Free agent winners and losers

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:20 AM ET

The noon bell sounded and the race to spend millions was as frenetic as ever, with a few general managers getting trampled along the track.

But the true victors in the opening of NHL free agency won’t be known until February or March, when teams are either in the playoffs and ready to cash in on lucrative home games or forced to undo their mistakes at the trade deadline.

“I’ve said before, our group (of 30 GMs) make more mistakes on July 1 than at any time of the year,” Toronto’s Brian Burke said of being over-zealous. “There can be a reactionary theme to this like there is in the draft — ‘this defenceman is gone, now I have to take this other defenceman’.

“Our team went in and set a price and if you don’t (have a match) you move on. Maybe you didn’t add a player today, but you wake up tomorrow and you still have cash and cap space.”

Sporadic signings will follow in the coming week (marquee men such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Nabokov are still out there), but here are some thoughts on winners and losers from Day One:

WINNERS

Pittsburgh: Bade a sad farewell to Sergei Gonchar, lost out on Dan Hamhuis’ rights, then took Paul Martin from the division-rival Devils and topped that with the steady Zbynek Michalek, both for five years at a total of $50 million US. Blue line insurance for a renewed Cup run.

Vancouver: Thanks to a homesick Hamhuis, they now have one of the best two-way defencemen available. His mean streak replaces Willie Mitchell’s.

Montreal: Still dealing with sour fans who hated Jaroslav Halak being handed to the Blues, they have some experienced, cost efficient back-ups for Carey Price now with Alex Auld and Curtis Sanford.

LOSERS

Calgary: Olli Jokinen has yet to be the mover and shaker for a contending team, now he’s back in what was one of his least-productive pit stops. Flames also think they can get Alex Tanguay straightened out.

Buffalo: Lost the long-serving Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, who averaged around 19 minutes a game. Good thing Tyler Myers is young and fresh.

Philadelphia: Every goalie in captivity was rumoured to be heading here, but so far, it’s the continuing misadventures of Michael Leighton.

N.Y. Islanders: They aren’t usually active at this stage of free agency, but doing nothing while everyone else in the division made moves does nothing for their long-term prospects.

JURY’S OUT

New Jersey: Decided not to be reckless in pursuit of re-signing Ilya Kovalchuk, but will likely have to give up more resources during the year for offensive help and playoff insurance.

San Jose: Surely they will come up with a better Plan B in goal than Antero Niittymaki.

N.Y. Rangers: If they’re finally going to give Henrik Lundqvist some breathing room after four straight seasons of 70-plus games, none of them resulting in long playoff runs, then Martin Biron is useful on the end of the bench.

Los Angeles: Are they wary of Kovalchuk’s act, are they just being smart to back off for now to make him sweat about price or are they risking losing the player who could fill their rink and help them to the next level?

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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