The bulk of the top NHL free agents of 2016 have now found their long-term homes where many will likely finish their careers. This was absolutely one of the most exciting Canada Days in years, when it came to marquee free agent signings that could change the landscape of the NHL.
Though the top free agent, Steven Stamkos, re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning after all signs pointed to him leaving and finding a new home, there was plenty of star power and world-class talent on the market. And almost all of those players found new teams, and made gigantic money.
Some teams didn't get the guys they wanted, while others lost some of their core players in free agency. Some teams also made themselves much better in the long run with big signings, while some players became ultimate winners for landing huge contracts. Or on the flip side, some were losers for getting much smaller money than they probably expected.
With most of the top free agents off the market, let's take a look at eight winners and eight losers from 2016 NHL free agency.
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16 Winner: San Jose Sharks
The Sharks lost a heart-breaking Stanley Cup Final series to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. The main reason for that? They weren't able to keep up with the Pens' speed and their opponents wore down their players with ferocious forechecking.
San Jose didn't opt to sit back. They landed a speedy winger to a very friendly four-year deal worth $16 million. Mikkel Boedker scored 17 goals with the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche, two non-playoff teams. He's still looking for his first 20-goal season, but Joe Thornton and Logan Couture can help him reach that.
So the Sharks addressed their biggest weakness? Check. Got him at a good price? Check? He's only 26? Check. A huge win for Doug Wilson as San Jose once again looks primed for a deep playoff run in 2017.
Losing the Stanley Cup surely hurt the Sharks fan base, but how can you not be excited about this addition?
15 Loser: Los Angeles Kings
The Kings were embarrassed by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of this year's playoffs and it was evident there was plenty lacking. They needed more speed and much more talent on the defensive side to help Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin out.
They didn't have much cap space to add a big name. To make matters worse, Milan Lucic, a power forward who scored 20 goals and played a huge role in their success in 2015-16, departed to join the Edmonton Oiler. Also, he Vancouver Canucks (Loui Eriksson), Calgary Flames (Troy Brouwer) and aforementioned San Jose Sharks (Boedker) all got much better. They all happen to be Pacific Divisional foes of the Kings.
The Kings' Stanley Cup window is closing faster than you may think and they didn't do a whole lot of anything to try to keep it open longer. Unless the signing of inconsistent forward Teddy Purcell happens to be a major steal.
14 Winner: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning nearly reached the Stanley Cup Final without Stamkos for all but one game in the playoffs. So you're telling us that they have him for eight more years, while he took a discount that will help them lock up rising stars Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Jonathan Drouin?
Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup window is open much longer now as their 26-year-old superstar committed the rest of his prime years to the Lightning. Losing him would have been a huge blow and there was simply no quick way of replacing him. And if Stamkos did sign with Detroit, Buffalo or Toronto (three of the favourites to grab him), then the Lightning would have to deal with him playing within their division, only rubbing more salt in the wound.
But all that matters is that Stamkos came back home and Steve Yzerman worked his mojo again. This team should be considered a Cup contender for years to come.
13 Loser: Former Standout Veterans
Remember 30-goal man, Radim Vrbata?
As of this writing, he hasn't signed with a team and hasn't gotten many offers. Perhaps if he had signed a one-year deal with the Canucks two years back or simply replicated his 2014-15 success, the speedy winger could have landed a bigger contract.
But a disastrous 2015-16 campaign likely ended any hopes of Vrbata landing a huge contract. If anything else, he'll probably have to settle for a one-year pact for less than $3 million.
He's not the only one. Jiri Hudler, who had a 31-goal and 76-point season in 2014-15, saw his stock go way down this past season. He had just 16 goals and 46 points in games split with Calgary and Florida. He remains unsigned and probably won't get a long-term deal like he could have a year ago. As for Kris Russell? It doesn't look like he may get the reported five-year deal worth $5 million a season he was looking for. He remains the top free agent unsigned.
12 Winner: Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens have a major problem scoring. It's a reason they have not been able to reach the Stanley Cup for the last two decades. GM Marc Bergevin traded for Andrew Shaw at the Draft and traded P.K. Subban for constant 20-goal blueliner Shea Weber.
But he wasn't done there, landing KHL star Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million, when it was rumoured his asking price was $7 million.
Some teams didn't call Radulov due to concerns about his attitude, but Bergevin only committed one year to the deal. Radulov brings plenty of speed and finesse to the Habs lineup which has been lacking for a while. If he pans out, then Bergevin got the bargain of the offseason. And if he manages to be a major letdown, it was only for a season. It's a low-risk and potentially very high reward for a team that is under pressure to rebound in 2016-17.
11 Loser: Dan Hamhuis/Vancouver Canucks
It was a weird season for Dan Hamhuis.
The Vancouver Canucks were heavily expected to trade him at this year's deadline with the playoffs being a pipe dream with just two months to go. But Hamhuis also wanted to stay and nixed a possible trade to Boston. He wanted to go to Dallas, but they had traded already for Kris Russell.
Vancouver got nothing for him at the deadline as they held onto him. But he'd sign a long-term deal to finish his career with his home province team, right?
Nope. The Canucks ended up being silly for not getting a deal done at the deadline. But Hamhuis was no winner either, signing a below-market value deal going to the Stars for two years and just $7.5 million. Given the lack of depth on the blueline in Big D, Hamhuis is going to be asked to play excruciating minutes and he sure as heck will deserve much more.
Nobody became a winner out of this situation. Except Dallas, of course.
10 Winner: The Sedin Twins
How can the Canucks be losers, but their two franchise players winners?
Well, Vancouver's six-year, $36 million contract to a 31-year-old Loui Eriksson is probably going to bring plenty of regret in three or four years. Most players like Eriksson don't play well into their mid-30s.
But the Sedin Twins, who'll both turn 36 in September, have two years left on their contract and may not have much playing time left once their current deals expire. But they're winners in the fact they'll have probably their best linemate ever, as they near the twilight of their careers.
The Sedins and Eriksson have plenty of experience playing with Sweden together in the Olympics and World Hockey Championships, and probably this year's World Cup of Hockey. Like we said, the Canucks will learn in four years that they're stuck with Eriksson's contract when he's not living up to it, but the Sedins will enjoy every bit of time they get with a fellow Swedish star.
9 Loser: Eric Staal
Eric Staal chose the worst possible time to have his worst season since 2003-04, when he was a rookie.
In 83 games with the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers in 2015-16, he managed just 13 goals and 39 points, the second lowest of his career. Before that, he had a 100-point season in 2005-06 and had six other seasons of reaching 70-plus points.
He had 53 in a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, 61 in 2013-14, and 54 last season. If he posted those types of numbers this year, he would have landed a giant contract. Instead, he had to settle for a three-year deal worth $10.5 million per season. It's actually a lose-lose situation for him. If he performs great, he knows he was vastly underpaid and should have taken a one-year pact. If he continues his decline, he'll regret committing to Minnesota for three seasons, where he won't get many chances to play top-six minutes.
8 Winner: James Reimer
You'd notice just how great James Reimer is if he was on basically any team other than the Toronto Maple Leafs. Entering 2016-17, he has a 91-78-23 record with a 2.79 GAA, and .914 save percentage, those numbers would be much better if he was given the full-time starter's role, but he often lost out to Jonathan Bernier.
He was traded to San Jose at this year's trade deadline, posting a 6-2 record with three shutouts. Though they didn't win the Stanley Cup, he became a huge winner after signing a solid deal with the Florida Panthers. There won't be any media scrutiny like he faced in Toronto. He's the backup to Roberto Luongo and should seek plenty more starts with Luongo getting up there in age (37).
But why was Reimer a winner? This backup was given a five-year deal worth $17 million. While it's possible that he'll be Bobby Lu's successor in Florida (which explains the contract), it's still a great contract for a backup.
7 Loser: Thomas Vanek
Two years ago was the summer of Thomas Vanek...Or so we thought.
Coming off of an impressive playoff performance with the Montreal Canadiens, he drove up his stock and landed a nice three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Minnesota Wild. He posted just 39 goals and 93 points in two seasons with the team, and was bought out this summer.
Still, once the top-end talents signed with new teams, you could have thought easily someone would overpay Vanek or at least give him a multi-year deal. A return to the Habs seemed like a great fit.
Nope. He settled for a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings for $2.6 million. That's all the eight-time 50-point scorer got on the open market. Vanek didn't get paid well, and now the pressure is on him. If he flops in Detroit, he could very well have problems finding another home in the NHL. Does Alexander Semin ring a bell to anyone?
6 Winner: Veterans Who Got (Over) PAID!
For Andrew Ladd, Kyle Okposo, and Loui Eriksson, the summer couldn't have treated them better.
None of these guys are bonafide superstars, which means none of them should have landed contracts that went north of four or five years. But GMs are always willing to overpay and these guys now have enough cash to buy all of the gold in Fort Knox.
Ladd, whose best season was a 24-38-62 campaign in 2014-15, got paid like a Joe Pavelski type player, landing a seven-year contract worth $38.5 million. The two-time Stanley Cup champion is 30-years-old and probably only has two more productive years left. Good on him to land a huge contract, though.
Okposo has a pair of 60-point campaigns under his belt, but he's not a superstar. His success should widely be credited to John Tavares. The Buffalo Sabres took a huge gamble paying a three-time 20-goal scorer $42 million over seven years. Keep in mind Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, and other prospects will need to get paid huge contracts soon.
Then there's Loui Eriksson. He plays a strong two-way game, but will the 31-year-old really be worth the $36 million in six years? He probably has two more prime years left, but like the other two on this list, he got paid like a true superstar.
5 Loser: Toronto Maple Leafs
You can make a case that the Maple Leafs may have done the right thing to stand pat and continue with the "Shanaplan," by stockpiling draft picks and prospects and having them guide you through the future.
But let's be honest, had Stamkos hit free agency, you can bet the house that the Leafs were in on him and that he would want to play for his hometown team. Adding the perennial 40-goal scorer would have sped up the rebuilding process quickly. Him and Auston Matthews could be as scary as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Rebuilding teams add key veterans to go all the way. The Chicago Blackhawks added Marian Hossa to land them three Stanley Cups. The Los Angeles Kings added Dustin Penner, Jarrett Stoll, and Justin Williams.
The Leafs may add some veteran help in the next couple of seasons, but the time to do it could have been now. Leaf Land is sick of seeing them compete for the top pick every year and adding some experience to mentor the young guns could have helped.
4 Winner: Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings had a difficult start to their offseason, as Pavel Datsyuk retired and they were originally on the books for the last year of his contract. They shipped it to the Arizona Coyotes, clearing up cap space to find his replacement(s).
As mentioned earlier, they got Thomas Vanek on a one-year deal worth $2.6 million. He could end up being the steal of the offseason and the Wings have a knack for making great reclamation projects (Larry Murphy, anyone?). They added veteran grinder Steve Ott on a one-year contract, and he provides grit and size, something the Wings strongly lack from their bottom six forwards. Speedy checker Darren Helm was re-upped for five years, $19.25 million.
But their biggest catch was inking centre Frans Nielsen to a six-year contract worth $31.5 million. It was too much term and money, but the Wings needed to fill Datsyuk's void and they did that right away.
Another great offseason for Mr. Ken Holland.
3 Loser: Boston Bruins
The Bruins lost two-way 30-goal man Loui Eriksson to Western rival the Vancouver Canucks. But GM Don Sweeney didn't panic, as he signed David Backes to a five-year, $30 million contract to fill the void.
Except that doesn't really fix the problem. Backes is 32-years-old and has plenty of mileage on his body do to his lengthy playoff runs. Pair that with his two-way game that wears down those players very quickly. The overpaid Backes likely won't come close to replicating Eriksson's numbers.
But that's not the main problem. The Bruins desperately need help on the blueline and they failed to address that concern. They bought out veteran defenceman Dennis Seidenberg and are still relying on 39-year-old Zdeno Chara to carry the bulk of the load.
Sweeney wants to get his team back to the playoffs, hence the heavy spending. But he spent it on the wrong guy. He would've been better off trying to land two blueliners like Hamhuis and Russell for extremely affordable deals.
2 Winner: Edmonton Oilers and Milan Lucic
10 years without the playoffs. Every time we hear it's "Edmonton's time," they wind up finishing with a top-five pick in the Entry Draft. But times are changing quickly and that's thanks to the recruitment of a star veteran that'll make a huge difference.
Milan Lucic, hockey's ultimate power forward and a Stanley Cup champion, got paid big time, inking a seven-year contract for $42 million. Hard for anyone to call him a loser. But the best part? He's playing with Connor McDavid, who has a great shot of topping the performance of Sidney Crosby in his career.
But the Oilers are also huge winners. They FINALLY have a forward with size. Lucic will probably be on a line with McDavid and Jordan Eberle. It's the Marty McSorley and Wayne Gretzky effect: You can't mess with the top star unless you want to deal with the big bully.
The Oilers could legitimately own hockey's top line in the next couple of seasons. Lucic joins a rebuilding team as that key piece they need. He earned the huge money he deserved and gets to play with hockey's brightest upcoming star.
A new dynasty, anyone?
1 Loser: St. Louis Blues
The Blues were outworked and outdone in every way possible when they faced the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final, before bowing out in six games. Obviously, plenty of help is needed to get them over the top.
So their idea (so far) has been to sign zero impact free agents while letting dangerous forwards Troy Brouwer and David Backes walk. The latter wanted to stay, but a contract wasn't going to happen. They could have kept Brouwer, as his four-year, $18 million contract with Calgary wasn't too far out of their reach.
St. Louis still has a solid young core, but they lost two of their most crucial components from 2015-16. Brouwer and Backes are proven playoff performers and St. Louis didn't bring back or replace any of them. Doug Armstrong certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt, but right now, the Blues definitely caused the questionable calls on July 1st.
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