I hate July.
You’ve got triple-digit heat here in North Texas and I get tired of baseball really quick (although I enjoy watching this Rangers team). My daughter likes to swim and that’s fun and all, but I miss hockey already.
The only hockey competition right now is on paper, as teams try and outbid each other to get the free agents that will hopefully fill the holes to take the club to the next level.
According to the “experts,” the Stars got clobbered in this race one year ago (and we all know how that turned out as Dallas was one of the last three teams standing.
So who is to judge the moves that teams make or don’t make at this time of year? Well, we all do, but none of us are really right or wrong. The players play the games for a reason and we’ll have that back sooner than we know it.
But with August here, here’s a look at how some of the teams out there are doing these days as rosters start to come together. We’ll go by divisions over the next week or so, starting with the Southeast Division:Atlanta Thrashers
Additions: D Ron Hainsey (5 years, $22.5 million), F Jason Williams (1 year, $2.2 million), F Marty Reasoner (1 year, $1 million).
Subtractions: F Bobby Holik, F Mark Recchi.
Restricted Free Agents: None
Bottom Line: The Thrashers made the playoffs in 2007 and have never been able to get momentum going toward building a winning tradition. Ron Hainsey was the 13th overall pick in 2000 and was actually claimed off waivers by Columbus in 2005. Is he worth the contract? Time will tell. Jason Williams is a good player – perhaps one of the more underrated free agents on the market this season. He should do well in Hotlanta. The Thrashers still have Ilya Kovalchuk but someone else will have to give him some help. Look for Colby Armstrong to possibly take that next step. Resigning Kari Lehtonen
in goal was expected; can he become a dominant goalie?Carolina Hurricanes
Additions: D Joni Pitkanen (trade w EDM), D Josef Melichar (1 year, $1 million).
Subtractions: F Erik Cole, D Glen Wesley, D Bret Hedican
Restricted Free Agents: F Brandon Nolan
Bottom Line: Won the Cup in 2006 and finished out of the playoffs each of the last two years. Not quite the way they drew it up in Carolina. But they were hit hard by injuries last season and look to bounce back in 2008-09. Erik Cole was shipped out and Joni Pitkanen was acquired (then signed to a 2-year contract at $6 million per – a bit expensive for my tastes). Eric Staal and company should make a playoff push but are they good enough? Joe Corvo anchors the D-men and he should be a help for a full season.Florida Panthers
Additions: D Keith Ballard (trade w PHX), D Nick Boynton (trade w PHX), F Cory Stillman (3 years, $10.6 million).
Subtractions: F Olli Jokinen,
Restricted Free Agents: F Drew Larman, D Martin Lojek, F Stefan Meyer, F Anthony Stewart.
Bottom Line: Seven straight seasons without the playoffs. Chances are decent it will be eight. Olli Jokinen was traded to Phoenix and the Cats bolstered their blueline in the deal. But who will score the goals? There are some good young players on this team but they are unproven. Rostislav Olesz will probably take that next step as a player. Resigning RFA Jay Bouwmeester was a good move, albeit for one year.Tampa Bay Lightning
Additions: F Ryan Malone (7 years, $31.5 million), F Radim Vrbata (3 years, $9 million), G Olaf Kolzig (1 year, $1.5 million), F Gary Roberts (1 year, $1.25 million + incentives), F Vaclav Prospal (rights traded from PHI, 4 years, $14 million), F Mark Recchi (1 year, $1.25 million), D Matt Carle (trade w SJ).
Subtractions: D Dan Boyle, D Brad Lukowich,
Restricted Free Agents: F Karl Stewart.
Bottom Line: The Lightning were the biggest movers and shakers over the last month or so, making trades and signing free agents to totally give their hockey club a new look. Ryan Malone was the big free agent fish while the team also re-upped Vincent Lecavalier to basically a lifetime contract (11 years, $85 million). This club will be an interesting one to watch. They were a mess last year but under new coach Barry Melrose things might get solidified. If Mike Smith can finally become the number one guy he has the talents to become, the Bolts could be back soon. Kolzig is a solid mentor who is a smart plan B.Washington Capitals
Additions: G Jose Theodore (2 years, $9 million),
Subtractions: D Steve Eminger, G Cristobol Huet
Restricted Free Agents: None
Bottom Line: The Caps are the hot pick to take that next step in the East, and there is good reason. Theodore takes over in goal and that might or might not be a good thing (I think the jury is going to be out on that one until the playoffs). I think Washington repeats as champs in the division. Resigning Mike Green to a 4-year, $21 million deal was a good move. Everyone is waiting to see what Alex Ovechkin will do for an encore. This is a good young team and the sky really is the limit.The Caps visit Dallas on Saturday, October 25 – call the Stars at 214-GO-STARS and talk to a sales representative about the options you have to reserve your seat and see Ovechkin and Washington live!