NHL Deals: The Biggest Free Agent Signings of the 2011 NHL Offseason

Jaromir Jagr
On July 1, Jaromir Jagr signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers worth $3.3 million.
jaromir jagr1
On July 1, Jaromir Jagr signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers worth $3.3 million.

The Flyers may be getting all the attention for their signing of Jaromir Jagr, but even with the relatively anemic free agent pool available this year, there have been a few more big signings:

Brad Richards, New York Rangers: Richards signed a nine-year, $60 million deal with the New York Rangers last Saturday. He looks to be a strong addition to a Rangers team that ranked 16th in goals for the 2010-11 season. Richards has been a point-per-game player the last two seasons with 77 points in 72 games last season, and 91 points in 80 games during the 2009-2010 season. The Rangers beat out both Philadelphia and Tampa Bay to get Richards, though many other teams showed interest. Assuming that the reported salary cap increase of $5 million is accurate, the Rangers will still find themselves $15 million below the cap. They will need most of that money to re-sign some of their upcoming free agents, including Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan.

Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers: Naturally, Jagr’s one-year, $3.3 million contract has to be included on a list of the biggest deals this offseason, but at his age, he’s not quite as proficient as Richards. Jagr’s posted roughly point-per-game seasons over his last three years in the KHL, but it’s unlikely that he’ll hit the 80-point mark next season. Philadelphia chose Jagr over Richards, which could be a mistake, as we’re not entirely sure what to expect from Jagr upon his return. Jagr himself put it best when he said, “We’ll have to wait and see.”

James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets: In what can only be described as risky, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson signed offensive defenseman James Wisniewski to a six-year, $33 million deal last Friday. On June 29, the Montreal Canadiens traded his rights to the Blue Jackets in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2012 on the agreement that if Columbus signed him, the pick would become a fifth-rounder. Well, Columbus did sign him, so both parties are happy, and Wisniewski certainly can’t complain. He didn’t have to hit the market to get a big deal, and next season, he’ll be making $7 million. Only five NHL defensemen will make more than that next season, but you can’t put a price on a defenseman that can provide a huge power-play boost, especially one that can produce points like Wisniewski can. He tied for 5th among NHL defensemen in points with 51 points in 75 games with the Canadiens and Islanders last season. If he can continue to produce and help Columbus on their way to a playoff berth, this deal will make Howson look like a genius. If not, then it could be a long six years in Columbus for a team that has still never won a playoff game.

Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres signed forward Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million contract on June 30, coming a day before Ehrhoff was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent, which would have opened the negotiations to any team willing to participate. The Sabres acquired the negotiation rights to Ehrhoff by trading their 2012 fourth-round draft pick to the New York Islanders, who had gotten the rights by trading their own fourth-round draft pick to Vancouver. Ehrhoff had 14 goals, 36 assists and a plus-19 rating in 79 games for Vancouver last season. Hard to argue with this move, as it gives Buffalo exactly what they need, a solid, puck-moving defenseman.

Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: Just one day after the Sabres made a big move signing Ehrhoff, they made an even bigger move signing forward Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million contract last Friday. The 27-year-old racked up 19 goals and 34 assists on the Flyers last year for a total of 53 points in 81 games. The Sabres are clearly expecting those numbers to increase with the money that they are shelling out for him. Perhaps they were impressed by his overtime game-winner in Game 6 of the Flyers-Sabres series, which the Flyers went on to win, eliminating the Sabres from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This move does leave the Sabres with less than $500,000 in cap space, so a few more moves may need to be made, as they have a couple of players to re-sign, such as Andrej Sekera, who has filed for arbitration, and either Patrick Lalime or Jhonas Enroth, depending on which goalie will get the backup job. Regardless, this is one of those moves with no in-between; it either pays off nicely or fails miserably. One thing’s for sure: new owner Terry Pegula isn’t afraid to deliver on his promise of sparing no expense for his team, and Sabres fans have got to be pleased with what he’s done so far to turn this team into a Stanley Cup contender.