The latest Free Agent Frenzy already has proven that the goings on are nuttier than a fruitcake factory and as mysterious as a Manhattan melodrama.
It was that way before the giddyap-start-dealing clock struck Noon on Friday and then got more intense by the minute. (Aspirins helped, but not a lot.)
Like who figured the Devils would rob Edmonton of Taylor Hall? And who could expect the Friday afternoon speed record signings after signings?
Or — if you like ancient history — that Steven Stamkos would reject Detroit, Toronto and Who-Knows-Where-Else for a new cash-and-carry cabana in Tampa Bay?
In terms of the Rangers, Devils and Islanders the first-day results initially were as confusing as a spinning kaleidoscope. But by day’s end each club’s moves made sense. In a nutshell here’s how our Met sextets fared:
RANGERS: The Blueshirts added speed, grabbing Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe. They didn’t do anything crazy because the Seventh Avenue Skaters are just fine they way they are now. With maybe a tweak or a trade here and there.
ISLANDERS: Garth Snow swiftly filled the Kyle Okposo-Frans Nielsen gap with Andrew Ladd–Jason Chimera. Brooklyn’s new pair outscored the two Isle exiles 45-42 this past season. What’s not to like about that?
DEVILS: Not content with his Edmonton heist, general manager Ray Shero loaded up with three forwards and two defensemen. One of the new D-men, Cup-winner Ben Lovejoy, could move into departed Adam Larsson’s position alongside Andy Greene.
As for those who ca$hed in on Free agency and emigrated from The Apple, here’s my view:
KYLE OKPOSO: Once Steve Stamkos re-signed with the Lightning, Okposo, the enigmatic 28-year-old right wing, took first place in the Free Agency Power Rankings. This, logically, put him in the best possible bargaining position and the now-ex-Islander made the most of it.
The seven-year ($42 million) deal far exceeds Okposo’s relative value based on his production on Long Island — and in Brooklyn. But the “market” is the market. Since Buffalo was willing to shell out extraordinary bucks there was no law against Kyle taking it.
In retrospect, some of Kyle’s late-season comments — not to mention what Okposo did not say after the final game and break-up — indicated that he would be skating for another franchise. Nor is it cause for mourning. Even on John Tavares‘ wing, Kyle rang up only 22 goals and 64 points.
FRANS NIELSEN: Hey, you can’t please all of the players all of the time, but Snow sure made Franzy know he wanted him back. So did just about all of us. So, he’s gone to Detroit for colossal cash and so we bid our pal, au revoir, and we’ll see you around.
Why, oh, why did he leave us? Nielsen explains, “It’s tough leaving New York but, in the end, I felt it was time to try something new.”
The Maven takes that literally. The Man wanted to be on another stage and we can’t begrudge him that. It’s his prerogative. End of story; end of hero.
MATT MARTIN: Lou Lamoriello signed the once-and-no-longer Isles bopper for four years, $10 million. Granted that Matty was a first-rate hitter — and almost always clean at that — plus enjoyed a career-high 10 goals. Ah, but does a fourth-liner rate such a stratospheric fee? Snow said no and others would agree. Which explains the arrival of Jason Chimera.
HOW THE LOCALS — ESPECIALLY THE ISLES — ARE EMERGING FROM THE CHANGES:
ANDREW LADD: In replacing Okposo, Snow snared a two-time Stanley Cup champion; which Okposo is not. Ladd, a captain with the Winnipeg Jets, brings veteran leadership. Rating him fourth overall among best available free agents, The Hockey News enthuses, “Ladd plays a strong 200-foot game. He’s a winner who fits in the top six.”
Playing alongside Tavares on the first line, Andrew will take defensive responsibility and produce as a point-per-game player bringing out the best in the Captain. Personally, I love his attitude. “The Islanders have such great potential,” Handy Andy says. “This franchise is the perfect fit for me for the next seven years,”
Ladd, who split the 2015-16 season with Wiinnipeg and then Chicago, played in 78 games totaling 25 goals and 21 assists for 46 points. While Okposo seemed to be somewhat jaded as Islander, Ladd brings a gung-ho attitude that’s refreshing. “Andrew is a heart and soul type player,” added Snow with as accurate and concise appraisal as can be.
JASON CHIMERA: This may come as a surprise, but the big (6-foot-3, 219 pounds) left wing scored 20 goals and added 20 assists over 80 games. Martin’s comparable stats over 79 games were 10-9-19 points. Chimera still has the wheels and a consistent scoring touch.
Forget about the arithmetic, this broth of a boy not only has the kind of size the Islanders’ need, but also brings the necessary leadership skills. Much as I loved Martin’s overall game and demeanor, Chimera easily replaces Matty on the fourth line. A unit comprised of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Chimera could actually be good enough as a third trio.
“I’m coming to a damn good squad,” Chimera concludes.
Guess what? He’ll make it that way.
MICHAEL GRABNER: Those of us who remember the Austrian as an Islander reveled in his breakaway speed. That he failed on many one on one attempts shouldn’t detract from his ability to turn into the kind of player Carl Hagelin became for Pittsburgh after failing in Anaheim. Mile-A-Minute Mike will be effective on the penalty-kill as well as the third line.
NATHAN GERBE: Following the Penguins’ template, the Rangers added some eight-cylinder speed and Gerbe is another one of those Kid Lightnings who can produce an occasional big goal. He’s a feisty sparkplug who will surprise as an asset on the fourth line.
ADAM CLENDENING: The Blueshirts added to their already-solid defense with a rare Niagara Falls, New York skater. During the 2015-16 campaign, he played a total of 29 games for Edmonton and delivered one goal and six assists. Interestingly he was a plus-six. The Rangers have him on a two-way contract which means that he could wind up in AHL Hartford.
DEVILS CONTINUE BUILDING AND REBUILDING:
BEN LOVEJOY: Anyone who watched the Penguins’ march to the Stanley Cup realizes how vital this 32-year-old native of Concord, New Hampshire was to Pittsburgh’s overall success. He’s a top four defenseman who easily could fit into Larsson’s spot alongside Greene.
VERN FIDDLER: As Ray Shero continues fortifying his offense, this 36-year-old vet is well-known to his new boss. The Edmonton-born warrior skated for Nashville when Shero was a Predators executive. it takes a good one to know a good one.
DEVANTE SMITH-PELLY: After being acquired at the deadline last season, DSP exploded in his New Jersey debut. He scored seven times in the first month, after only six red lights in his four months with Montreal. The combination of his physicality, hustle and timely goals could elevate him to the second line. That’s why Shero re-signed him.
JON MERRILL: The 24-year-old defenseman re-signed for the next two years. Injuries appeared to stall his development this past season but Shero must believe that the former Michigan Wolverine ace still could excel. Merrill will battle a group of young studs for the bottom pairing — especially Boston College product Steve Santini out of Bronxville, N.Y.
BEAU BENNETT: Shero signed The Large One because he knows Beau as well as anyone from their Pittsburgh days together. Bennett still is young enough and strong enough to shake the injury bug and turn into an effective third liner; sort of a latter-day Danius Zubrus.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” says Shero.
Then again, so are the Islanders and Rangers; and you’ll see why next Fall.