Too late for a refund? Some top 10 free agents are flopping

It's early. Very early. Two weeks ago the St. Louis Blues were an underdog contender that had reinvented the wheel on the power play; now, local columnists are saying "forget about it." Two weeks ago, the perfectly-sculpted hair and the rest of Barry Melrose's head were on the chopping block; now, the Bolts are four points off the division lead.

Things change, and change quickly. Same goes for the crop of big names from last summer's free agent frenzy; some of whom have been, well, disastrous so far for their new teams.

(The great Two Line Pass has its own free-agent review up, and we encourage you to check that out as well.)

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We decided to check up on their progress, using SportsCity's list of the Top 30 free-agent signings as a guide. The focus here was on players who moved to another team; so the fortunes of Vaclav Prospal, Daymond Langkow and John-Michael Liles were pushed aside. Ditto for Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg and KHL icon Jaromir Jagr.

How has the season treated the revamped Top 10, through Thursday night's game? First off, the biggest free-agent signing is also the biggest success story.

Marian Hossa, Detroit Red Wings (1 year, $7.4 million): Six goals, nine assists and 15 points in 12 games for the winger, who has scored in every Detroit game save for two. Perhaps the defending Stanley Cup champions' cruise control to second place in the conference has muffled the attention Hossa should be receiving for living up to the hype. This lack of attention will no doubt change when the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins exchange pleasantries for the first time since the finals next Tuesday on Versus. 

Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks (8 years, $56.8 million): The $56-million dollar man had two standards to meet for the Blackhawks. The first was as a steadying presence on a fairly young defense; he's averaging 26:19 TOI (second to Duncan Keith) and he's a plus-six. The second was to juice Chicago's offense from the blueline; he has nine points in 12 games, including four power-play assists. You'd like to see some flashier stats, and Coach Joel Quenneville has vowed to get the defense more active in the offense.

Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning (7 years, $31.5 million): He inked a $31.5 million, seven-year contract; perhaps that deal didn't include the first 12 games of the season. In fairness, every line below the Lecavalier line has been shuffled and reshuffled by Melrose. And the titanic underachievement of both center Steven Stamkos and winger Radim Vrbata has directly affected Malone's out put (3 goals, 0 assists). If Malone were playing up with Vinny and St. Louis, these numbers would be different. As it stands, he's been invisible much too often this season, money or no money.

Sean Avery, Dallas Stars (4 years, $15.5 million): "Energy that is just reckless and in the abyss doesn't do much." That's Coach Dave Tippett on the play of Steve Ott and Avery over the weekend. Lines like that, and Mike Modano's public calling out of the duo, have created a scapegoat vibe around Avery, despite his seven points in 12 games.

It's all fans can talk about, even with Marty Turco's incredible fall from grace. Don't believe us? Beat writer Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News recently did a "reader mail" column that had fans calling out Avery, and had the writer himself state: "I agree that, in retrospect, the Avery signing was a mistake."

Avery's attitude, and the perception of his play, will no doubt change when the Stars begin winning. And they will, once veterans like Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen are contributing. Assuming Turco turns it around, of course. Which, if he doesn't, will be Avery's fault in the eyes of Stars fans.

Mark Streit, New York Islanders (5 years, $20.5 million): Eleven points in 13 games, a stellar five points on the power play and two points shorthanded. He's giving the Islanders exactly what they asked of him, while logging more ice time (25:43 before last night's game) than any other player by nearly three minutes per game. Outside of Hossa, the most success free-agent signing in the Top 10.

Cristobal Huet, Chicago Blackhawks (4 years, $22.5 million): While logic dictates that the Blackhawks will trade Nikolai Khabibulin, logic also tells us that it's damn near impossible to do so when he's clearly outplaying Huet. It's not so much that Cristobal has been a flop -- at least not when compared to the goalie with his old job in Washington, for example -- but he hasn't done anything to "win" this job. And that's something Dale Tallon is no doubt waiting to see.

Wade Redden, New York Rangers (6 years, $39 million): Six points in 16 games, and third on the team in TOI per game (22:06 entering Thursday). But as the Rangers  started to struggle, the focus on Redden's performance intensified, especially on the power play where he's earning the second-most ice time behind Scott Gomez. As Newsday wrote before last night's game: "Chris Drury and Markus Naslund and Wade Redden are surely providing leadership, but not much else." Well, Drury had a hat trick and Redden had a power-play helper. Keep hope alive.

Kristian Huselius, Columbus Blue Jackets (4 years, $19 million): He's got 10 points in 13 games, including four on the power play. So far, so good; although he probably didn't think Rick Nash would be his pivot this season, did he?

Brian Rolston, New Jersey Devils (4 years, $20 million): Uh, can we give him an incomplete? Two points in just four games before going out with a high ankle sprain. When he returns, Rolston will be counted on to juice an offense that's still trying to find its way in a Brodeur-less stretch. His success this season can easily be judged on one aspect of his game: Power-play points, as the Devils have looked anemic at times. Fail there, and he's not doing what he's paid to do.

Radim Vrbata, Tampa Bay Lightning (3 years, $9 million): A stunning underachievement -- one point in six games -- at least for those who refused to believe he was an average player singing for his supper last season with the Phoenix Coyotes. Like Malone, Stamkos's slow start may have hampered Vrbata, but he was still a healthy scratch for the Lightning before an injury shelved him.

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