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Six winners from the new-look NHL's offseason frenzy

Posted: Monday August 22, 2005 12:45PM; Updated: Monday August 22, 2005 3:24PM
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Old and new: Pittsburgh is taking a chance on John LeClair staying healthy to help out rookie phenom Sidney Crosby.
John LeClair

After the unrestricted free-agent free-for-all that took place during the first three weeks of the relaunched NHL, the league -- on paper at least -- is starting to take shape. Teams are consolidating their projected rosters as general managers focus on signing their restricted free agents. So, who are the early winners as the league hurtles toward training camp?


The Penguins certainly changed the most over the past three weeks. They netted Sidney Crosby with the No. 1 pick in the draft, and GM Craig Patrick started spending the cash generated by Crosby-mania -- Pittsburgh sold more than 180,000 tickets in the first five days after it won the lottery -- by acquiring All-Star defenseman Sergei Gonchar and the electrifying Ziggy Palffy up front.

The Pens gambled on John LeClair and his wonky back and bolstered their goaltending by trading for veteran workhorse Jocelyn Thibault from the Blackhawks. Before the lockout, the Penguins already had inked Mark Recchi -- who's making a second stop in the Steel City -- harkening back to when the Pens trotted out a star-studded lineup. Oh, and that famous owner of theirs still plays, too.

All of which means Pittsburgh has come full circle after paring its roster to the bare essentials the past two seasons. Coach Eddie Olcyzk acknowledged that while his approach won't outwardly change, perception and expectations certainly will. And that's a good thing for the team that finished with the second-fewest points in 2003-04.


The Bruins had a well-conceived plan for free agency. With only five players under contract heading into the summer, GM Mike O'Connell gambled that the open market would prove the way to go. He was right, quickly adding veterans Shawn McEachern and Brian Leetch -- both with strong New England ties -- as well as signing centermen Alex Zhamnov and Dave Scatchard. O'Connell then was able to lock up restricted free-agent captain Joe Thornton for three years and bring back unrestricted incumbent winger Glen Murray.

Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs was integral to the NHL's negotiating committee, so the Bruins plan was certainly born of conviction -- if not a little inside insight as to what the new economic system would look like. No matter. The Bruins -- with their mix of size, speed, youth and experience -- appear to be the model moving forward. They should be one of the NHL's top teams this season.


The Flyers won by shedding Jeremy Roenick and his act while adding Peter Forsberg -- perhaps the most sought after player on the open market. GM Bob Clarke did a nice job of ridding his roster of old veterans  -- LeClair and Recchi, to name a couple -- while preparing exciting prospects Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to step in. The Flyers should challenge the Bruins for elite status in the East.


The 'Hawks revamped their roster in a similar fashion to the Penguins'. Prior to the lockout, Chicago seemed content to try to compete with kids and castoffs. But after the signings of Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, stalwart blueliner Adrian Aucoin and veteran forward Martin Lapointe, the Blackhawks are looking at doing much more than competing. Chicago should be good in 2005-06, with its young players now surrounded by proven veterans -- all of which is great news for the long-suffering fans in the Windy City.


Other winners out west included the two teams in Alberta, where bold moves to bolster the respective rosters in Calgary and Edmonton took place. The Oilers acquired Chris Pronger and Michael Peca, while the Flames landed defenseman Roman Hamrlik and forwards Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty. The deals demonstrate the possibilities under the new CBA. Both teams feel they have the wherewithal to compete economically under the new system. Instead of perennially losing maturing talent, the Oilers and Flames added proven veterans to their core of developing youngsters.

And that's how this is all supposed to work ... on paper anyway.