This next part may feel a little bit like the ending to Clue: The Movie as we break down where all of these teams were at. We do want to explore the motivations of each team, however. One cannot simply castigate a team for a poor contract without exploring that contract's context - a middling team signing an average player for well above market is far more egregious than a team on the cusp of a championship trying to sign that missing piece. One of our main tenets here at Hockey on Paper is that barring a massive windfall, teams must pick the years where they wish to contend.
Philadelphia: In between trips to the Conference Finals in 2004 and 2008, people may forget that Philadelphia was an absolutely atrocious team in 2007. Strangely enough, Philadelphia was not in a particularly poor position - they had lots of assets on the team as well as promising young players. They also had a ton of salary cap room. Philadelphia figured they could rebuild the team in just one season, and they managed to pull it off.
New York Rangers: The Rangers were probably the most interesting team. Coming out of the lockout, they were thought to be dead in the water with a moribund and disinterested Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Weekes starting in net, and a cast of thousands at defense. Young goaltender Henrik Lundqvist proved to be outstanding, and instead the Rangers were a playoff team; only a late-season collapse kept the club from winning the division. The team brought aboard free agents Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen, and Aaron Ward, and managed to make the 2nd round of the playoffs after a furious late-season climb into the playoff picture. Glen Sather was left in a bind - he had Jagr, but Jagr only had one more year on his contract and had declined sharply from 2006. He had Michal Nylander as Jagr's center - could Nylander continue to produce as a 1st line center after his 35th birthday?
Edmonton: Edmonton was in an odd position. A terminally mediocre club since the early 90s, they managed to make the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, only to endure the Chris Pronger fiasco and finish out of the playoffs in 2007, scoring less than 200 goals. GM Kevin Lowe had traded captain Ryan Smyth to Long Island, and needed to come away with hope for the future.
Colorado: Colorado still had Burnaby Joe Sakic, who would turn 38 over the summer, but who led the team with 100 points. The club itself outscored its opposition by 21 but despite a late season push they failed to make the playoffs. With the superb play of youngsters Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny, Colorado saw themselves getting right back into the Western Conference hunt with a few key additions.
Los Angeles: The Kings were desperately terrible, had cap room, and hadn't made the playoffs since 2002.
This may be pedantic, but what we are trying to establish here is that there were motivations for these signings, and with $6.3 million in cap room coming available, most teams were gaining room to breathe.
The next post will be a speculation regarding the gaps in talent between certain draft years and the influence this may have had on free agency in 2007.