing for a few weak teams over the years). Gonchar is 36 with some concerns about durability but has not any recurring injuries to scare teams off from his high price tag. His 684 career points in 991 may make him the active points leader among defensemen once all retirements are announced.
-W Ray Whitney to Phoenix, 2 years, $6 million.
Lowdown: Phoenix sough affordable offensive punch and they found it in the 18-year veteran Whitney. Since the lockout, Whitney has flourished as he posted two seasons that topped his previous career-best total. Whitney notched 77 points two seasons ago and 83 points in the ’06-’07 season in which the Hurricanes hoisted the Cup. While the 38-year-old Whitney dipped to 58 points and a -6 rating last year, Carolina had a horrendous season filled with injuries, saving serious face for those numbers. Apart from a race against time, Whitney is a tremendous value as a scorer who will take all sorts of contact to make a play. He produces will providing a stone solid example on the ice and an experienced, calming presence in the dressing room.
-D Toni Lydman to Anaheim, 3 years, $9 million.
Lowdown: Lydman’s somewhat limited production and physical play may frustrate some but by now what you have seen is what you will get with Lydman, and what you have seen is a very consistent defenseman. A stay-at-home defender who is capable on the breakout and makes smart decisions will always have a well-paid job in the NHL and the Ducks look to rebuild a defense that lost the Norris Trophy winners Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer in consecutive seasons. Lydman is much more physical than other additions like Lubomir Visnovsky and Luca Sbisa. He is responsible in his own zone and his work in the neutral zone is excellent even though it is tough to quantify on the stat sheet.
-W Derek Boogaard to Rangers, 4 years, 6.25 million.
Lowdown: Since an embarrassing display against the Philadelphia Flyers’ plethora of pugilists in which Dan Carcillo violated star winger Marian Gaborik and the Rangers were left with Aaron Voros and Sean Avery to take on Philly’s federation of fighters, the Rangers have coveted toughness. They acquired Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley last season, but with Shelley signing with Philly and the Rangers also cutting ties with tough guy Donald Brashear, New York signed Boogaard, the heaviest of heavyweights at 6’8″ and nearly 260 pounds. With 14 points in 255 games, there is no mystery as to Boogaard’s role. Along with first-round selection Dylan McIlrath–another hulking specimen known as “The Undertaker”–the Rangers might be shaping up as the Broadway Bullies.
-W Jody Shelley to Philadelphia, 3 years, $3.3 million.
Lowdown: Shelley is a big man with two big fists, the kind of player Philly has coveted for, oh, four decades and counting. In the tradition of recent enforcers like Donald Brashear and Riley Cote, Shelley does not bring a ton of other skills to the table. A fourth-line forward who will get the goon game going costs the Flyers $1.1 million a year against the cap, curious given their tight salary situation and need for a starting goalie but nonetheless a clear-cut move to stay tough in their bottom six.
-G Dan Ellis to Tampa Bay, 2 years, $3 million
Lowdown: Ellis gets another opportunity as a starter after losing his job to Pekka Rinne in Nashville. He and the Lightning could either a brilliant fit or a disastrous match as Tampa desperately needs consistent goaltending and the knock on Ellis is his inability to play consistently. At age 30, now is the time for Ellis to even out his game if he wants to solidify his position as a number one netminder and not a 1B/backup type goalie. For Tampa’s part, they get a fair price on a player entering his prime, however fruitful that prime may be. They still have Mike Smith to create an intriguing competition for tick between the pipes.
-F Manny Malhotra to Vancouver, 3 years, $7.5 million.
Lowdown: Nearly eliminated by horrendous penalty killing against the Los Angeles Kings last season, Vancouver sought to add a versatile, speedy forward who could give them big minutes a man down. Malhotra is an exceptional skater who has shed the draft bust label by re-branding himself as a defensive forward. He can also play all three forward positions, adding much-needed depth up front to Vancouver. Malhotra played top-line duty at times in Columbus two years ago and spot second-line duty with San Jose last season, though his offensive ability is below average for a top-six guy.
-C Joel Perrault to Vancouver, 1 year, $510,000
Lowdown: Since his monster 116-point campaign in the QMJHL in ’02-’03, Perrault has put in bits and pieces of time in the pros that add up to just over one full season. Though his passing ability remains an asset, he has struggled to consistently stand up to the rigors of regular duty or develop a niche in a particular area of the game. He figures as a depth forward for Vancouver and would not be the first player to come into his own in his late twenties. He can also play wing so at either the NHL or AHL level he will the Vancouver organization some flexibility for their $510,000.
-D Sean O’Donnell to Philadelphia, 1 year, $1 million.
Lowdown: The 38-year-old O’Donnell figures as a third pairing or depth defenseman for the Flyers but despite his age he has been durable, playing in 78 games or more in each season since the lockout. O’Donnell is a classic value-priced veteran, a smart player with a nasty streak and a heavy shot who will skate in the black despite his inability to produce points. With the Flyers struggling to put together a serviceable third pairing, they snagged O’Donnell in free agency and Andrej Meszaros in a trade to bolster what was arguably the best top-four defense in hockey last season with Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn.
-Antero Niittymaki to San Jose, 2 years, $4 million.
Lowdown: Maybe the surprise signing of the day, San Jose goes with Niittymaki as opposed to promoting from within their stable or chasing a big-name netminder. At his best, Niittymaki performs at a world-class level as evidenced by his silver-medal-winning performance with Finland at the 2006 Olympics. He has above average size but plays like a small goalie as he is quick and capable of spectacular saves but can also make the easy stops seem difficult. San Jose has developed goalies like Evgeni Nabokov and fellow medal-winning Finn Miikka Kiprusoff in recent years so if anyone can finally even out the play of Niittymaki it may be the Sharks.
-G Martin Biron to Rangers, 2 years, $1.75 million.
Lowdown: Biron advanced from the towering shadows of the national heroes Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller only to find himself back in the backup role after two years and two playoff series victories with the Flyers as a starter. He changes teams but not license plates moving from the Islanders to the Rangers. Biron is easily the best insurance policy the Rangers have purchased for their starter Henrik Lundqvist and $875,000 his cap hit is rather manageable for the Rangers who can now spell Lundqvist during a December lull or otherwise cut down his extremely heavy workload, who has consisted of 70 or more games in each of the past four seasons.
Lowdown: Auld heads to Montreal as a more comfortable and less expensive option to back up Carey Price than Dan Ellis, whom they acquired in a trade with Nashville earlier this week. He has posted respectable numbers and gained the esteem of coaches during recent stints in Florida, Boston, Dallas and New York and has carried heavier loads due to injuries or underperformance at times. Price, who struggled at times last season, will not be pushed by Auld to the same extent that playoff standout Jaroslav Halak pressured Price last year, but if Price falters Auld can step in and start more comfortably than the average backup.
-W Colby Armstrong to Toronto, 3 years, $9 million.
Lowdown: Brian Burke is betting that Armstrong can contribute to the turnaround in Toronto despite not being a natural scorer. Armstrong is not inept offensively–he has put up 40 points in a season before–but his board work, grit, defensive accountability and leadership by example are what cash his checks. Armstrong has been missed in Pittsburgh during his time in Atlanta and the Leafs are banking on his improving their team defense and offensive possession time.
-W Alex Tanguay to Calgary, 1 year, $1.75 million.
Lowdown: Tanguay re-joins a Calgary club in desperate need of offense. He played two seasons for the Flames in which he amassed 139 points in 159 games. In the two seasons since they parted ways, Tanguay dealt with injuries in Montreal and a slow season in Tampa while the Flames careened into a forest of woeful underproduction culminating in over 30 games last year with one goal or fewer scored. Known as a pass-first player who improves his linemates regardless of their style, Tanguay may give the Flames a playmaker to help their slumping scorers finish or he may be in physical decline. Calgary gets a year to evaluate him at a fair price for what was once a point-per-game player.