3 winners and 3 losers on free agent frenzy day

Jul 1, 6:04 PM

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Winner - Dallas Stars

After Tuesday, the Dallas Stars have emerged as a serious threat in the Central Division. 

Dallas general manager Jim Nill had yet another banner day, trading from an area of surplus to acquire Jason Spezza and signing Spezza's post-deadline running mate Ales Hemsky to a reasonable contract. 

The Stars are the perfect place for Spezza to land, since Tyler Seguin will draw the attention of the opposition's top pairings and Cody Eakin can harass the opposition's best lines. 

Spezza and Hemsky making life miserable for the bottom end of opponents' rosters should make fans of high-scoring, entertaining hockey giddy. It should also make Central Division rivals miserable.

Winner - Pittsburgh Penguins

The market price may not reflect it, but Christian Ehrhoff is a significant upgrade on Matt Niskanen and he signed for far less money and term. There should be little doubt - Ehrhoff is the best value signing of the day and second place isn't even close. 

Beyond Ehrhoff, the Penguins signed arguably the best value goaltender on the market in Thomas Greiss, and added useful depth forward Blake Comeau - a major upgrade on a player like Tanner Glass, and for less money and term. 

As an organization the Penguins have had a tough couple of months, but Jim Rutherford and company had a successful day of shopping on Tuesday.

Winner - Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild added an elite offensive player in Thomas Vanek on a contract that carries a reasonable annual averaged salary and expires after three seasons. Sure, Vanek's been in the bag for the Wild for two years, but you can't dock a club marks for ruthlessly taking advantage of a favorable situation.

Add Vanek into a forward mix that already includes the likes of Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund; and you have a rather dynamic and formidable group. 

Loser - Washington Capitals

Did anyone watch the Pittsburgh Penguins play hockey in the postseason over the past couple of seasons and think to themselves: "gee, those guys are really excellent away from the puck, we should mimic that!" Amazingly the answer to that question appears to be: "yes!" 

The Capitals went all in during the free-agent frenzy, committing nearly $70 million to a pair of former Pittsburgh Penguins defenders - neither of whom is a top-pairing defender. 

The seven-year, $40.25-million contract that new Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan handed out to Matt Niskanen is defensible, despite the steep price. At the very least the right-handed shooting puck-mover is 27 years old and is coming off of a career year, and perhaps he's just figured it out. 

On the other hand, Niskanen has only ever flashed that kind of form over an entire season once in his eight-year NHL career.

The contract handed out to Brooks Orpik is definitely shocking. Orpik's results have been flagging for years and he was particularly poor last season. Orpik is already showing his age - he'll turn 34 before the start of next season - and is signed through his age-38 campaign. Maybe Orpik will age like Willie Mitchell, but it's hard to think of many other all-defense blue-liners who have been effective into their late-30s.

Loser - Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche went into free agency looking to improve their blue-line. 

They bolstered it by overpaying for salary dumpee Brad Stuart in a trade, extending Nick Holden, and signing Zach Redmond. Redmond is an excellent and affordable gamble, but Stuart isn't the type of player who is going to help the Avalanche improve at controlling play - which they'll need to do if they hope to sustain last season's success.

The Avalanche also lost Paul Stastny to a division rival. Stastny is an underrated two-way center who handled the toughest matchups while Colorado's young stars built their reputations behind him and might be a bigger loss than many realize. To make matter worse, he left the Avalanche for a reasonable contract (both in term and money). 

Four years and $28 million was too rich for a team with over $10 million in cap space remaining and 22 players already signed?

Compounding the Stastny issue for the Avalanche - a club that leveraged its speed and youthful exuberance so successfully during a breakout 2013-14 campaign - the team then signed 36-year-old Jarome Iginla to a three-year, $16-million deal. That's a big price tag and a lot of expensive risk to take on for a player on a 35-plus contract - especially for a player who no longer moves the needle at even-strength.

Loser - Florida Panthers 

The Florida Panthers spent over $60 million in the opening six hours of free agency, and got next to no bang for their buck. Yes, they had to spend to reach the salary cap floor - but so did the Buffalo Sabres, who fared much better.

In total, the Panthers added two old fourth-line forwards in Shawn Thornton and Derek MacKenzie (both on inexcusable multi-year contracts), a sub-average backup goaltender in Al Montoya, a third-line center in Dave Bolland, a second-pairing defender Willie Mitchell, and an average second line forward (and Evgeni Malkin beneficiary) in Jussi Jokinen. That's... terrible. 

Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Jerome Miron