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Top four winners so far this off-season

I realize it is only three days into the free agent process, however, there has been an incredible amount of activity the past few days. Therefore, I think it is time to compile a list of the four winners since the off-season began:


1. Detroit Red Wings: Well this is easy. The Red Wings were able to re-sign Brad Stuart to a four-year contract and then pen Marian Hossa to a one-year deal at $7.4 million. More importantly, the Wings didn’t lose anyone off their 2008 Stanley Cup roster. The best team in the entire NHL got substantially better without giving anything up. With the roster the team has lined up for next season, they will be even more overwhelming favorites than they were this past season. What does Ken Holland eat for breakfast in the morning? I’d love to know.

2. San Jose Sharks: The past few seasons, the Sharks have been loaded at forward; unfortunately, the team has been lacking the necessary defensive corps to take the next step. Well, that is no longer an issue for Bay Area fans. The Sharks’ back-end is now comprised of Dan Boyle, Marc-Eduard Vlasic, Rob Blake, Christian Ehrhoff, Kyle McLaren, Doug Murray and Brad Lukowich (Craig Rivet was traded as this was written). That is a terrific blend of finesse and toughness. The additions of Boyle and Blake cannot be underestimated. Maybe the most important fact of all is that both players have won the Stanley Cup.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson has done a great job of molding his team and establishing organizational credibility throughout the NHL. By signing Mike Commodore and trading for Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman, the Jackets were able to solidify their defense going into next season. Additionally, the team was able to replace the scoring void left by Nikolai Zherdev by quickly signing Kristian Huselius. With these trades, the Jackets are demonstrating their intention of building from the net out. That is a perfect strategy with Ken Hitchcock at the helm. More importantly for Jackets fans is that Howson has signed or acquired players with 3/4 year deals; thus, not handicapping himself down the line when prospects Derrick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, etc. come up for their second contracts.

4. Montreal Canadiens: This may same like a strange team to include on this list but bear with me for a second. The Habs haven’t done anything stupid this off-season, in fact, they have actually improved their roster. While they lost Mark Streit to the Islanders, the Habs would have been more foolish had they actually paid Streit that type of money (5yr, $20.5 million). The Habs only really need to replace Streit on the power play, and with Kirk Muller continuing to guide the team with the man-advantage and Andrei Markov playing the point that shouldn’t be a big concern. Additionally, the Habs have become more talented up-front with the addition of tremendous passer Alex Tanguay. As well, the team added much needed muscle on the fourth line by signing the hulking Georges Laraque to a three-year contract. Finally, the team signed Andrei Kostitsyn to one of the more reasonable three-year contract extensions I’ve seen in a while (3yr, $9.75 million). Good work by Bob Gainey and Company.

Honorable mention:
New Jersey Devils

For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.