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2010 NHL Free Agent Review: Canucks Best in the West

Jan 4, 2011 – 1:15 PM
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Christopher Botta

Christopher Botta %BloggerTitle%

On July 1 of each NHL offseason, general managers can often be like the most passionate of fans. There are available players they just have to have. More often than not, the teams overpay. More often than not, the purchase does not make the team significantly better.

Now that the 2010-11 season is approaching the midway mark, it's time to review some of the noteworthy free agent signings of last summer. We begin with the Western Conference, where the Vancouver Canucks got it right.

Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver -- Six years, $27 million: Give the Canucks credit for identifying what they wanted and going hard after it. Hamhuis was never a star in Nashville and isn't going to be one in Vancouver, but he is a reliable defenseman in his prime who should be able to provide Vancouver with 23 minutes a game for the duration of the contract. Hamhuis actually turned down a few higher offers to play near where he was raised. It's a lot of money, but everyone seems happy. That is the essence of unrestricted free agent. Grade: B+

Manny Malhotra, Vancouver -- Three years, $7.5 million: The Canucks were consistent in their free agency approach. Hearing those dollars and years for a bottom-six forward was a bit shocking in early July, but Malhotra has delivered everything expected of him -- leadership, penalty killing, intangibles and even a little offense (17 points). Hamhuis and Malhotra were expected to make the Canucks a better team. That's exactly what they have done. Grade: B+

Jeff Tambellini, Vancouver
-- One year, $500,000: He always could score in the minors. With nine goals in just 25 games this season, Tambellini's signing could be one of the best value free agent scores of the summer. Grade: B+

Matthew Lombardi, Nashville -- Three years, $10.5 million: Lombardi suffered a concussion during the second game of the season and has yet to resume practicing with the team. Since he had a previous concussion, Lombardi's deal is not covered under the league's insurance plan. Grade: Incomplete

Matt Cullen, Minnesota -- Three years, $10.5 million: The Wild brought home the 34-year-old, 15-goal, 40-point player center by extending a generous contract offer and he has come as advertised. No reason to think he won't produce at the same level for the rest of the deal. It is fair to question, however, if Minnesota was better off investing so much money on a better and younger player. Grade: B-

Toni Lydman, Anaheim -- Three years, $9 million: No one was going to replace Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim, but the wise recruiting of Lydman away from Buffalo has been an invaluable band-aid. Lydman is playing more than 23 minutes a game and is +21 on a team in which the No. 2-rated defenseman, Lubomir Vishovsky, is +5. Grade: A

Antero Niittymaki, San Jose -- Two years, $4 million: An under-the-radar signing from Tampa Bay, Niittymaki is 12-4-3 with a 2.46 GAA and .905 save percentage. Grade: B

Antti Niemi, San Jose -- One year, $2 million: An over-hyped signing after backstopping Chicago to the Stanley Cup, Niemi is 9-10-2 with a 2.96 GAA and identical .905 save percentage. All those columnists hyperventilating during the Stanley Cup Final in June about the value of goaltenders are looking smart, at least for a little while. Grade: C

Marty Turco, Chicago -- One year, $1.2 million: Many thought Turco was past his prime when Dallas said goodbye. He has yet to prove anyone wrong, playing to a 3.02 GAA and being badly out-played by rookie Corey Crawford. Grade: D

Ray Whitney, Phoenix -- Two years, $6 million: In need of offense, GM Don Maloney gambled on a two-year deal for the 38-year-old, hoping for his usual 20 goals and 40 assists. Whitney is slightly behind schedule (eight goals, 19 assists in 36 games), but can catch up during the run for a playoff berth. Grade: B

Olli Jokinen, Calgary
-- Two years, $6 million: After trading Jokinen to the Rangers at last season's deadline, GM Darryl Sutter shockingly brought him back to Calgary. HIs reasoning was that Jokinen was one of the best centers available in a thin market. Sutter resigned last week. Grade: D

Alex Tanguay, Calgary -- One year, $1.7 million: Sutter also brought back Tanguay after the playmaker's bad season in Tampa Bay. He is second on the Flames in scoring and in a half-season has almost eclipsed his production with the Lightning in 2009-10. Grade: B

Kurtis Foster, Edmonton -- Two years, $3.6 million: A rebuilding team needs to be right even with a moderate investment in a defenseman like Foster. He has been very average. Tom Renney gives him just 18 minutes a game, but that should go up after the injury to Ryan Whitney. Grade: C

Alexei Ponikarovsky, Los Angeles
-- One year, $3 million: He has a lower-body injury with no return date in sight. When he was healthy, Ponikarovsky had just three goals in 22 games and at times was demoted by Terry Murray to the fourth line. His one remarkable feat has been getting Murray to miss Alex Frolov. Grade: D-

(Next up: the Eastern Conference, where many more free agents were signed ... to spectacularly erratic results).
Filed under: Sports