Kolupanowich: Early Free Agency winners and losers

By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor

@TimKolupan_

Maybe it’s because CBA negotiations are recently started, but NHL GMs are taking their time this year making really big moves. As we head into afternoon of the third day of Free Agency, forward Zach Parise and defensemen Ryan Suter, the top FAs available, remain unsigned as well as a host of very good an serviceable players. NHL.com released their Top 30 Remaining Free Agents earlier today.

Everyone is waiting right now to write their pieces on how much Suter and Parise will help their new teams so things have been pretty quiet.

Though there has been nothing drastic, some teams have improved already. Here are the teams who have done the best so far.

Carolina Hurricanes

Trading for Jordan Staal, brother of captain Eric, give the Hurricanes a deadly punch down the middle. Jordan will finally have a chance to get a bigger role and his defensive abilities will open up Eric for more offensive chances. And they are big, both listed at 6-foot-4 and over 200 pounds. They lost Brandon Sutter and prospect defenseman Brian Dumoulin, but it was worth it as Jordan make Carolina instantly better.

Signing Joe Corvo also helps add offense from their blueline and has played there before, producing a career-high 14 goals in 2008-09 and 29 assists and 40 points in ’10-11.

Detroit Red Wings

Using their trademark grit and physical prowess, the Nashville Predators easily defeated the Detroit Red Wings in five games in the first round of last season’s playoffs. And with just one signing, Detroit took away a huge chunk of that advantage. Coming off the best season of his career in which he registered 6-24-30 with 92 PIM in 77 games, Jordin Tootoo jumped to rival Detroit, giving them a solid lower-line player. He is the type of guy the Wings always win with. While Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have taken a lot of credit for their four Stanley Cups since 1997, they have had a ton of support from Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper and they haven’t had that type of player in the prime of their career in a few years.

They also replaced Jiri Hudler, who signed with Calgary for four seasons,with Mikael Samuelsson who previously played for Detroit from 2005-06 to ’08-09. Hudler is coming off a career-high 25 goals and reached the 50-point plateau for the second time this season. His secondary production will be filled by Samuelsson  who reached 40 points in three of his four seasons with the Wings.

And the teams that haven’t fared so well.

Calgary Flames

Dennis Wideman. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

They ley Olli Jokinen walk, but they continue to tie up money in unhelpful resources. They signed defenseman Dennis Wideman to a $5.25 million cap hit, the largest given out so far ahead of Jason Garrison who signed with Calgary for $4.6 million, and Lee Stempniak, who posted 14-14-28 in 61 games last season, for $2.5 million.

They remain near the cap ceiling and they haven’t improved in the slightest. They have just over $4.25 million left to spend and there is a lot of work to be done. They are one of the oldest teams and don’t have much talent in their system. The Hudler signing was good, but they need to stop over paying players or there will be no room to fix this franchise when it crumbles soon.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks need help scoring goals because it looks like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski just aren’t the answer. They need a steady forward presense and a defenseman to eventually take over Dan Boyle’s role, but all they’ve done so far is trade for and sign Brad Stuart. Originally drafted by San Jose in 1998, he played with them until being traded to Boston in the Joe Thornton deal and has spent the past four and a half seasons as a serviceable depth defenseman for Detroit.

But he won’t be enough to help San Jose improve on last season when they were knocked off in the first round after making it to the Western Conference final two consecutive seasons. As we’ve discussed before on this site, big trades are now taking place more in the summer, so we could still see some pretty big swaps and the Sharks have a lot of pieces they could play.

There is still time for these and all other teams to make moves. With GMs being cautious, this summer will certainly play out like a marathon more than a sprint.

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