<
>
Insider

Early free-agency winners, losers

The Wings may have landed the top center on the market in Stephen Weiss. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Early on, the NHL offseason had been a bit of a dud. Draft weekend was supposed to be loaded with trades, but aside from the Cory Schneider deal to New Jersey, most teams just focused on picking prospects. And the 48-hour communication window this week had the potential to produce news as players and teams agreed to terms, but even that fun was shot down when the league sent a memo out to its teams that negotiations weren't allowed.

Then, Friday happened.

The promised action was finally delivered. Here's a look at who benefited and who didn't in the early Friday returns:

Winners

Detroit Red Wings

I was certainly among those who saw Zach Parise and Ryan Suter pass on signing with the Red Wings and read that as a sign Detroit was no longer one of the premier destinations for NHL free agents. Daniel Alfredsson proved otherwise on Friday. When he made his decision to leave the Senators, he could have quickly found a home in Boston, a team that will no doubt contend for a Stanley Cup next season. But after consulting with Henrik Zetterberg, the veteran Swede decided his best shot at finally winning a Cup was in Detroit. "I just really like the way Detroit plays hockey. It's the puck possession game. It's the push-the-pace game," he said during a Friday conference call. "I know quite a few of the guys from before. I know the personalities. I know how they play and the culture of Detroit appealed to me."

And the respect around the league the Red Wings still receive was clear in the voice of Stephen Weiss, who referred to Mr. Babcock and Mr. Holland while calling his decision to pick the Red Wings an easy one. Weiss was arguably the best center available on the market and the Red Wings signed him for a reasonable five-year deal worth $4.9 million. He'll replace Valtteri Filppula, who got a slightly larger deal to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning despite rarely producing at the same offensive level Weiss had during his time in Florida. Weiss has six seasons where he has registered more than 40 points. Filppula has done that just once.

"I'm thrilled to be given an opportunity to come to this team," he said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to help out."

It wasn't all perfect for Detroit, though. The Red Wings will miss the natural scoring ability Damien Brunner brought to the lineup. Ken Holland said he expects Brunner to sign elsewhere.

Nashville Predators

There's a common trait with nearly all the guys GM David Poile reeled into Nashville: They're maximum-effort players whom coach Barry Trotz will love sending over the boards.

Eric Nystrom is a born leader who was a big part of the Dallas Stars' resiliency down the stretch. Matt Hendricks is a guy capable of anchoring the Predators' third line for years with the bonus of being outstanding in the shootout. Matt Cullen is credited with helping turn around Devin Setoguchi's game in Minnesota and has the versatility to play on the wing and at center, up and down the lineup, and on special teams. Viktor Stalberg brings world-class speed and was one of the few free agents on the market who still has some upside. None of these guys is a huge splash free-agent signing; they're just guys who help you win games.

"They made moves today that are big," said Hendricks when we chatted in the late afternoon on Friday. "They want to get back in the playoffs. Talking to them, it was hard on them to miss the playoffs."

The Predators could still use more scoring, but don't we always say that about Nashville?

Pittsburgh Penguins

When the offseason started there was a serious question as to whether or not GM Ray Shero could bring back key players like Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis with the salary cap coming down. Not only did he pull that off, he addressed a major need on defense by adding shutdown defenseman Rob Scuderi, who teamed with Hal Gill so effectively during the Penguins' Cup run in 2009. It wasn't easy for Scuderi to leave a great situation in Los Angeles, but the opportunity to be closer to family in the East while still playing for a Cup contender proved too good to pass up. Especially on a team he's intimately familiar with.

"The only thing I wanted to make sure, from Ray's point of view, [is] that he remembered how I played and who I was as a player and that he expected to get the same thing," Scuderi said during a Friday afternoon phone conversation. "I just didn't want to be caught in the wrong situation."

Losers

Boston Bruins

Last time we thought the Bruins lost out was at the trade deadline, when Jarome Iginla slipped through the fingers of Peter Chiarelli, and that worked out just fine for Boston. So it may seem odd for the Bruins to be here after signing Iginla, but the context is important. Target No. 1 was Alfredsson, and he got away. Chiarelli pushed hard for him at the deadline and again in free agency and still wasn't able to pull it off. That has to be disappointing.

Iginla fills a need, but was he the best option? Especially considering his age and the disappointing end in Pittsburgh? A guy like Ryane Clowe would have been an interesting fit, but not at the term he received from the Devils. We also think the return of Michael Ryder would have been perfectly reasonable, especially considering he cost Lou Lamoriello only two years and $7 million, but that didn't happen either. There are certainly worse fallback plans than Iginla, but at this point he's not the perfect fit.

Editor's note: This was updated after Iginla's signing.

Washington Capitals

We understand that GM George McPhee may not have wanted to commit too much money and term to a 33-year-old center in Mike Ribeiro, but it was clear that Ribeiro was disappointed it didn't work out in Washington.

"I was surprised. I moved there, moved my family too," he said during his conference call after signing with the Phoenix Coyotes. "My thinking was if I have a great season, they'll keep me there or find a way to keep me there."

While he wasn't perfect defensively, it's hard to argue against his offensive production. He had 49 points in 48 games with the Capitals, holding up his end of the bargain, and especially felt wanted when the Coyotes reached out to his camp the moment the 48-hour window opened at midnight ET.

Now, the Capitals are on the prowl for a No. 2 center again. Mikhail Grabovski would be an interesting fit in Washington and we'll pardon the Capitals from this list if they pull that off.

St. Louis Blues

GM Doug Armstrong was on the hunt for help at center ice and so far hasn't had any luck. We have no issues with the addition of Maxim Lapierre, but that doesn't fill the biggest need for more offensive punch down the middle. Armstrong told Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he pushed hard for both Weiss and Filppula and fell short on both. St. Louis is still a Cup contender, and rather than taking on what's left over on the free-agent market, the better move for Armstrong might be to see who becomes available via trade in the next several months.