Free agency started July 1 in the NHL and several teams made great moves while a few teams made questionable decisions.Let's look at how teams did:
Pittsburgh Penguins (A+): After losing Sergei Gonchar, the Penguins quickly signed Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. Martin is a solid power play specialist. Now that he is on an offensive-minded team he should put up career numbers. The signing of Martin will hurt the impact of Alex Goligoski as he was being primed for a top spot on the power play now that Gonchar is gone. Instead the Penguins bring in Martin. Michalek gives the Penguins a big presence in their top two pairings. Ryan Craig could be the dark horse of this free agency season if he can land on a scoring line. Until the Penguins sign a skilled winger for Sidney Crosby to play with they will continue to rotate wingers. Craig scored 15 goals in 48 games as a rookie five years ago and could score much more playing with Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
Ottawa Senators (A+): Ottawa's power play was ranked in the bottom 10 last season, so signing Gonchar instantly improves that problem. Gonchar will increase the production of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and especially Alexei Kovalev. The person this hurts is Erik Karlsson as he will likely now run the second power play unit instead of the first as Ottawa goes with Gonchar and Kovalev on the points.
Philadelphia Flyers (A): The Broad Street Bullies got bigger and meaner July 1. The Flyers added Jody Shelley, who will bring a ton of grit to the third or fourth line. Shelley will get you around 10 points and more than 100 PIMs. Signing Shelley will push Riley Cote off the roster as he and Shelley play a similar game but Shelley brings more to the table. The Flyers rewarded Michael Leighton with a new contract, but they are looking for more stability in net. Whoever plays net will love this big defence. With the additions of Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell, five of the Flyers' top six defencemen are more than six feet tall and weigh more than 200 pounds. Is there a team in the NHL with a better top six defence?
Tampa Bay Lightning (A): General manager Steve Yzerman continues to make great decisions for the Lightning. By locking up Martin St. Louis he keeps his best player in the organization. Pavel Kubina returns to TB where he has had success and will likely line up on the top pairing and first power play unit. Kubina has quietly scored 38-plus points in each of the last three seasons. Look for the number to go up slightly as he gets more PP time. Yzerman secures a quality goalie by signing Dan Ellis. Ellis will push Mike Smith for the starting role, but in the end the games will be split almost 50-50.
Vancouver Canucks (B): Dan Hamhuis took a hometown discount and gives the Canucks a big presence on the back end. Hamhuis has missed only seven games in the last five seasons. That alone will help the often-injured Canucks defence. Hamhuis provides offence and huge hits from the blue-line and could have the same kind of impact that Christian Ehrhoff did in his first season with Vancouver. Manny Malhotra is a gritty third-line centre with scoring touch. The Canucks' penalty kill was brutal during the playoffs. Malhotra will help improve that.
San Jose Sharks (C): The Sharks replace Evgeni Nabokov with Antero Niittymaki. That means the Sharks no longer have an elite goaltender. Niittymaki's best season in the NHL was 23 wins and two shutouts. He has to put up better numbers if the Sharks plan on improving over last year's result.
Calgary Flames (D): It has to be hard to be a Flames fan right now as they made several questionable moves. The addition of Tim Jackman and Raitis Ivanans have zero impact fantasy wise. Jackman is not even a point-a-game player in the AHL and Ivanans is strictly a big body that will take penalties and score zero points. Ivanans has not registered a point since Dec. 27, 2008. But these are not the questionable moves. GM Darryl Sutter decided to give Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay second opportunities and these signings will either be a boom or bust. The signings could be good if Jokinen can regain his point-a-game form and if Tanguay can play like he did his first year in Calgary. But that is too many ifs. I lean toward a huge bust here. Stay away from the Flames this season.