Key Acquisitions Fail to Propel Rangers, Oilers

Bill Stoklosa

Last offseason was a busy one in the NHL, as teams across the league tried to pick up the big free-agent that would help them gain the most coveted trophy in all of sports. In this edition, I’ll be taking you across the league to look at how some of the major free-agent acquisitions have fared thus far.

The team that arguably gained the most headlines for their offseason moves were the New York Rangers, who brought in centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to help boost their offense. Through 17 games, Drury, a former Buffalo Sabre, only has three goals and seven assists, while sporting a plus/minus of -2. Gomez, a former New Jersey Devil, hasn’t faired much better. He also has 10 points with four goals and six assists, and an even plus minus. Drury and Gomez’s struggles are indicative of the offense as a whole, which has scored a league low 34 goals. The Rangers are still managing to stay a hair above .500 at 9-7-1, thanks to the stellar play of goalie Henrik Lundqvist who has an extraordinary .940 save percentage and an unbelievable 1.62 goals against average.

In regards to another former Sabre currently skating in the City of Brotherly Love, we must examine the exploits of the short but skilled center, Daniel Briere. Philadelphia was the worst team in the conference last year. This year, Philadelphia leads the Atlantic with a 10-6 record, despite the fact that over two-thirds of their games thus far have been on the road! Briere’s been a huge part of that success. He leads the team with 19 points coming on six goals and 13 assists. His offensive skills have been instrumental in leading Philadelphia to a division-high 49 goals. Briere has been helped out by another former Sabre, goalie Martin Biron, who joined the Flyers at the deadline last season. Biron has a whopping .936 save percentage and 2.25 goals against average. The struggling Sabres, meanwhile, are currently tied for the worst record in the league, could use both Biron and Briere right now.

Another Atlantic Division team, whose off-season moves are paying dividends, is the Islanders. The Islanders, who lost forwards Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake this offseason, looked like they would be in trouble. However the addition of three free agent forwards has helped the Islanders to a surprising 9-4 start. Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and Ruslan Fedotenko, have all filled in nicely and put up five goals apiece. The departed Blake is struggling to find the net in his new home in Toronto, with just two goals on the year. The Islanders are probably a little more upset they let Smyth go. Smyth has now set up shop with the Colorado Avalanche and has 13 points on six goals and seven assists. Hus offensive skill and leadership are a big reason why the Avalanche currently leads the Northwest Division and is second in the West with an 11-5-1 record. Not bad for a team that missed the playoffs last year.

At the bottom of the Northwest, the Edmonton Oilers have a different free agent story to tell. The Oilers signed defensemen Sheldon Souray who had a staggering 26 goals and 38 assists from the blue line last season with the Canadiens and set the record for power play goals by a defenseman with 19. However he only scored a goal and an assist through the first six games of this year, before being placed on injured reserve on October 24 with shoulder problems. He is yet to return. So far the Oilers $27 million expenditure hasn’t paid off and they are currently tied for the worst record in hockey.

In that West Coast hockey mecca that is Los Angeles, the Kings are having a surprisingly good year and at 8-8 are just two points back of San Jose for first in a weak Pacific Division. The addition of Ladislav Nagy has reaped dividends as the forward has racked up four goals and seven assists on the year. Most importantly, he is second on the team with an impressive +6, showing his ability in both the offensive and defensive aspects of the game. Their other notable free agent acquisition, defensemen Brad Stuart, who spent last year with Boston and Calgary, has been less impressive with just two goals and a -6 rating.

The Detroit Red Wings, always active in the off-season, made the best off-season acquisition when they signed stand-out defensemen Brian Rafalski. Rafalski has been superb this season dishing out 11 assists and in the most important statistic for defensemen, plus/minus, he has a +8. He is a major reason why Detroit leads the West with a 13-3-1 record and is second only to the 14-2 Ottawa Senators overall. Rafalski’s former team the Devils are really missing him, as they have fallen to last in the Atlantic with a 6-8-2 record.

No team needed to make a bigger splash in free agency than the Washington Capitals, who desperately needed some young talent around their rising star Alexander Ovechkin. They tried to do this by adding two forwards in former Ranger Michael Nylander and former Islander Viktor Kozlov. They’ve both been pretty good. Nylander has five goals and 11 assists, while Kozlov has three goals and nine assists. Another acquisition, Tom Poti, has helped the defense somewhat with his +1 rating, but the unit is still far too weak and goalie Olaf Kolzig is getting too old for this team to succeed. They are currently tied with Edmonton and Buffalo at the bottom of the league standings.

The first quarter of the season has shown how important handling free agency effectively is in the salary cap era. However, if your team failed to address its needs this off-season (I’m talking to you Sabres, Capitals, and Oilers fans) you can always hope for a big deal at the trading deadline.