Eastern Conference Moves, January 13-20

Updated: January 22, 2013 at 8:47 am by Brent Morris


‘Yes, I really did get four guys on waivers this week, and hopefully next week I’ll get four more.’

Hello all, and welcome to Weekly Moves, a column about the moves made by NHL teams that should appear here every Sunday night at least up until the trade deadline.  Chase Warren, Josh Lile, and myself will be alternating writing the column each week, so if you hate one of us, 2/3rds of the time you’re in luck!  Normally the column will cover all waiver transactions, trades, recalls, relevant demotions, and signings (that affect the NHL team).  However, given the sheer volume of moves made in the last week, I decided it’s prudent to eliminate all waiver transactions that did not result in a player being claimed, as well as all ‘recalls’.   This column owes a large debt to Christina Kahrl’s ‘Transactions of the Week’ at Baseball Prospectus, but I hope it can grow out of that potential shadow.

I’ll be covering the Eastern Conference this week, Chase will have the Western Conference.  Next week, Josh will take everything.

Northeast Division

Montreal Canadiens

Used Amnesty buyout on C Scott Gomez

People badmouth the Gomez trade, and it certainly will go down as one of the worst trades of the last decade – if Ryan McDonagh becomes a top pairing defenseman on a Rangers Stanley Cup winner, it will go into hockey lore as an all-time clunker for the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge.  I do think it’s worth pointing out just how difficult it is to find a center on the free agent market if you need one.  Gomez was overpaid, but he was still a competent #1 center when he got to Montreal – things just kept taking turns for the worse until we ended up at this point.  The problem is not trading for Gomez, it’s including McDonagh in the deal – college defensemen are like a black box to me, so at the time of the trade, I thought it fair-ish, but had McDonagh exhibited any of the attributes he now possesses on Broadway for the Wisconsin Badgers, whoever made that trade should be fired.  Or, since he’s already gone, re-hired, then fired again.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Traded C/LW Matthew Lombardi to Phoenix for a 2013 4th round pick, which becomes a 3rd round pick if he re-signs

Brian Burke’s acquisition of Lombardi was shrewd maneuvering for the man who seemed to eschew using big-market cudgel status – we’ll take a useful player in order to take a financial risk off your hands, and you’ll take our garbage and like it.  Thus was the Lombardi and Franson for Lebda trade born.  While Lombardi stayed relatively healthy, he produced career lows in just about every counting stat (assists, points, points per game, plus/minus, ice time per game) as well as his lowest Corsi Rel rating of his career.  Toronto’s picking up $1.5 million worth of the $3.5 million in remaining salary, and they have either Nazem Kadri or Matt Frattin around to replace the ice time.

Waived C Tim Connolly

This move is somewhat more surprising – while Tim Connolly’s averaged only 53 games per season between the 2005 and 2012 lockouts, his $4.5 million cap hit is burdensome, and his apparent discontent with his role in Toronto evident,  Tim Connolly is still only 31 years old and a center who’s put up some solid numbers when healthy.  One would think the Leafs would tolerate his pique until the trade deadline, when it’s likely someone would deal a 2nd or 3rd round pick for him.

Signed Joffrey Lupul to 5 year, $26.25 million contract extension

The NHL average even strength shooting percentage while on ice is around 8% – Lupul has never been lower than 9% in over the Corsi era.  Last year he was at 10.77% and rode that percentage as well as favorable power play percentage to a point per game last season.  The drawback is that he’s also never posted a positive Corsi ON.  He’s also missed considerable time with injury in his career.  People praise Burke’s Beauchemin for Lupul and Gardiner deal, and it has worked out exceptionally well, but re-signing Lupul feels like the unfortunate consequence of a deal gone well. Lupul will be 34 at the end of this contract and has always been weak defensively – it’s hard to imagine this ends either well or in Toronto.

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Devils

Signed Travis Zajac to an 8 year contract extension worth $46 million

Travis Zajac represents what people think about when they think of Devils’ forwards over the years – a formless amalgam of sticks in lanes and tip-in goals.  Even so, before his injury-shortened 2011-12, he’d posted 4 straight seasons of positive Corsi, most of which were well in the black.  Only Ryan Getzlaf and (maybe) Stephen Weiss are better potential UFA centers come summer 2013, and who knows what the market would be like in 2014.  While the hockey world was abuzz with the word overpay the day the word came down about this deal, the cap hit represents fair value for a player who plays in all situations, beats or at least breaks even with tough competition, and has been extremely healthy besides one injury.  Looking around the league at similar centers, Jordan Staal, Mike Richards, and Mikhail Grabovski are signed to similar cap hits, with the former two being signed for more years.  Indeed, the only trouble here is the years – Zajac will be 36 at the conclusion of the deal, a risky age for players who aren’t all that great.  Tyler Dellow compared the deal to Shawn Horcoff’s and it’s easy to see some of the similarities – player who has trouble scoring goals but is good at defense gets long extension that may be in excess of what the market turns out to be.  Still, it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t have been suitors lined up on July 1 – as the Gomez trade reminds us, top two centermen are not easy to find.

New York Islanders

Acquired D Joe Finley, D Brian Strait, D Thomas Hickey, C Keith Aucoin off waivers

The Islanders found themselves in quite a bind when the lockout smoke cleared – Lubomir Visnovsky refused to report to camp, so they were short about three defensemen.  Enter GM Garth Snow’s friend, the waiver wire – Snow has been more aggressive than most with the acquisition of free talent, and has landed some bounties in the past, most notably Michael Grabner, who fell off the waiver wire into a 30 goal season out in Hempstead.  Joe Finley is a 6′ 8″ D-man inexplicably signed to a 3 year contract last year who was inexplicably drafted in the first round in 2005, back when things like ‘Ability to bearhug opposing forwards’ were prized defensive skills.  Brian Strait is a defense-first type who’s a +43 with the AHL Penguins and has received cups of coffee in the NHL.  Thomas Hickey was drafted 4th overall by Los Angeles in 2007 and has yet to play a game in the NHL – he’s also a +24 in the AHL.  Then we get to the old master, Keith Aucoin, who’s stuck it out for long years in the AHL and seems like he’s finally landed a regular gig.  Among forwards with 500 or more minutes played in the Corsi era (2007-08 until 2011-12), Aucoin ranks 8th with a .571 Corsi.  He’s played against weak competition in intermittent bursts but has still managed to destroy them – it should be interesting to see how he does with a full schedule.  In all, it’s hard to imagine any of these guys having a large impact on the Island, but I enjoy a GM who wants to get creative.

Signed D Radek Martinek for 1 year, $600,000, with $150,000 in potential bonuses

Death, taxes, and Radek Martinek on Long Island used to be certainties, so I’m glad at least that we’ve retained one.  Martinek used to face the toughest competition and would at least not get totally slaughtered, so he’d leave other parts of the roster to maybe succeed.  He missed most of last year with a concussion and is 36 years old, so my guess is he’ll be a back-pairing/7th D type.

New York Rangers

Signed D Michael Del Zotto for 2 years, $5.1 million

Michael Del Zotto is one of the great examples of the danger of burning ELC years – MDZ was heavily protected in his 19 year old rookie season, sent to the minors during a lackluster year 2, and went slightly backward against moderately difficult competition this past season.  Now his ELC is gone, never to return.  Del Zotto runs the Rangers’ power play, so it’s hard to imagine his salary going backwards from this point, but he still has a lot of improving to do in his own zone.  He’ll still be better than what you can get on the UFA market.

Philadelphia Flyers

Acquired G Brian Boucher, D Mark Alt from Carolina for C Luke Pither

Brian Boucher is now 36 years old and 12 years removed from his backstopping the Flyers to within one game of the Stanley Cup in 2000.  However, the Flyers’ goaltending situation is anything but solid, and while Boucher was a disaster in limited action for Carolina last season, he has a good history in that city.  The Flyers can hide him in the minors until needed, while picking up a useful piece in Mark Alt, a 2nd round pick in 2010.  Pither was in the ECHL and taking up space on the reserve list.

Signed D Kurtis Foster for 1 year, $950,000

Kurtis Foster pulled off the rare trick of playing for 4 teams under a 2 year contract, but that’s what happens when you put up 42 points in your contract year, then 36 combined over the next two.  No one makes the mistake of thinking he can play defense – last season he posted a negative Corsi On despite 60% O-Zone Starts – but he does have 19 power play goals and averages 2.14 shots per game for his career.  With the new re-entry waiver rules, he’s a perfect candidate for the AHL if things don’t work out, and he’ll only count $200,000 on the cap if that does come to pass.

Southeast Division

Carolina Hurricanes

Acquired C Luke Pither for G Brian Boucher, D Mark Alt to Philadelphia

Jim Rutherford’s moves confuse me – he has money enough to sign Alex Semin for $7M, but the pro-rated part of Brian Boucher’s salary needs to be removed the organization for the expense of a player drafted in the 2nd round in 2010?  Like I said before, college defenders are a black box, but Carolina as an organization has been sloughing off young defenders after trading Brian Dumolin to Pittsburgh in the Jordan Staal trade – Justin Faulk can’t do it all alone.

Acquired LW Kevin Westgarth for RW Anthony Stewart, 4th round pick in 2013, and 6th round pick in 2014

The same philosophy guided this deal, as Stewart was also due to make $1M over an 82 game season.  Carolina apparently lacks a tough guy, but giving up picks to acquire one in Kevin Westgarth and fob off a player they no longer wanted seems extreme.  Westgarth spends his offseasons in Carolina, but he’s played 90 games and has seen the ice for a total of 481 minutes – they must want him to play his next 60 games and 300 minutes closer to home.

Signed G Dan Ellis for 1 year, $650,000 with $150,000 in potential bonuses

Dan Ellis’s most famous moment was probably getting in a Twitter fight with several bloggers, then having a brutally poor season for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Then, injuries.  Still, he signed an AHL deal to play in Charlotte during the lockout and posted a .922 save percentage.  He’s older than one might think – he turns 33 in June – but if he performs well, he will still have many years left being a backup.

Florida Panthers

Signed RW Alexei Kovalev for 1 year, $1,000,000 with $300,000 in potential bonuses

People who start in New York often retire in Miami, so I suppose Kovalev is being a tad cliche with this signing.  Since he left the NHL, he had a terrible half-season with Moscow Oblant where he was -13 with 1 goal in 22 games, and he was no great shakes during his last tour in the league.  Of course he started with 3 points in his first game, but I don’t imagine he excels given his turning 40 in a month.

Signed D Dmitri Kulikov for $5,000,000 over 2 years

Kulikov has fast become one of the more trusted Panthers on defense – last year he received nearly 22 minutes a game, and was only slightly underwater despite average competition, and this at age 21.   I am not a huge fan of the 2 year deal for a player coming off his ELC – next time Kulikov goes to free agency, he’ll be restricted but he will also have arbitration rights, meaning he will have to get paid closer to fair value, and he’ll only be 2 years away from being an unresricted free agent.  Still, the Panthers do not have the defensive depth to lose Kulikov for very long.

Washington Capitals

Signed RW Eric Fehr for 1 year, $600,000.

Hard to imagine Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis signing anyone named Fehr after the lockout, but despite being a player who’s only ever received limited ice time (never more than 13 minutes per game), he’s piled up shots on goal.   Given his usage being heavily in the offensive zone, he probably has defensive deficiencies (and indeed, Fehr is not fleet of foot), but he’s produced well even so.  Teams often make the mistake of signing these sorts of players for three times what Fehr’s earning, but Fehr is coming off a season where he was non-tendered by Winnipeg and struggled with injuries.

Winnipeg Jets

Claimed LW James Wright, RW Anthony Peluso off waivers

James Wright has had one of the odder NHL careers you can have, and he’s only 22.  Tampa Bay drafted him in the 4th round in 2008, and he had an unremarkable 2008-09 season for the Vancouver Giants.  However, in 2009-10 he made the Lightning out of training camp and played in 48 games.  Tampa ended up drafting #2 overall that year and Wright has played one more NHL game since then.   His minor league stats are also unremarkable to date (97 points in 196 games), but I guess Winnipeg sees him as a bottom-line grinder type.  Ditto Peluso, whose career high in 4 AHL seasons is 11 points, set this year.  He appears to be a fighter of some sort – I’d like to mock this move, but many other teams waste draft picks and/or sign fighters for well above the NHL minimum.