Studs and duds of the day

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Winners, losers, watchers and gamblers on Day 1 of free agent spending in the National Hockey League:

WINNER

Tampa Bay Lightning. After hiring Barry Melrose, the Lightning appeared poised to become an NHL punchline. But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to July 1. It pulled an old college trick, hiring Greg Malone to be a pro scout then following it up by trading for and then signing his son, Ryan. Add that to the signings of playoff hero, Adam Hall, the venerable Gary Roberts and good guy goalie Olaf Kolzig along with scorer Radim Vrbata and the worst team in hockey suddenly doesn't look that bad. Even without a defence.

LOSER

The Ottawa Senators needed a goalie to split the duties with the redoubtable Martin Gerber and the best they could come up with was Alex Auld. Maybe Auld won't be a distraction and maybe he will come to practice and actually try, but no matter what the question is, Auld, who has bounced from Vancouver to Florida to Boston is not the answer.

WATCHER

The Atlanta Thrashers. With the thinnest lineup in the NHL, save for Ilya Kovalchuk, the Thrashers signed ... no one. It's not like they didn't try, but if you're a free agent, why would you consider this team going nowhere in a market that doesn't know hockey exists.

GAMBLER

It now is official. The Maple Leafs have given their fans the Finger. Jeff Finger. Ever heard of him? Didn't think so. When I first saw he signed a four-year, $3.5 million contract, I thought it was $3.5 million for all four years. It's a lot of money for a late blooming defenceman who was benched in the playoffs. A better buy was the $12 million thrown at Niklas Hagman, a speedy winger on the rise. Not sure about the retro addition of Curtis Joseph, who has reputation of being a great teammate but wasn't one in Detroit or on Team Canada at the 2002 Olympic Games.

WINNER

The trade-busy Edmonton Oilers. Creative general manager Kevin Lowe re-made his roster without a significant free-agent signing. He traded for some quality in defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky and wingers Erik Cole and Gilbert Brule to go along with the kids he already has. It's tough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. It just got tougher with an improved Edmonton lineup.

LOSER

Colorado Avalanche. It signed Andrew Raycroft. It did so without having a definitive No. 1 goalie. We wonder: Do they actually have pro scouts in Denver?

WINNER

The Stanley Cup champion, Detroit Red Wings. They re-sign solid defenceman Brad Stuart at Finger-like money and add backup goaltender, Ty Conklin, for similar money to Curtis Joseph. For a difference of $1 million over four years, I'd rather have Stuart and Conklin than Finger and Joseph.

WINNER AND GAMBLER

The Blackhawks were the surprise victors of the Brian Campbell sweepstakes and the surprise winner (some might say loser) of the Cristobal Huet sweepstakes. Campbell is built for today's NHL and will make a young, skilled, speedy team that much better. But why Huet? And why pay large for one goalie when you already have an expensive one in Nikolai Khabibulin?

WINNER

Marian Hossa, although we don't know which team he will decide upon. He could stay in Pittsburgh for $7 million a year, play in Detroit for a little less than that, or make more a whole lot more and go to Edmonton. It's Hossa's call: Money or victory, or maybe a little of both.

LOSER

The Vancouver Canucks sign Kyle Wellwood and offer $20 million for Mats Sundin. Apparently, they are specializing in players who don't know if they want to play or in the case of Wellwood, don't seem to care about their play.

WINNER

Minnesota Wild. It signed the dependable Andrew Brunette, a former Wild player, for the oddest thing on free-agent frenzy day: A reasonable price. Brunette agreed to three years and $7 million in what was the probably the best dollar-for-dollar buy on the day.

LOSER

The New York Rangers threw big money and a long-term deal at Wade Redden. If Redden couldn't keep his life in control in Ottawa, how is he going to do it in New York?

LOSER

Me. Spending a gorgeous holiday Tuesday on the phone, on the Internet, on e-mail, listening to free agency shows on radio and watching them on television.


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