First step: Re-sign a guy who wants to come back and help the team try to repeat as champions. The Red Wings did exactly what I hoped in re-signing Brad Stuart to a four year deal worth $3.75 million each year. I initially thought that this deal was a bit too expensive but with the way Stuart contributed in the playoffs, he deserves a little extra. I'm glad to have him back and his addition makes the Red Wings' top four defensemen arguably the best in the league (Lidstrom and Rafalski, Kronwall and Stuart).
Second step: Pick up a veteran goalie to serve as a back-up to Chris Osgood. I called this one perfectly. The Wings signed Ty Conklin, previously with the Penguins, to a one year deal worth $750,000. That is such a good deal for a guy who went 18-8 for Pittsburgh last year when Marc-Andre Fleury was injured and kept the Penguins in contention for the East's top seed. I love the move, and as A2Y points out, there's an added laugh with the crude sexual connotation that goes along with Conklin whenever the Wings play the Blue Jackets. Confused? Follow the link.
Third (and probably final) step: Lure the best free agent on the market to your team solely because you won a championship. Detroit signed Marian Hossa today in the second day of free agency for a one year, $7.45 million contract. Not only does this deal give them another fantastic two-way player who will make them an even better team, but the move helps them keep that hunger that they had this past year. Dallas Drake hadn't won a Stanley Cup coming into this past year, unlike the veteran players on the Wings that had already won two or three championships. He pushed them to be better. Hossa wants a Cup badly. He almost got one this year. He will push the Flying Tires to new heights next year and I cannot express enough how much I want October and the new season to arrive.
After what has happened, I'm stunned. The first two moves that the Red Wings took care of were ho-hum kind of moves...the ones that people were expecting. Hell, even I predicted them. Then, when they weren't even supposed to be in the running anymore, they went out and signed Marian Hossa. I'm speechless. After thinking about it for some time, I will make a strong argument that if the Red Wings hadn't won the Cup this year, he would never had considered Detroit as a destination. Let me explain.
If Detroit had lost in this year's playoffs, in any round, either the Penguins or some other Western Conference team would have taken the title. Had it been the Penguins, Hossa most certainly would have re-signed with them. Why would he choose another place to play when he was already with the best team in the league? On the other hand, if it had been a different West team, why would he consider taking a pay cut to play for Detroit if they had lost and once again shown that they were unproven on the biggest stage? He would have signed with someone who was going to pay him $9 million+ per year. And believe me, teams were offering. The Oilers offered Hossa a nine year $81 million contract. That's crazy. It clearly tells me that Hossa is the type of player I want on my team. He obviously values winning over money and that is always nice to see in professional sports, where athletes are paid significantly more than they should. I'm so excited that Ken Holland got this deal done and that Hossa will be wearing the red and white next year. It's amazing. Welcome to Detroit, Marian. I hope you like it. Help us bring number twelve to the D.
Finally, before I go, I must give you some winners and losers in the free agent market over the first two days because I wouldn't feel like a complete hockey fan if I ignored the other blockbuster moves that took place. So here you are, sus ganadores y sus perdedores (excluding the Wings, of course, since they clearly had a great first two days).
- Chicago Blackhawks. The team that missed the playoffs last year by only three measly points signed the best defenseman, Brian Campbell, and the best goalie, Cristobal Huet. Campbell is going to be paid a little too much, seeing as how the 'Hawks are going to pay him the kind of money that Lidstrom makes and he's not even close to that level. Still a good move though. Also, with the addition of Huet, their goaltending is completely solidified for the coming year and I expect them to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
- Tampa Bay Lightning. Without even including the #1 overall pick and the new head coach (The Mullet himself), the Bolts signed Olaf Kolzig, Radim Vrbata, Adam Hall, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, and Vaclav Prospal. Umm...wow. This team just went from last in the league to top five in the East. They are going to be good and they are my sleeper in the East already.
- Ottawa Senators. The underachieving Sens from last year needed to make some serious moves to put them back in the race for Best in the East and they did nothing of the sort. They signed perennial sieve Alex Auld, picked up unknown forward Shean Donovan (didn't he go to Kennett?), and signed useless pest Jarko Ruutu from the Penguins. The team will still have a solid core of talented players but with sub-par goaltending and injury prone guys, I don't see the Sens avoiding another first round exit next year. And that's only if they make the playoffs with the rising Bruins, Capitals, and Flyers also in the mix.
- Pittburgh Penguins. Don't get me wrong, I still think that these Penguins will contend for the title next year. They have Crosby. They have Malkin. They have Fleury. They're damn good. But they are only pieces of the team that they were this past year. They lost Hossa and Conklin to the Red Wings. They lost Malone, Hall, and Roberts to the Lightning. They lost Ruutu to the Senators. When the Cup was clinched, the Penguins management basically had to juggle their options and come out and try to sign whomever they could. What happened instead was a bumbling bunch of buffoons throwing too many balls in the air and freaked out as they all fell to the ground. The only guy they managed to keep that's worth a damn is defenseman Brooks Orpik, who they signed for way too much money. The Pens had so much left over after not signing anyone else, Orpik had no choice but to accept. I will say though, that if the Pens can pick up Jaromir Jagr in the coming days, which looks possible, they will move from the losers square to the winners circle and will receive some praise for bringing back a city hero. But for now, they sit in somber defeat as the team they took to the Finals this past season is now in jeopardy of falling apart.