Free agency in every professional sport presents teams with an opportunity to improve their fortunes heading into the following season without giving up valuable assets. Most of the time, however, it's an opportunity to overpay an overrated veteran. That's especially the case in the National Hockey League (NHL), where big-name stars hardly ever make it to an open market. Last year's biggest name, Steven Stamkos, re-signed in Tampa Bay just days ahead of July 1, while this year's class included aging veterans Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, and stay-at-home defensemen like Karl Alzner and Ron Hainsey. By contrast, the NBA's free-agent class included in-their-prime stars Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, and Chris Paul, not to mention other big stars getting traded.
Yet, in Canada, TSN devotes a full day of broadcast coverage to the free-agent "frenzy," as it has become part of the Canada Day celebrations. Most Americans, meanwhile, are smart enough to realize nothing really of substance happens in NHL free agency. In about a year's time, we'll be looking back at a lot of the deals handed out in the past week and assessing how they hampered the team's ability to be competitive move forward. But why wait a year when we can start right now.
16 Mistake: Toronto Signing Patrick Marleau
In theory, the acquisition of Patrick Marleau by the Toronto Maple Leafs is a positive one. Despite turning 38-years-old in September, he's still a good skater and is coming off a 27-goal season; that number might even rise playing alongside Auston Matthews.
15 Should Have Done: Invest In Defense/Future
The Maple Leafs made a huge jump in the standings last season, going from a 30th place team to one that nearly knocked off the Washington Capitals in the first round of the NHL playoffs. They did so with an impressive stable of young forwards such as Matthews, Nylander, Marner, and Connor Brown, and defensemen like Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Nikita Zaitsev. Those players are only going to improve and get better - there was little need for the team to spend elsewhere and take away from the money that will be required to lock that core up long-term.
14 Mistake: Chicago Trading Artemi Panarin
The Chicago Blackhawks are in cap hell. This is no secret. It's what happens when you give two players $10 million dollars and commit big money long-term to players like Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. The team solved some of its cap issues by Marian Hossa somewhat conveniently announcing that he couldn't play in 2017-18 due to a skin disease that he had been dealing with for quite some time. It opened up the necessary cap space for the team to bring back Patrick Sharp, which is a nice bonus, despite not being the player he once was.
13 Should Have Done: Nothing
Unless management was crazy enough to withstand the backlash of trading Jonathan Toews for a minimal return due to his cap hit, the Hawks really should have done nothing this offseason, aside from scouring for the next undrafted free agent gem. Management has been crafty enough in recent years to bring in cheap, short-term options to supplement its core talent, and they should have counted on continued progression from young players like Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, and Gustav Forsling.
12 Mistake: Arizona's Handling Of Shane Doan
Shane Doan was drafted seventh overall in the 1995 NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets. He played his rookie season in Winnipeg before the team moved to Arizona, where he has played the last 20 seasons of his professional career. He has been the team's captain for most of those years and has been the one player that, despite all the years of inept management, ownership, and on-ice product, has stayed loyal to the team.
11 Should Have Done: Wait It Out
For the time being, it seems as though Doan does want to play another season. And it's hard to question his ability to play; despite his production tailing off last season, he has been steadily producing between 30-45 points in the past few seasons and can still somewhat keep up with the pace of the game, especially in a bottom-six role with power-play minutes.
10 Mistake: Dallas Signing Alex Radulov Long-Term
Was Alex Radulov's value vastly overhyped heading into free agency? Absolutely. Does his presence make the Dallas Stars a better team in the short-term? Definitely. Does that make it a good signing? Not at all. Will we stop asking and answering questions? Perhaps.
9 Should Have Done: Wait It Out
The waiting game isn't for everyone. It was Homer Simpson that once said, "The waiting game sucks. Let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos." But that's exactly what the Stars should have done in this instance. It was clear that Radulov was either going to re-sign in Montreal or join the Stars, and when the Canadiens announced a long-term extension for Carey Price, it was evident the team had no space left to make a Radulov contract work.
8 Mistake: New Jersey Not Finding Trade For Kovalchuk
If you've noticed a Russian theme to the NHL offseason, you're not alone. The KHL isn't doing great financially and players are jumping ship once again. Alex Radulov came back to North America last year and longtime KHLers like Vadim Shipachyov and Evgeny Dadonov did so this year. Ilya Kovalchuk was poised to return to the NHL in 2017-18, but his rights were still owned by the New Jersey Devils, the team from which he bolted after finally proving himself a playoff performer en route to the team's Stanley Cup Final appearance against the Los Angeles Kings.
7 Should Have Done: Dealt Him for Assets
It's hard to understand why a deal couldn't have been worked out for Kovalchuk. His coming back to the league would have been great for both storylines and entertainment. Obviously, Ray Shero, the Devils General Manager, isn't concerned with either of those things, but he should be concerned with what's best for his rebuilding team. And the best thing would have been acquiring assets for the 34-year-old Russian while they had the chance.
6 Mistake: Washington Committing To Kuznetsov
On the surface, it's easy to understand the Capitals re-signing Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 25-year-old center is a top-flight number two center and will quite obviously assume the first-line role in the near future when Nicklas Backstrom begins to decline. However, it's hard to see value in the eight-year, $62.4 million contract he received from the Capitals, especially considering it has a modified no-trade clause which kicks in following the 2018-19 season, when the Capitals just might be on the decline.
5 Should Have Done: Traded Kuznetsov
The Kuznetsov contract forced the Capitals to trade Marcus Johansson, who might not be as talented as Kuznetsov - though he had just one point less and six more goals last season - but is on a much better contract with two years left at a $4.6 million cap hit. Washington received a second and third round pick from the New Jersey Devils for his services, which is an absolute steal. You have to wonder if, in order to get the Kuznetsov contract locked up quickly, the team didn't play the market well enough for Johansson.
4 Mistake: Senators Doing Nothing
The Ottawa Senators surprised everyone when they reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Led by captain Erik Karlsson, the team was a feel-good story, but one that almost nobody expects to replicate next season. Sure, they have the best defenseman in the league and a couple nice players up front, but on paper they are nowhere near being a Stanley Cup contender, unless you think of Mike Hoffman and Derick Brassard as franchise players.
3 Should Have Done: Upgraded Offense
Realistically, the Senators should get a boost from rookie Colin White, who played sparingly with the team toward the end of last season, but beyond that the team will return much the same in 2017-18. Ottawa signed Nate Thompson, who will help its fourth line, but fourth lines don't win championships. Up front, the Senators boast a balanced attack, but there's no dominant threat.
2 Mistake: Everything the Montreal Canadiens Did
Where to begin? We may as well praise the Montreal Canadiens for not handing Alex Radulov a long-term extension that would have come back to bite the team, because that's about the only thing Marc Bergevin did that made any sense. And even then you can rest assured that if he had the money he would have done so. The Canadiens acquired Jonathan Drouin, who is an up-and-coming star in the league, but he's a winger, which the team has an abundance of. What they need is defense and centers and to get Drouin they dealt one of the best defense prospects in the league.
1 Should Have Done: Opposite Of Everything
Aside from not firing Bergevin at the end of last season (or the minute he made the Shea Weber for P.K. Subban deal), the Canadiens should have literally done the opposite of everything they did this off-season. Keep your top defense prospect. Or trade him for a center, not a winger. Don't sign an overhyped, slow defenseman to a massive contract. And wait to sign Carey Price.
The last point might be a contentious one, but the timing wasn't right on the Price contract. Following this season, the goaltender is going to make $10.5 million for the next eight seasons. He'll be 39-years-old when his contract expires and, as good as he is, it's hard to see him being a top-10 goaltender at that point. Entering the 2017-18 season without him signed long-term would have been a distraction in Montreal, but let it be. There are so many holes in Montreal's roster that the upcoming season could turn disastrous quickly - at best, they're a borderline playoff team. The prospect cupboard is so bare that, if the season was a failure, you could deal Price for a boatload during the season.
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