Good, bad and ugly in this year’s NHL free agency

When it comes to hockey and the free agency world, once in a blue moon we all have crystal balls to look into.

NHL general managers are, naturally, supposed to have a greater affinity for the do’s and don’ts of contracts than the average, run of the mill, Johnny hockey fan.

Sometimes, when July first comes around, any semblance of responsible fiscal spending goes out the window. Sometimes, a deal is announced, and we all know the instant it’s made, it won’t be ending well. Christobal Huet’s $25 million deal in Chicago was doomed to failure the second it was announced by Dale Tallon. Almost everyone in the hockey world guffawed when Ales Kotalik was handed $6 million over two years last season in New York.

Did anyone, for one second, think that Rick Dipietro’s deal for 15 years on Long Island could be anything but a disaster?

At times, common sense obviously gives way to panic and pressure, and when the busiest day of the hockey season came and went last week, it was evident 2010 was no different. So far, here are some of the best and worst decisions in the National Hockey League.

Good – When the Ottawa Senators signed Sergei Gonchar to a three-year, $16.5 million deal, they didn’t break the bank, they didn’t give an inordinate amount of term, and, at the same time, they filled a gaping void with one of the best offensive defensemen in the game.

Sure, Gonchar is 36, but he’ll probably end up getting another contract before his career is over. Bad – there was no bigger shockwave on July 1 than when the Calgary Flames brought Olli Jokinen back into the fold. Yes, his $6 million over the next two years is smaller than his contract last season, but it’s still curiously way above market value for a 31-year-old non-winner who scored 15 goals last season. Heading in, the Flames were at an advantage because they already knew from experience this marriage didn’t work. Darryl Sutter did the deal anyways, and threw in a no-trade clause to boot. Ouch.

Good – The Pittsburgh Penguins lost Gonchar, and needed a defenseman. Paul Martin was brought in. Younger, more adept defensively, and at a smaller price tag. $25 million over five years was a bargain from one of the more underrated blueliners in the game. This deal will look good two, three, and five years down the road. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, five years and 20 million for Zbenyk Michalik will not.

Bad – I must have missed something last season. When free agency began, I was honestly wondering if Derek Boogaard would ever find NHL work again. I mean, the guy can’t play, can’t take a regular shift, has a concussion problem, and frankly, doesn’t even fight that much. He did find work. Lots of it. Four years with the Rangers, at $1.65 million per. Glen Sather has lost his mind.

Good – Red Deer native Chris Mason reportedly left money on the table to sign an affordable two-year pact in Atlanta. From getting to know Chris over the years, one thing is evident, he just wants to play, and he wants to play every single night. At a combined $3.7 million, why wouldn’t you want a guy like that between your pipes?

Bad – the Buffalo Sabres lost Henrik Tallinder and Tony Lydman to free agency, and panic set in. In comes journeyman Jordan Leopold on a three-year, $9 million deal. The same Jordan Leopold who hasn’t been able to garner much else but one-year deals in the past, and it’s not like he’s suddenly getting better with age.

Good – If Phoenix plans to build on their 4th place finish in the Western Conference next season, it will have to be because of the kids. No better way to supplement their development than with a savvy veteran who can still be a force offensively. Getting Ray Whitney to the desert for 2 years at $3 million per is a terrific value. -Andrew Walker talks sports every morning on the FAN 960 in Calgary, AB.