The NHL’s free agency period this summer has come and gone, and every team turns their attention to training camps in September. The Edmonton Oilers made two splash moves this offseason by signing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatil to eight-year extensions, while teams like the Leafs, Lightning, and Capitals offered free agent deals and extensions to players who are either emerging or veterans with several seasons of NHL experience.
The Vegas Golden Knights will play their inaugural season as the league’s 31st franchise, so the other 30 teams exposed some of their players for the expansion draft and protected key assets. For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins exposed goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to Vegas following back-to-back Stanley Cups. The Pens needed to address their backup goalie needs, considering that Matt Murray would certainly become their starter. Pens’ general manager Jim Rutherford ultimately signed free agent Antti Niemi to a one-year deal. Then you look at the Dallas Stars, who offered Alexander Radulov a huge contract worth over $30 million for five years. Some might think that signing will boost their offense, but the deal may come back to bite them if his offensive production declines or is placed on long-term injury reserve.
Let’s take a look at the league’s eight free agents who were paid too much and seven others who are bargains.
15. OVERPAID – KEVIN SHATTENKIRK
We begin our list with American-born defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. He established himself as a solid two-way player for the St. Louis Blues, averaging about 40 points per season. The Blues dealt Shattenkirk to the Capitals this past February, playing 19 games played for Washington.
After the Caps fell to the Penguins in round two of the playoffs, they decided to let him walk as an unrestricted free agent after last season. Shattenkirk had dreams of playing for the New York Rangers as a young boy, and the possibility of joining them interested him, especially that he’s in his prime of his career. This past July, the Blueshirts offered Shattenkirk a four-year, $26.6 million deal with an average annual value of $6.65 million. New York needed a veteran blueliner after they bought out Dan Girardi, but Shattenkirk’s deal increased their team’s cap hit to $71.94 million. He’s two years away from turning 30, so it’s possible the deal doesn’t work out if his point production drops to less than 25 points and is unable to stay healthy.
14. BARGAIN – SAM GAGNER
If you didn’t notice this offseason, the Vancouver Canucks signed a decent player in forward Sam Gagner. The longtime center signed a one-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets worth $650,000 last season. Gagner achieved his first 50-point season, but Columbus allowed him to walk as a free agent this past summer. That opened the door for Canucks’ GM Jim Benning to offer Gagner a three-year deal worth $9.45 million.
Compared to his previous contract with the Jackets, Gagner earned a nice raise in salary as his new deal with Vancouver has an AAV of $3.15 million. Gagner’s collected 402 points in 696 games for Edmonton, Arizona, Philadelphia, and Columbus. On paper, the deal is a good bargain for the Canucks because of his past point production and a breakout 2016-17 campaign. If Gagner gets 40 points or more for Vancouver the next three years, then the team’s $9 million investment should be worth it.
13. OVERPAID – KARL ALZNER
This past summer, defenseman Karl Alzner left Washington following another early playoff exit and joined the Montreal Canadiens.
Alzner has been a workhorse a majority of his career, playing all 82 regular season games for the last four seasons. That speaks to his durability and dedication to playing hockey every night. Habs GM Marc Bergevin signed the ex-Capital to a hefty five-year contract worth over $23 million. It carries a cap hit of $4.625 million and it’s the highest yearly salary Alzner’s earned. He should be happy getting a nice raise in Montreal, but his contract could be a total dud if he doesn’t pan out. Sure, the Habs still have over $8 million in cap space, but they don’t want Alzner to be exposed defensively and become a minus player.
The Habs may have addressed their goal-scoring troubles by re-signing Alex Galchenyuk and trading for Jonathan Drouin and didn’t bring back defenseman Andrei Markov, but adding Alzner on a Habs defense led by Shea Weber and Jeff Petry has some promise.
12. BARGAIN – BRIAN ELLIOTT
The Philadelphia Flyers got themselves a decent veteran goalie in Brian Elliott after former starter Steve Mason departed as a free agent to the Winnipeg Jets.
Don’t get me wrong, but the 32-year-old has been an NHL journeyman since his career began. He’s played four years for the Senators, a year with the Avalanche, five years with the Blues and a brief stint with the Flames last season. Philadelphia became the fifth team that Elliott’s joined in his ten-year career, agreeing to a deal worth $5.5 million for two years.
The term and money they offered him seem fair in all respects, given that his career GAA is 2.42 and had a terrible playoff performance last season. Although the Flyers failed to make the playoffs last year, they simply have to play good in front of Elliott by not relying on him to make saves often and earn enough points to clinch a playoff berth. If Elliott returns to the form he previously had in St. Louis, they might go on a deep playoff run next spring.
11. OVERPAID – EVGENY KUZNETSOV
All right, the Washington Capitals may have locked up Russian forward Evgeny Kuznetsov for a long time but $62.4 million for eight years seems like a lot of money.
Kuznetsov’s had a pretty good start to his NHL career, scoring 182 points in four seasons. He picked up 59 points for the Caps in 2016-17, which is partly why GM Brian MacLellan extended Kuznetsov to long-term and is still in his prime.
Granted, he just has to average 50-60 points per year but Washington’s window to win a Stanley Cup is small, especially that Alex Ovechkin is in his early 30s. They cannot afford to see Kuznetsov underperform or miss lots of games due to injury since Caps management also re-signed T.J. Oshie and Dimitry Orlov to lucrative extensions. If that is the case, it seems pretty hard to envision a Stanley Cup parade in Washington’s future.
10. BARGAIN – MARTIN HANZAL
The Dallas Stars’ signing of Czech forward Martin Hanzal this summer gives them a good center that adds offensive depth on a stacked roster. Hanzal played a majority of his career with the Coyotes and a short stint for the Wild and has 326 points in 628 career games. Following a trade from the Coyotes to Minnesota, His time there was forgettable, scoring four goals and nine assists in 20 games.
Hanzal moved on from Minnesota to join their division rivals in the Stars. He agreed to a three-year contract worth $14.25 million. On Hanzal’s end, his contract looks like a fairly good deal. It carries an AAV of $4.75 million, but the Stars have no cap space. Dallas’ GM Jim Nill could’ve offered Hanzal about $3.9 million to gain some cap room, but wisely offered him under $5,000,000 given that they signed Alex Radulov to a large contract that we’ll get to soon.
9. OVERPAID – COLTON PARAYKO
Well, the St. Louis Blues plucked a promising two-way defenseman in Colton Parayko. In his young career, he’s exceeded expectations on the blue line with two 30-point seasons and 12 points in 31 playoff games Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong saw Parayko’s potential by signing him to a five-year deal worth $27.5 million.
The massive amount of money they paid Parayko was too much and too soon. They’re taking a chance on a young guy who’s played only two years and still has a lot to prove.
But the upside to Parayko is that he has many seasons of hockey ahead of him, barring a career-threatening injury or is unable to maintain the same form he had in 2015-16 and last season. However, if Parayko does excel with the Blues, he could be compared to Hall of Famer Chris Pronger when his career is set and done and the five-year deal makes Armstrong look like a genius.
8. BARGAIN – CONOR SHEARY
The Pittsburgh Penguins found a gem in Conor Sheary. An undrafted and diminutive winger out of UMass Amherst, Sheary helped the Pens win two Stanley Cups. He scored an overtime goal as a rookie in Game 2 of the 2016 Cup Final against San Jose. Sheary finished the 2016 playoffs with ten points as Pittsburgh lifted the Cup after a six-game series victory over the Sharks.
Sheary broke out in 2016-17. Playing on the top line with Sidney Crosby, he tallied 23 goals and 53 points in 61 games. Although he collected seven points in the 2017 playoffs, he won another Cup. Pens GM Jim Rutherford retained Sheary for a three-year deal worth $9 million. Sheary’s cap hit on the contract is a mere $3 million, but at least the Pens paid him fairly. According to CapFriendly.com, Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang have cap hits of over $6 million per year and the Pens have less than $3.3 million in cap space, so the signing of Sheary looks like a bargain provided that he lives up to the deal.
7. OVERPAID – ALEXANDER RADULOV
Surprise, surprise! Former KHL star Alex Radulov, who returned to the NHL last year with the Canadiens and previously played three years for the Nashville Predators accepted a free agent deal from the Dallas Stars.
Radulov had a good 2016-17 campaign with the Habs, scoring 18 goals and 36 assists in 76 games. Radulov wasn’t able to come to terms on an extension with Montreal, so he chose to sign with Dallas for five years and a cool $31.25 million.
His cap hit came to $6.25 million per year. Radulov’s exodus to Russia after the 2011-12 season made him a better offensive player, but the guy is 31 years old and might not keep up with the speed of Stars teammates Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The truth is that Radulov was more concerned about the term Dallas offered him than the amount of money, but if he collects less than 40 points per season, then the front office will regret signing him to a lucrative deal.
6. BARGAIN – BRIAN BOYLE
If any Leafs fan really thought center Brian Boyle would stay in Toronto, they were wrong. The New Jersey Devils signed Boyle to a two-year contract worth $5.1 million. The deal carries a manageable $2.55 million cap hit.
In short, the signing should be a win-win for Devils’ GM Ray Shero. Not only do they boast a couple of first overall picks in Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall, but their acquisition of Boyle gives them a veteran forward they’ve lacked since David Clarkson departed for free agency in 2013. Although Boyle isn’t an NHL star, he’s one of the most underrated players in the league for the little things he does on the ice such as killing penalties, win faceoffs, and score timely goals. Boyle has played 106 playoff games in his career, so it’s pretty clear that his contract and experience is a pretty good bargain for them.
5. OVERPAID – MIKA ZIBANEJAD
When you think of New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad, he probably doesn’t strike you as an elite player. Zibanejad had a slow, yet decent start to his career with the Ottawa Senators. Despite having a 50-point year in 2015-16, they traded him to the Rangers last summer for Derick Brassard. Zibanejad struggled to fit in their system and consistently produce points for the Sens, which is why they pulled they shipped him to The Big Apple.
Although Zibanejad picked up 37 points due to a lower-body injury in his first season with New York, he did not disappoint in the 2017 playoffs, collecting nine points in 12 games.
The Rangers re-signed him to an extension worth $26.75 million for five years and has an AAV of $5.35 million. He could be the Rangers’ top center next season thanks to the Derek Stepan trade, but their front office is taking a financial risk on a really streaky player. If he doesn’t fix his offensive struggles and stays healthy, it might come back to haunt them in the future. They better hope he’s worth the $5.35 million cap hit!
4. BARGAIN – JUSTIN WILLIAMS
A three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Carolina Hurricanes in ’06 and Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and ’14, forward Justin Williams returned to the Canes for a second stint this offseason. Best known as “Mr. Game 7”, Williams has played over 1,000 NHL games, earned the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014, and has played the last two seasons for the Washington Capitals.
The Caps chose not to re-sign Williams following a second-round playoff exit, and he accepted a two-year contract with Carolina worth $9 million. It carries an AAV of $4.5 million, so this is not a huge overpayment towards a guy who’s collected 682 career points. However, his skillset and championship experience should be worth every penny for a Hurricanes team that should trend upwards.
3. OVERPAID – BRIAN DUMOULIN
This signing might come as a surprise, but the Penguins’ Brian Dumoulin stays in Pittsburgh for a while. The Maine-born defenseman arrived in Pittsburgh as part of the Jordan Staal trade with Carolina in June of 2012. Dumoulin helped the Pens win a pair of the Cups in ’16 and ’17 with his mobility and big frame, and the Pens made sure to keep him in the long term.
They signed Dumoulin to a six-year deal that incurs a cap hit of $4.6 million per year. That seems absurd for a player who’s scored two goals in 163 regular season games. It is obvious that the Pens can’t count on Dumoulin to score goals, but at least he is capable of logging 15-20 minutes of ice time per game. He’s played a total of 54 playoff games and performed admirably with a heavy workload en route to being a two-time Cup winner.
2. BARGAIN – JEAN-GABRIEL PAGEAU
The Ottawa Senators should thank the late Bryan Murray and their scouts for drafting a homegrown player in Jean-Gabriel Pageau six years ago.
Despite not being a 20-goal scorer in the regular season, Pageau has emerged as a clutch playoff performer, and the eight goals he scored in the 2017 postseason proved that point. During the second round of the playoffs, Pageau lit up the Rangers with four goals, scoring three times in regulation and the overtime winner that lifted Ottawa to a Game 2 win.
His heroics earned him a three-year extension worth $9.3 million that lasts until 2019-20 with an AAV of $3.1 million. That looks like a good bargain for Sens’ GM Pierre Dorion, but their goal was to keep the 24-year-old from becoming an RFA. Of course, Pageau left a good impression the last two years with 43 points in 2015-16, and 33 last season while playing all 82 games! It’d be disappointing if Pageau regresses offensively.
1. OVERPAID – PATRICK MARLEAU
Patrick Marleau may go down as one of the most stunning free agent signings from the Toronto Maple Leafs this offseason. The long-time San Jose Shark inked a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Leafs that carries an AAV of $6.25 million.
Marleau left behind a Sharks team that he endeared himself to for 19 seasons. He is still the Sharks’ all-time leader in goals, points, and games played. His decision to leave San Jose was certainly difficult on him and his family, but the upside is that the Leafs boast rising stars in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.
Marleau is set to mentor the Leafs young guns, but their front office overpaid for him since he’s seemingly past his prime. He would be 40 years old when the deal expires in 2019-20, but don’t be surprised if he retires next year or ’19 after a disappointing year in Toronto. But if head coach Mike Babcock gives him the right amount of ice time each game, Marleau could hit about 30 points and potentially increase Matthews’ point production this coming season.
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