Every year, NHL free agency is a treat; it is a time when teams can sign a renowned superstar or a complementary piece that fits the puzzle. In any case, July 1st is an exciting day when NHL fans across the world can witness their favorite team bolster their roster and increase their chances of winning the Stanley Cup. It is the busiest time of year in terms of player movement, even more so than the annual NHL trade deadline, and has the power to make or break a certain NHL team’s roster.
With that being said, not all NHL free-agent signings are good; some may be overpaid and some may include too much term. It is an annual tradition to analyze and evaluate the biggest free-agent signings because of the significance it carries pertaining to a team’s success. Although this was an off-year in terms of the number of big names on the free-agent market, there is still plenty to talk about concerning the best and worst signings of the summer, which includes re-signings. Inevitably, there will be winners and losers of each year’s NHL free agent frenzy; it boils down to whether the team you cheer for made the right moves or the wrong moves.
Now that the summer is over, in today’s article, we will comprehensively explore and evaluate the 8 best and 7 worst NHL signings of the summer. Trust me, you’re in for a ride.
HONORABLE MENTION: Spencer Foo
GM Brad Treliving and the Calgary Flames were certainly busy this off-season and adding Spencer Foo was one of the many bold moves they made to improve the competitiveness of their roster. The highly touted college free agent decided to join the Calgary Flames after deliberating with a slew of NHL teams in June. He previously played for Union College where he demonstrated his offensive flair with 62 points in 38 NCAA games last season.
The 23-year-old right-winger joins a youthful Flames team known for a solid defensive core and high-scoring forwards. Although they had an off-year last season, with the addition of Spencer Foo, who will be fighting for a roster spot come October, the future of the Flames is definitely looking bright. This was a great signing for the Flames as they continue to inject youthful talent into their roster while staying considerably competitive.
15. BEST: Patrick Sharp
After a two-year stint with the Dallas Stars, the offensively talented winger returns to the Chicago Blackhawks, where he won three Stanley Cup championships – in 2010, 2013 and 2015. He previously served as an assistant captain with the Blackhawks, as well as last season with the Dallas Stars. On July 1st, he signed a one-year contract with the Blackhawks worth $1 million. His return to Chicago reunites him with a lot of familiar faces in the locker-room, which include former teammates and friends.
The 35-year-old veteran forward has won accolades and awards on both the NHL and international stage, including an Olympic gold medal and a World Championship silver medal. He brings a winning pedigree to Chicago, which will certainly help them return to their winning ways. His chemistry with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be a key to their success next season, as well as his extensive experience and expertise.
14. WORST: Evgeny Dadonov
Now, you must be thinking… who is this guy? Dadonov is a former Florida Panthers draft pick back in 2007 and recently signed with the club that drafted him 10 years prior on July 1st, 2017. He most recently played with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL, where he garnered 66 points in 53 games, and eventually won the Gagarin Cup. He previously played 55 NHL games with the Panthers and recorded 20 points in that time span.
Although he has posted considerable offensive numbers in the KHL and during the early stages of his NHL career, he is not a proven point-producer in the NHL and should NOT be earning $4 million for the next three years. The 28-year-old may have a difficult time transitioning back to the NHL and getting acclimated with the different size ice surface; the risk is not worth the price, especially with Jagr leaving the organization.
13. BEST: Kevin Shattenkirk
The former 14th-overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft has been an offensive powerhouse for the last couple of seasons and has consequently earned himself a deserving contract. On July 1st, the highly sought after free-agent chose to sign a four-year contract with the New York Rangers, totaling $26.6 million and an AAV of $6.65M. He most recently played for the Washington Capitals where he finished the year strong with an astounding 14 points in 19 NHL games, for a total of 56 points on the year – a personal-best.
The New York native has posted four consecutive 40-plus point seasons and has played in the playoffs for six straight seasons, dating back to the 2011-12 season. The offensively-minded yet defensively sound defenseman has definitely established himself as a true #1 defenseman over the past few years. The Rangers’ investment in their hometown boy Shattenkirk is a smart one since his game only seems to improve, which will definitely help them succeed in the Stanley Cup playoffs for at least the next four seasons.
12. WORST: Dan Girardi
After having his contract bought out by the New York Rangers, a team that he played 11 seasons for, the defensive defenseman moved his talents to Tampa Bay by signing a two-year, $6 million contract with them. GM Steve Yzerman recruited the right-handed defenseman to replace Jason Garrison, who was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. His new contract pays him $3 million annually, which may be a head-scratcher for many as he was just bought out by the Rangers due to the fact that he was getting older and his game is subsequently declining.
However, on the bright side, Girardi will likely provide a formidable presence on Tampa’s young blue-line through his shot-blocking abilities and strength in his own zone. For Girardi, he gets the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup on another contender, but judging by the latest (declining) trends in his game, it certainly does not justify his new cap hit with the Lightning.
11. BEST: Bo Horvat
As the Canucks’ leading scorer last season, Bo Horvat was bound for a substantial raise this upcoming season. Negotiations dragged on all throughout the summer, but the Canucks and Bo Horvat finally agreed on a lucrative six-year contract worth $33 million, which pays him $5.5 million annually. Last season, Horvat had an impressive breakout year, scoring 52 points and reaching the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his auspicious three-season career. Horvat is well worth the hefty raise in cap hit due to his constant improvements in his game since his NHL debut.
The Canucks management should be proud of themselves to sign a talent in Bo Horvat to a long-term, low risk contract, however, there is still work that needs to be done before they are even considered a playoff contender. The 22-year-old centerman has been been showing positive trends in his offensive production numbers, and will be a staple on the Canucks’ roster for years to come.
10. WORST: Brendan Smith
The defensive defensman signed a four-year contract extension worth $17.4 million ($4.35M AAV) with the New York Rangers this past summer. With the departure of longtime Rangers defender Dan Girardi, signing Brendan Smith to a long-term contract was on GM Jeff Gorton’s to-do list, which he successfully completed. Smith was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline last season and finished with 9 points and 63 penalty minutes.
However, although Smith provides the Rangers blueline with stability and depth, he certainly known for contributing offensively and being a dynamic defenseman. His overall game does not warrant the raise in his cap hit, and considering the fact that he’s 28 means that his game won’t experience many more improvements. Consequently, at the moment, Smith’s $4.35 million cap hit is not looking very friendly nor promising.
9. BEST: Alexander Radulov
The former 15th-overall pick for the Nashville Predators back in 2004 returned to the NHL last season and had a successful campaign with the Montreal Canadiens, scoring 54 points in 76 NHL games. Now that his one-year contract expired, Radulov exercised his free agent rights and decided to join the Dallas Stars on a remunerative five-year contract worth $31.25 million ($6.25M AAV). He will most definitely join Dallas’ dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on their top line, which will possess incredibly potent firepower.
At the age of 31, his stats from his return campaign in the NHL look promising and proves that he can produce at an elite level. Alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, his offensive production will only increase as the season progresses and their chemistry solidifies, making GM Jim Nill’s long-term investment in Radulov look good for now.
8. WORST: Dmitry Orlov
With the Capitals in deep, deep water in terms of their limited salary cap space, Dmitry Orlov’s new contract extension can be partially blamed for their cap inflexibility. The effervescent defenseman accumulated 33 points last season and displayed rapid improvements in his game alongside star-studded defenseman such as Kevin Shattenkirk and John Carlson. With his new six-year extension worth $30.6 million ($5.1M AAV) comes great responsibility and promise.
This upcoming season, Orlov will certainly be more heavily relied on in all situations, including on the power-play and penalty kill. However, this heavy-loaded, high risk contract puts the Capitals on their heels when it comes to cap space. As it seems, Orlov’s substantial raise in cap hit is tremendously baffling since he has yet to prove himself as a capable, dependable, masterful and elite NHL defenseman.
7. BEST: Tyler Johnson
The undrafted but capable 27-year-old centerman recently signed a seven-year contract extension worth $35 million ($5M AAV) with the Tampa Bay Lightning in July. Ever since his NHL debut in 2012, he has been lighting it up in Tampa alongside fellow young and skillful teammates Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Tampa’s talented trio contributes offensively day in and day out, and provides their team with both extraordinary speed and skill. Johnson scored 45 points in 66 NHL games last season, and although he was sidelined with injuries, it will give him more motivation to come back this season and help the Lightning return to the playoffs.
The 5-foot-8 forward has earned the trust of GM Steve Yzerman, evidenced by his new long-term contract extension with a friendly cap hit of $5 million, when it could have been a much higher number. Yzerman’s long-term investment in Tyler Johnson will certainly pay off as he has been dependable both offensively and in the face-off dot.
6. WORST: Patrick Marleau
The longtime San Jose Shark Patrick Marleau finally decided to split with the only team that he’s played for in his 19-year career. On the second day of free agency, July 2, 2017, Marleau signed a short but sweet three-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs worth $18.75 million, averaging $6.25 million annually. Though longtime Sharks teammate Joe Thornton decided to stay in San Jose, former Sharks captain instead chose to start the final chapter of his illustrious career with the young and promising Maple Leafs. He definitely adds a much-needed veteran presence on their team, as well as experience, expertise and a winning pedigree.
However, adding a polished veteran at $6.25 million a year is a tad bit expensive for a team that must soon accommodate the imminent and substantial raises of Auston Matthews’ and Mitch Marner’s contracts. He’ll be making a $6.25 million at the age of 40, which is a considerably ludicrous. If Marleau doesn’t meet expectations, his contract will start looking ugly very soon.
5. BEST: Carey Price
Coming off a bounce-back season, the extraordinarily talented 6-foot-3 goaltender was poised for a substantial raise as one of the best goalies in the NHL. His astounding win-loss ratio and save percentages over the past couple of years has earned him a monstrous yet deserving eight-year contract extension worth $84 million, averaging $10.5 million annually. The five-time NHL All-Star goaltender has been the backbone of the Montreal Canadiens since his debut during the 2007-08 season. He currently has over 500 NHL games under his belt and plays with both elegance and composure.
The former 5th-overall pick has effectively established himself as one of the top goalies of his generation and is slated to become the highest paid goaltender at the beginning of the 2018-19 season, and deservingly so. He has posted four 30-plus win seasons with the Canadiens and is determined to transfer his regular season success to playoff triumph. With his up-trending stats and his best years ahead of him, the 30-year-old goalie made sure the “Price” was right.
4. WORST: Dmitry Kulikov
The Russian defenseman is coming off his worst season offensively, but still managed to ink a deal at the end of the day. On July 1st, Kulikov agreed to a three-year contract worth $13 million with the Winnipeg Jets. He will earn an AAV of $3.33 million, which is identical to his cap hit of the past three seasons. He only managed to contribute 5 points in a 47-game season which was riddled with inconsistency and injuries, however, that is no excuse for a defenseman who previously scored 20 points on three separate occasions.
Although his stats have been trending down, there is still a glimpse of hope as he is at the age of 26 and has a chance to gain the trust of his new coach in Winnipeg. With the Jets’ young team, Kulikov will fit on their talented blue-line with the guidance of Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. However, his $4.33 million cap hit is definitely on the expensive side for a high-risk signing.
3. BEST: Alex Galchenyuk
The former 3rd-overall pick in 2012 signed a three-year, $14.7 million contract extension with the Montreal Canadiens, which pays him $4.9 million annually. The offensively gifted forward has been a driving force behind Montreal’s offense and is fulfilling his potential as he improves his all-around game. Although he has had troubles with injuries and inconsistency during the early stages of his NHL career, Galchenyuk is certainly showing rapid signs of improvement as both a centerman and a winger, wherever coach Claude Julien may play him, which is a testament to his invaluable versatility.
At the age of 23 years old, Galchenyuk has a lot of steps he needs to make in order to become an elite scorer in the NHL, but with the right tools and teammates, he will surely succeed with the Canadiens’ deep roster. With a contract extension under $5 million AAV for three more years, GM Marc Bergevin definitely got a steal when he signed the young, aspiring elite goal-scorer.
2. WORST: Karl Alzner
The 29-year-old defensive defenseman definitely cashed in this past summer as he agreed to a remunerative five-year deal worth $23.125 million with the Montreal Canadiens, averaging $4.625 million annually. The physical 6-foot-3 defender has played for the Washington Capitals, the team that drafted him 5th-overall in 2007, for the past nine seasons before deciding to leave for Montreal. Alzner has been relatively consistent offensively and has always complemented other defenseman as he is notably reliable in his own zone.
After shadowing John Carlson and Kevin Shattenkirk last season, Alzner looks like he is ready to take his career to the next level as he joins the Canadiens long-term. His playoff experience will definitely help the Canadiens’ pursuit of the Stanley Cup, however, he is exceedingly overpaid for what his role will be next season. Although he will mostly likely play alongside Shea Weber on the top pairing, GM Marc Bergevin could have signed other competent defenders for less than $4.35 million.
1. BEST: Connor McDavid
Coming off a magnificent 100-point season, Edmonton’s mega superstar signed the biggest, most expensive contract in the history of the NHL. The former 1st-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft signed a lucrative eight-year deal worth $100 million, averaging a whopping $12.5 million annually. The offensively explosive forward helped guide the Oilers to their first playoff appearance in almost forever this past season. The natural-born leader was named the Oilers’ captain a year ago and has not looked back ever since.
At the age of 20, he is both a dynamic and well-rounded forward who possesses an incredibly high hockey IQ along with pristine scoring abilities and exemplary leadership qualities. It is no surprise that he is slated to become the highest paid NHL player of all-time. His career is only in its primitive stage now which means that he has many more years to blossom and fulfill his full potential. His unique combination of speed, size and skill will help establish Edmonton as a serious Stanley Cup contender for at least the next nine years.
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