On July 1st, millions upon millions of dollars will be spent by NHL clubs looking to strengthen their teams for a run at the Stanley Cup. But only one of those teams will make the acquisition that will win them the Cup. Last season, the Detroit Red Wings’ decision to sign defenseman Brian Rafalski played a major part in the team capturing its fourth Stanley Cup since 1997. Rafalski scored a career best 13 goals and tied his career high with 55 points. His steady presence alongside Nicklas Lidstrom on the Wings’ blueline helped solidify the Red Wings’ power play as one of the league’s best.
However, for every Brian Rafalski there’s a Pavel Kubina. John Ferguson Jr. and the Toronto Maple Leafs raised more than a few eyebrows when they signed Kubina to a 4 year, $20 million deal in July 2006. Kubina was a key member of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Cup run in 2004, but his $5 million a year cap number was double what it was the previous season. Although Kubina scored 40 points this past season, up from 21 in 2006-2007, it would be difficult to call Kubina’s signing a success.
There are many other examples of free agent successes and failures and it’s likely we’ll see many more in the future. With high profile free agents such as Marian Hossa and Brian Campbell available this summer there will be no shortage of cash being passed around on July 1st. It goes to show that teams need to have skilled management and scouting staffs that are able to identify which players will be able to make a positive impact on their teams. Personally, I can’t wait for the madness to begin!