Last night I referred to the optimism of heading into a new NHL season as, "Christmas Eve". When noon struck on July 1st, the Ducks were ready with cap space in hand: a plentiful $14.9 million separating them from the cap floor, and a shade over $30 million from the cap ceiling.
After putting much due diligence into last weekend's NHL Draft, the Ducks came out as early winners with their sixth overall selection of Hampus Lindholm, along with a steady supply of big-bodied, college-bound defensemen. Today, that might be a different story. The Ducks spent a hefty amount on three serviceable players, adding for both replacement and improvement.
Let us begin.
With just under two hours into NHL Free Agency, the Ducks made a stringent move to acquire a fighting presence. Ducks fans and media alike have long considered George Parros to be expendable after playing in just 46 games this past NHL season, with the brunt of his healthy scratches coming when Bruce Boudreau assumed the Head Coaching position. The move that is meant to replace the mustached fan-favorite, was acquired in right-winger Brad Staubitz. Staubitz, now considered to be an NHL journeyman, amassed 121 penalty minutes with one goal in 19 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season. He signed a two-year contract worth $1.28 million, and is essentially a glorified Jean-Francois Jacques.
The one thing I like about the Staubitz signing, and I'm sure the Ducks organization did too, was the fact that Staubitz stepped into the Canadiens dressing room and immediately became a likable veteran presence, and one who stuck up for his teammates. This same trait, along with his penchant to drop the gloves (15 NHL scraps last season) gives him at least some sticking power to the NHL level. And if that's not the case, his inexpensive cap hit ($637,500 over the duration of his two-year contract) gives Anaheim the luxury of burying him in the minors. The Ducks of course have 4th line options in Matt Beleskey and Patrick Maroon, along with top wing prospects who need NHL time to develop, so it'll be interesting to see where and how Staubitz can figure into the lineup.
Just before 6 pm ET, the Ducks made a move to bolster their blue-line in the form of signing defensive-defenseman Bryan Allen. Allen's game is dependent upon physicality, grittiness and an overall tenaciousness. His 6'5" frame is optimal for clearing the front of the net, something the Ducks have tried to achieve since trading Chris Pronger in 2009. And like Staubitz, Allen isn't afraid to fight (33 fights during his NHL career).
What makes Allen so enticing is the fact that he can fill the pressing void left by the aforementioned Chris Pronger as a physical presence on the blue-line. Allen's mobility helps him greatly, and his punishing and voracious style makes him an immediate upgrade to Sheldon Brookbank. One thing to note is that if he fails to show the type of persistence that achieves his niche, he will be categorized with previous failed projects like Nick Boynton, Steve Eminger, Andy Sutton, and most recently, Kurtis Foster. Allen is set to make a grand total of $10.5 million over the length of his three-year contract, with an annual cap hit of $3.5 million.
The last signing of the day came in the way of 35-year old Sheldon Souray. Souray, just two years removed from a full AHL season during the prime of his career, accumulated 21 points last season with the Dallas Stars (6G, 15A).
Souray, a three-time NHL All-Star is long removed from his glory years in Montreal, and most Ducks and NHL fans really wonder what left he has to give. The quintessential player who you "take a flyer on" or "have a brief look at" was signed by General Manager Bob Murray for a grand total of three-years and $11 million. The most upsetting part isn't the fact that it was an overpay, - pay him $6, or $8 million for all I care - what is bothersome is the fact that the Ducks locked Souray up through 2015, for a total of three, long, grueling years, the equivalent of a death sentence for toxic contracts in today's NHL. If Souray had showed any sort of return to form, a NHL-born nirvana over the last six or so seasons, there would be reason for even one drop of optimism. Instead, this becomes the type of long-term contract that can wear down the patience of a fan base (read: Jason Blake) to the point of no resolve. He might end up being a roadblock to Lindholm, or Sami Vatanen, and become a sunk cost for the budget-weary Ducks. Or he might regain some inkling of the 64-point Souray we saw in 2006-2007. All that Ducks fans can hope for now is that like other aging stars, Souray can find the rare fountain of youth that can give this signing any sort of prudence.
After day one it's evident Bob Murray did what he set out to do in signing size and veteran presence. The only question left to ask is, at what cost?