The 2014 NHL Costless Agency spree has begun. Now that the first twenty four hours have passed, the dust has started to settle, revealing a drastic change in the Western Conference. While a few clubs hardly tested the waters of the costless agency pool, others headed straight to the deep end, paying big money to some Unrestricted Costless Agents (UFA’s), as well as locking up their own Restricted Costless Agents (RFA’s). As we creep in to Day 2 of the costless agency period, lets take a look at how the teams of the Pacific Division attempted to bolster their roster for the 2014-15 season:
Anaheim: The Ducks made their biggest splash of the offseason with a trade on Draft Day, sending forward Nick Bonino and defenseman Luca Sbisa to Vancouver in exchange for center Ryan Kesler. Anaheim adds a big body down the middle to solidify their second line behind Ryan Getzlaf. With two big centermen, the Ducks looks primed to once again make a run in the west. However, many will claim that Kesler is not the player of old. After registering 41 goals and 73 points in the 2010-11 regular season with the Canucks, Kesler scored 19 points in their run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Since then, Kesler has failed to register more than 49 points a season. If Kesler can benefit from a change of scenery, he will not only make the Ducks that much stronger up front and down the middle, but he will also prove why Anaheim’s Bob Murray is the reining GM of the year in the NHL. Along with adding Kesler, the Ducks also signed Defenseman Clayton Stoner and Goaltender Jason Labarbera. Stoner will add depth to an already good defensive core; his stay-at-home style could compliment the offensive-minded play of a Cam Fowler or a Hampus Lindolm. Labarbera will most likely find himself in the American Hockey League behind John Gibson and Freddy Andersen, but will provide depth to the Ducks crease this season.
Arizona: The Coyotes’ biggest move of the off season came in the form out of a contract buy-out. Centerman Mike Ribeiro signed a four year deal with the ‘Yotes back in the July of 2013, and after a strong start to the 2013-14 campaign, the wheels fell off for Ribeiro in the desert. Phoenix General Manager Don Maloney cited ‘behavior issues’ resulting in Arizona buying out the remaining three years of the Ribeiro contract. To fill that void left by the buyout, Arizona traded for Centerman Sam Gagner from Tampa Bay. Gagner, after being traded twice in a span of ninety minutes (Edmonton traded Gagner down to Tampa, only for the ‘Bolts to ship Gagner to the desert) can fill the role of a top line centerman, but his numbers suggest that he may not put up a lot of points for Coach Dave Tippett. But, with a seemingly larger role in Arizona than that of his in oil country, Gagner may be able to convert his offensive skills in to numbers on the board.
Calgary: The Flames believed to have locked up a starting goalie after signing former Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller to a two year deal. Hiller had solid campaigns for the Ducks before finding himself being pinched out of a crowded Ducks crease. Hiller should win the starting job over Karri Ramo, thus improving the goaltending situation in Calgary. The Flames also added to their team speed by inking Mason Raymond. Raymond, a longtime Vancouver Canuck, re-established himself as a top-6 winger in the league after an impressive 2013-14 season with Toronto. The Southern Alberta native was credited with 45 points in 82 games with the Leafs last season, displaying his overwhelming speed that he was known for early on in his stint with the ‘Nucks. Injuries have limited Raymond in the past, but if he can stay healthy in Calgary this season, he should be looked to for offense production with the Flames.
Edmonton: The Oilers finally put to the Sam Gagner trade rumors to rest by shipping the centerman down to Tampa Bay in exchange for Winger Teddy Purcell. Purcell adds size up front to a talented-yet undersized- young Oilers roster. With the offensive guns in the Oilers’ arsenal, Purcell has the potential to become a premier power forward in the tough Western Conference. Former Ranger Benoit Pouliot, at 6’3”, also brings size-and speed- to the Edmonton roster. The additions of Purcell and Pouliot should bolster an offense that at times looked to be suffering from a lack of size and grit last season. Additionally, Oilers GM Craing MacTavish shored up his blueline by adding Keith Aulie and Mark Fayne. The big defensemen (Aulie measures in at 6’6” and Fayne is listed at 6’3) will hopefully improve on a league-worst 3.26 Goals Against Average from 2014 for Coach Dallas Eakins and company.
Los Angeles: The Stanley Cup Champions resigned Marian Gaborik after a successful stint with the Kings en route to a Cup. The instant chemistry Gaborik displayed with Anze Kopitar proved too much to pass up for GM Dean Lombardi, locking up the Slovakian Sniper for the next five seasons. Defenseman Matt Greene also resigned, ensuring that he will be on the Los Angeles blue line for at least four more years. Beyond those signings, the Kings must have felt comfortable with the roster they won with, as they only added a few minor pieces. The most significant may be the addition of Forward Adam Cracknell. Cracknell was an integral component to an effective fourth line in St. Louis, and will be toughness to the Los Angeles roster. When in the lineup, look for Cracknell to fit in nicely with the forecheck-friendly style of Los Angeles.
San Jose: Of the teams in the Pacific, San Jose took the smallest bite out of the costless agency pool. The Sharks’ only notable addition thus far is Taylor Fedun. The young defenseman suited up for only four games for Edmonton last season, and may end up playing this season in the AHL. However, it is believed that he will have a chance to crack the Sharks’ roster in training camp.
Vancouver: The Canucks may have made the biggest splash in the Pacific, landing prized costless agent goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller struggled a bit last season after his trade to St. Louis, but his track record proves he is an elite netminder. One thing to keep in mind about Miller and Vancouver: Miller nearly backstopped the Americans to a gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics, which was played at the Rogers Arena-the home arena to the Canucks (ironically enough, Miller lost to Roberto Luongo and Team Canada. Luongo was the starting netminder for the Canucks at the time). If history is any indication, Miller seems to play well in Van City. The Canucks are banking on the idea, at least. Receiving Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa from Anaheim in exchange for Kesler establishes a youth movement for the Canucks. Bonino proved that he has the tools to become a young star in this league, and an increased role up front for Vancouver may be the opportunity he needs to flourish. Sbisa is a smooth skating pointman who should also see an increase in playing time with Vancouver. The defensive-minded Sbisa, along with Ryan Miller between the pipes for the Canucks, should help Vancouver find the postseason again after missing out last season.
Although it is too early to tell which team made the biggest impact with their costless agency signings, some teams seemed to have come out on top after the costless agent frenzy, while others seemed to have slept thorough the initial signing period. Vancouver seems to be the 'winner' of the Pacific, adressing their needs to seemingly improve their roster for the upcoming season. The San Jose Sharks are the Pacific Division 'losers', failing to reel-in any big names from the pool. But of course, only time will tell how the signings will affect the 2014-15 season.