The first few days of NHL free agency are well behind us, and almost all of the big-named free agents have found new homes. There aren’t that many standout players available at this point.
And boy, was NHL free agency more fun in 2017 compared to past years. Nobody dared thought Patrick Marleau would leave the San Jose Sharks, especially after franchise captain Joe Thornton signed a one-yer extension to stay with them. Marleau’s departure from San Jose is easily one of the biggest stories in the offseason.
Meanwhile, most of the Canadian NHL teams made massive moves as they try to work together (not intentionally), to end Canada’s Stanley Cup drought. Most of the elite teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks were cap-strapped and couldn’t make marquee signings, meaning parity could soon be on the way again.
With free agency quickly winding down, here’s a look at eight winners and seven losers from NHL free agency.
15. Winner: Winnipeg Jets
The Jets came into the offseason with a pair of ultra weaknesses that needed to be addressed. For starters, they needed to find a reliable veteran to push goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
They signed former Philadelphia Flyers starter Steve Mason to a two-year deal worth $8 million. Mason is reliable in the crease, winning 20-25 games a year when he’s healthy. Hellebuyck will have healthy competition in goal.
Winnipeg also needed a stay-at-home defenceman, and they got big Russian Dmitry Kulikov on a three-year deal worth $13 million. So now they have a reliable blueliner to help offensive-minded defencemen Tyler Myers, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom.
Winnipeg tends to stay away from chasing big free agents. But GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was devoted to getting his team another goalie and some help on defence. The Jets didn’t have to break the bank for Mason nor Kulikov, so this was a home run of an offseason.
14. Loser: Pittsburgh Penguins
It sure doesn’t seem right putting the defending Stanley Cup champions on this list, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to have a lot of problems pulling off a three-peat in 2017-18.
Gone is Sidney Crosby’s best linemate ever in Chris Kunitz, who joined the Tampa Bay Lightning on a one-year deal worth $2 million. Reliable puck-moving defenceman Trevor Daley joined the Detroit Red Wings. Strong leader and playoff hero Ron Hainsey joined the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaving another gaping hole on the Penguins inconsistent blue line.
And speedy centre Nick Bonino — who also saves his best hockey for the playoffs — joined the Nashville Predators on a four-year contract. Pittsburgh will be missing two of their top four defencemen, one of their top-six forwards and their vital No. 3 centre. It’s going to be a bit tougher to defend that championship next season.
13. Winner: Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller has done just about everything right in his career. He’s won 358 games, has an Olympic silver medal and took home the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner. If there’s one thing he’s missing, it’s a Stanley Cup ring.
He had to waste his final prime years with the lowly Buffalo Sabres and rebuilding Vancouver Canucks. But the Anaheim Ducks wanted him to backup John Gibson, so they signed Miller to a two-year deal.
Miller wanted to play for a California-based team (his wife is an actress and is based in there), so Miller got to find the best home for his family. He also gets a chance to win a ring with the Anaheim Ducks, who have been a powerhouse in the Western Conference over the past five years.
12. Loser: Jaromir Jagr
45-year-old free agent Jaromir Jagr may be nearing the end of his playing days in the NHL. Despite his admitted desire to play until he’s 50, and scoring a respectable 16 goals and 46 points for the Florida Panthers this season, Jagr hasn’t found a new home yet. He even let us know about it on Twitter:
FA 1994- all GMs called , FA 2017- 0 calls?? pic.twitter.com/7uLJm95CAB
— Jaromir Jagr (@68Jagr) June 29, 2017
Jagr obviously isn’t the perennial Art Ross Trophy candidate he was for the first two decades of his career, but the man can still play on a first line if needed. He’s also 45 years old, and it’s likely no man of that age will ever play in the NHL again. Jagr is a once-in-a-lifetime NHL phenomenon.
11. Winner: Montreal Canadiens
Long before the free agency period, the Canadiens traded for rising star Jonathan Drouin to help their starving offence. GM Marc Bergevin’s next goal was to find a reliable defenceman (having lost Nathan Beaulieu, Mikhail Sergachev and possibly Andrei Markov).
And he got it with physical, hard-nosed defenceman Karl Alzner — whom he signed to a five-year contract worth $23.125 million. The Habs desperately had to find another blueliner to help out 32-year-old Shea Weber, and Alzner fits the bill greatly.
He’s an ideal stay-at-home defenceman. Alzner can hit, block shots and is ultra-reliable in his own end. Alzer was a mainstay on the Washington Capitals blue line for many years, and he gets the chance to join a team that’s hopefully close to winning a championship.
10. Loser: Goalies
You can say Steve Mason’s two-year pact worth $8 million was fair value, but most other goalies in this year’s market didn’t get as much money as they would have three or five years ago.
Take Brian Elliott, who has been one of the more reliable starting goalies over the past five seasons. Well, the usually high-spending Philadelphia Flyers got him on a cheap two-year pact worth just $5.5 million.
Jonathan Bernier, who was among the top backup goalies (for Anaheim) in 2016-17, could only settle for a one-year deal from the Colorado Avalanche for $2.75 million. Even Ryan Miller would have gotten more than $4 million over two years some seasons earlier. It just seems like veteran goalies aren’t getting paid as much as they used to on the open market. Time’s are changing fast.
9. Winner: New York Rangers
The Rangers had a tough task of trying to pry open a championship window that’s about to close. They bought out stalwart defenceman Dan Girardi and made a questionable move in trading away Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes.
Well, they took home the top prize on the free agent market to make up for those losses. That would be blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk, who they got on a modest four-year deal worth $26.6 million. Many analysts projected a seven-year pact worth $7 million a year for Shattenkirk, but the Rangers didn’t have to break the bank for him.
Shattenkirk is among the league’s top defencemen. He can play 20 minutes a game and is among the top scoring blueliners in the game. His right-handed shot is an extra bonus, too. The Rangers are winners simply for landing the best free agent of 2017.
8. Loser: San Jose Sharks
The Sharks had their two franchise cornerstones in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau ready to hit the free agent market. But Thornton re-signed with the team on a one-year pact worth $8 million. It was widely expected that Marleau would come back to San Jose for one last shot at the Stanley Cup.
Instead, Marleau shocked the hockey world by joining the Toronto Maple Leafs on a three-year contract worth $18.75 million. The Leafs’ willingness to commit to three years was reportedly the reason why Marleau left his old team to head up North.
This is a devastating loss for the Sharks. They were already an ageing core that enters 2017-18 with a championship window that has no more than two years left. Losing Marleau — a perennial 20-30 goal scorer and well-respected leader — leaves a hole in the dressing room and on the ice.
7. Winner: Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks pledged to not be big buyers in free agency, and yet the NHL’s second-worst team of 2017 managed to get a lot better (on paper, at least), without having to break open the team vault.
It all started with getting Sam Gagner on a three-year deal worth $9.45 million. Gagner is coming off an 18-goal, 50-point season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, so this appears to be a huge bargain for Vancouver. Gagner brings the Canucks plenty of speed, skill and can play up and down the lineup.
The Canucks also got power play quarterback defenceman Michael Del Zotto on a two-year contract worth just $6 million. Backup goalie Anders Nilsson also signed with the Canucks to challenge Jacob Markstrom for the starting role.
6. Loser: Aging Veterans
Surprisingly, a number of standout veterans who are destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame remain unsigned. I already touched base with Jaromir Jagr being a loser in free agency thus far, but he’s not the only one.
Jarome Iginla is looking for one more chance at a Stanley Cup, but there’s been virtually zero interest in a 40-year-old coming off his worst NHL season by far. Career Coyote Shane Doan also hasn’t been signed by a team, after Arizona informed him they were not going to bring him back.
Other standout veterans looking for a gig include Thomas Vanek, Brian Campbell, Drew Stafford and Johnny Oduya. It’s quite surprising that most of these guys haven’t been given a low-risk one-year contract from any one. It especially hurts for guys like Doan and Iginla who would like the final opportunity to chase a Stanley Cup championship.
5. Winner: Nashville Predators
After narrowly losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Predators didn’t want to sit back in grief this summer. They chose to load up on more studs as they continue to chase the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship.
It all started by plucking Nick Bonino away from the Pens on a four-year deal. Bonino brings incredible speed and is capable of scoring 20 goals. He’s also a beast in the special teams departments and will be a nice addition to a Nashville team that preaches two-way hockey with excellence.
They also brought back old friend Scott Hartnell on a one-year deal. The perennial 20-goal man should at least bring plenty of grit and muscle to an already tough-as-nails Predators squad.
And oh, isn’t that top-four defensive unit of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm scary? Well, they traded for stay-at-home blueliner Alexei Emelin shortly after the Vegas Golden Knights drafted him. What a remarkable offseason for the Predators, who look ready to win yet another Western Conference banner.
4. Loser: Ottawa Senators
When you fall one goal short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final, you should usually add those one or two crucial pieces needed to fuel another run. Now with all due respect to Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion (who did a masterful job in 2016-17, by the way), what on earth was he doing?
Ottawa’s main threats in the East got significantly better. Montreal added Jonathan Drouin and Karl Alzner. Toronto added Patrick Marleau and more pieces (I’ll get to them soon). The Tampa Bay Lightning added Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi. The Rangers added Kevin Shattenkirk. The Florida Panthers added Radim Vrbata, and the Detroit Red Wings added Trevor Daley.
The Senators lost stay-at-home defenceman Marc Methot in free agency. They’ve yet to add another dynamic scorer, which was their ultimate downfall in their third round loss to Pittsburgh. They haven’t replaced Methot’s presence on the blue line.
3. Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs are loaded with studs under the age of 25. They narrowly took down the heavily-favored Washington Capitals in the opening round of the 2017 playoffs, so Lou Lamoriello and co. didn’t have a need to go big in free agency. But they did any way.
Obviously, the signing of Patrick Marleau was monumental. The well-respected veteran should easily score at least 25 goals with Auston Matthews, and he provides plenty of experience and leadership to a super young Toronto squad.
Toronto also knew that grit and defence was a weakness, so they added hard-checking forward Dominic Moore and signed 2017 playoff hero and Stanley Cup champion Ron Hainsey to add depth.
2. Loser: Washington Capitals
2017 was supposed to be the year of the Capitals. They won their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy and traded for defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline. The Capitals were locked and loaded to win another championship, but they couldn’t get through the Penguins (once again), and were eliminated in the second round.
Meanwhile, the Capitals got significantly worse in the offseason. Needing to spend all their money to extend forwards T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals saw Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and ultra playoff stud Justin Williams leave in free agency. They also had no choice but to ship away 58-point man Marcus Johansson to the New Jersey Devils, losing yet another quality forward.
Washington now enters 2017-18 without two of their top three defenceman. They also have lost a pair of their top-six forwards. And Alexander Ovechkin (32 this fall), only has so many prime years left. It’s tough to see the 2018 Capitals being the group that finally gets over the hump; there’s just too many holes that they won’t be able to fill up.
1. Winner: Dallas Stars
The Stars were a disaster in 2017, just a year after winning the Central Division title and falling one victory short of reaching the Western Conference Final. But GM Jim Nill chose not to panic this offseason, and he made some tremendous moves to put the Stars in Stanley Cup contention for 2018 and beyond.
He signed world class goalie Ben Bishop before free agency opened. He signed flashy Russian Alexander Radulov to a five-year deal worth $31.25 million, as if Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin weren’t scary enough on offence.
And as for their inability to play defence? They traded for stay-at-home defenceman Marc Methot and signed 6-foot-6 centre Martin Hanzal to a three-year contract worth $14.25 million. Hanzal is among the top two-way forwards in the game and has 20-goal potential, and he’ll be a key reason for their turnaround in 2018.
Many aren’t talking about them, but the Stars now have all the makings to win a championship. Or two. Or three…
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