The urge is always strong to call it a "Free Agent Frenzy," but Gary's trying to appeal to new markets so I'm going with "fiesta." I figure this is the first honest push towards the Latino audience since Luis Mendoza and maybe Scott Gomez.
I wanted to do a little up-to-speed on the free agent signings to this point, because I think we all know full well that it's aggravating to wait for the other shoe to drop on a potential Kovalchuk signing. It's (nearly) universally accepted that his will be the biggest signing of the offseason whether it be to the KHL or NHL, but perhaps this is the best time to weigh in on our picks for favorite/least favorite/potentially-good signings.
Andrew Ebbett to the Phoenix Coyotes
Initially I was going to say Olli Jokinen, because the news that he wouldn't be returning to the Rangers brought squeals of joy, but I think that was a given. Andrew Ebbett has been on my radar for a few years now, as he's always been a smart hockey player. Left undrafted after a decent hockey career at Michigan, Ebbett's size (5'9", 174 lbs.) has often stood (ha ha) in the way of his playing time. But after losing Matt Lombardi, Phoenix has an opening for a guy who could set up their goal-scoring wingers, and Ebbett could very easily beat out the under-performing Martin Hanzal and Kyle Turris. At worst, he'd end up on the second line with Shane Doan; in a similar playing-time scenario in Anaheim, he put up 32 points in 48 games. Signed at the league minimum, Ebbett is another smart budget move by the Coyotes owner, whoever that might be.
Derek Boogaard to the New York Rangers
I'm not a huge goon fan, so the Brashear signing last year was annoying to me because, as we learned and I had suspected, it did nothing for the team. But there was something to be said for Brashear's scoring potential going into the season. The Boogeyman has no such potential, and will be saddling the team with over one-and-a-half-million dollars a year to remind us. I'd say I'm furious, but I think incredulous is more accurate, particularly since Sather had made such a good signing (Martin Biron as a backup) that same day. The "Fire Sather" supporters are growing in number exponentially now.
Manny Malhotra to the Vancouver Canucks
He came at a premium for a defensive-minded player, but the former first-rounder Malhotra has a good chance at earning every penny of his $2.5 million per year over the next three years. If players like John Madden, Kris Draper, Jere Lehtinen, and Mike Richards are any indicator, teams have shifted to recognizing and rewarding the part that wins championships (Washington, pay attention). All have had long careers with basically one team (though Madden was paid handsomely to leave Jersey), and Malhotra's defense has deserved such recognition. One of the best faceoff men in the league, he won a whopping 62.5 percent of his puck drops last season. Never a threat to scored more than 35-40 points in a season, he's nevertheless a perfect 3rd liner, the kind of intelligent, big-bodied forward that can anchor a sound playoff team. Now if only he learned to be a goaltender...
The Kovalchuk signing will be big, and as I said it will be considered much bigger than any of the above. That being said, the acquisition of players like Ebbett and Malhotra (and in a way, Boogaard) go a long ways towards determining a team's fortunes in the following season.