Over $360 million dollars were spent on July 1st by teams jockeying to improve their position in the National Hockey League. As a result of the money spent, there were solid acquisitions and there were some less than fundamentally sound moves made by teams around the league. Teams made moves to improve when it may or may not have been needed. In some cases, players may have signed deals way out of line with their true value.
American teams made moves to try and bolster their roster and bring in talent, and some had an advantage over their Canadian counterparts due to different tax burdens. Teams secured their club’s future by signing key talent to long-term deals that will help define who and what their core is all about. In other cases, teams that are simply trying to hold on may have to come to grips with losing a key part of their team’s success over the last decade, and are left to simply search for possible alternatives.
17 Teams That Got Better
16 Tampa Bay Lightning
It just seems like everything Steve Yzerman touches turns to gold. He has the respect of his coaches, his ownership, and after July 1st the respect of his players. Stamkos, Hedman and Vasilevsky are three key cogs in the Lightning machine that Yzerman made sure to lock up for the long term. The Stamkos signing was the biggest of the moves, simply because he potentially left money on the table even though he still received a great eight-year contract. While Yzerman still has work to do, on this particular day, Yzerman ensured that key parts of the team's core is in place for years to come. Often times the best moves are done internally, and by looking to secure the team’s core young talent, Yzerman has ensured that the Lightning remain a threat for years to come.
15 Buffalo Sabres
While rumors had circulated that the Sabres were the one team that were prepared to offer eleven million dollars annually to Stamkos, that didn’t mean they didn’t have a contingency plan in the event that it didn’t work out with the Markham, Ontario native. One of the biggest names on the free agent market was New York Islanders forward Kyle Okoposo, and with a six year forty-two million dollar offer on the table, the Sabres got their man. The deal was made official within the first twenty minutes after free agents could formally agree to proposed deals. What is so exciting about this announcement is that Okoposo will have the chance to work alongside 2015 first overall draft pick Jack Eichel, who had a tremendous rookie season. The future appears bright with this young western New York team.
14 Calgary Flames
Two years removed from a season with no expectations on them, the Calgary Flames were left scratching their head after the 2015-2016 campaign. A team that is full of young and promising talent such as Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau needed more leadership upfront, and after a July 1st flurry of activity, appear to have done just that. The Flames signed former St. Louis Blue Troy Brouwer to a four year, eighteen-million-dollar deal. Brouwer’s showing in this past year’s playoffs is likely where the deal had to have originated from. Experience and leadership on a young team is never a bad thing, and in Brouwer’s case it appears to be the right fit for both him and this young Flames team. The Flames also appeared to strengthen their goaltending situation with the additions of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson.
13 Florida Panthers
The Dale Tallon led team has been notorious for having to overspend in order to make the salary floor. This time around, General Manager Tom Rowe wanted to first ensure that they secured their own players before looking outside of the organization. The team signed defenseman Aaron Ekblad to an eight-year contract extension worth an estimated sixty million dollars. Ekblad was the Panthers first pick in 2014, and a former Calder trophy candidate. At only twenty years of age, he has the firm support of team ownership and management, made clear by this deal. The team also signed former Toronto Maple Leaf and San Jose Shark goaltender James Reimer, who provides the team a reliable backup, or potential starter considering the age and health of current net minder Roberto Luongo. And let's not forget about the additions of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, which bolster their blue line considerably.
12 San Jose Sharks
After their disappointing loss in the Stanley Cup finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Sharks had a decision to make. They could either retool and try to contend once again, or simply fold up and rebuild for the future. The result after the July 1st Free Agent Frenzy rush was to stand up and contend. The pick-ups of Mikkel Boedker and David Schlemko meant that that the team, led by the likes of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, would not go gentle into the night. The depth added provides the team with legitimate threats that are both quick and strong in their bottom six. Also of note is the re-signing of centre Tomas Hertl, who will be part of their core moving forward. The question now is what else will the team do, given they are still three million under the cap.
11 Boston Bruins
This original six franchise has always been known for putting a quality product on the ice for a couple of reasons. They are a major market, and so television revenue is substantial. Another reason is the financial commitment ownership has invested not only acquiring talent, but developing it as well. While they may have stumbled in the past few years, the recent additions of former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, plus John-Michael Liles and Riley Nash, meant the team was focused on bringing in not only a youthful forward, but leadership and steady puck handling on the backend. The term and length of the deal for Backes may be suspect to some, as he signed a five year and thirty million dollar contract, but it was a price the team was willing to spend to ensure the team remains focused moving forward.
10 Minnesota Wild
Some may wonder how does a team that relieved its head coach of his duties at the midway point of the regular season, and bought out a former all-star, be a team that has improved. But bringing on Bruce Boudreau to steer your ship, signing former Carolina Hurricane’s captain Eric Staal and while maintaining your core means you have certainly improved your standing. Their work isn’t done yet, as they still have a number of young talent still to sign including RFA defensemen Matthew Dumba. The addition of Staal is the most intriguing. He and Mikko Koivu immediately add depth down the middle, and the deal was not only reasonable for a team that previously backed up the Brinks truck for the likes of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but is also multi-year deal that helps the team over the next couple of seasons.
9 New Jersey Devils
The Devils made one of the biggest splashes in the off season prior to the July 1st Free Agent Frenzy of activities. The deal that sent defensemen Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall was huge. Many have stated that the immediate dividends goes to the Devils, as the belief is that Hall will make an immediate impact while Larsson will still need time to develop. With UFA Patrik Elias’ future with the team uncertain, Hall will be an important part of the team’s core for years to come, along with forwards Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, goaltender Cory Scheider and defensemen Andy Greene. While some parts may be interchangeable, the team is moving in the right direction and is posed to still add more talent with more than ten million dollars remaining in cap space for the 2016/2017 season.
8 Teams That Got Worse
7 Detroit Red Wings
There was upside for Detroit after they cleared cap space by moving Pavel Datsyuk’s contract during the NHL draft, but their choice to replace his scoring is a little puzzling. Signing Frans Nielsen from the New York Islanders to a five year, thirty-one and a half million-dollar contract is somewhat steep. Yes, former teammate Kyle Okoposo earned more term with a younger team in Buffalo, and more money, but one questions the value put on Nielsen, considering he has only scored more than twenty goals twice in his career. Also, Thomas Vanek was signed to a one-year deal. He had been bought out by Minnesota not only as a cost cutting measure, but due to underperformance. Can Detroit expect a better result? Another question is whether the veteran leadership of Steve Ott was a necessity, especially if it takes away ice time from other promising talent.
6 New York Islanders
The once promising Islanders have been hit by losing key cogs in the team’s competitive wheels, since both Okoposo and Nielsen were signed away to lucrative contracts on July 1st. With New York knowing full well that they had to make a major signing to ensure that someone replaced that scoring, they did just that. They inked former Winnipeg Jet and Chicago Blackhawk Andrew Ladd to a seven year, thirty-eight and a half million-dollar contract. That is a fairly steep price to pay for a player who will be thirty-seven at the end of the term. While some players regress in their early thirties, the Islanders hope that isn’t the case for Ladd, who was a disappointment during his second go-round with the Blackhawks. The addition of Jason Chimera may provide the team some solace, but that isn’t a certainty.
5 New York Rangers
A few years removed from the Stanley Cup playoff finals, nothing notable happened to make this team better. Forward Eric Staal was signed by Minnesota to a three-year deal, they lost key defensemen such as Keith Yandle, but made peculiar signings as well. Given the lack of consistent production from Mikael Grabner and smaller center and former Carolina Hurricane Nathan Gerbe, these signings were somewhat odd. The addition of Adam Clendening may benefit the team moving forward, but he was passed up on by teams such as Vancouver and Chicago in the past, so one has to wonder if this is his last chance to make it in the league. It truly appears as though a complete overhaul is in store for the Rangers going into the 2016/2017 season, since the team has lost key depth offensively over the past few years.
4 Philadelphia Flyers
Given former net minder and current General Manager Ron Hextall stated that he needed added ‘scoring and play-making,’ one wonders about his addition of Dale Weise. Weise’s career high in goals is fourteen. The additions of Boyd Gordon and minor leaguer Andy Miele does make us scratch our head as to what exactly Hextall has in mind. With no imminent moves pending for the team, and forward Brayden Schenn having to consider a qualifying offer, there just doesn’t appear to be enough depth of scoring by the Flyers moving forward. These are key considerations as, unlike the film Slapshot, battles cannot only be won with players’ fists but on the scoresheet as well. Their size and strength will only take them so far, and after the first day of free agency, Hextall did little to make a difference to the team’s overall on-ice skill level.
3 Ottawa Senators
If there was one team that took a step back this off-season, it is unquestionably the Ottawa Senators. Filled with a roster that includes the likes of Chad Nehring, Casey Bailey, Max McCormick, Phil Varone, Mike Kostka and Mike Blunden, one has to wonder who will lead this team. None of the players mentioned earned any more than eight hundred and seventy-four thousand a year. Despite this, General Manager Pierre Dorion stated that a number of the free agents they had their eye one were still on the market. The question is, why not make that effort on the first day? Every other team in their division made moves to improve their team, while Ottawa remained stagnant and didn’t move on anyone this particular day. It’s only day one they say, they’ll improve they say. We shall see.
2 St. Louis Blues
How does a team that made it to the Western conference final take a step back? When you lose valued leadership like Troy Brower and David Backes, you are certainly taking a step back. They have kept the core intact, and with free agency major talent can always be scooped away. What is a concern is that with key leadership now removed from the team, they need to find talent to not only replace it, but at a cost friendly price that makes sense for the team. Another concern is the departure via trade of goaltender Brian Elliott, who was a key part of the team’s success in this past season’s Stanley Cup playoffs. The biggest elephant in the room, however, is whether or not a deal is made for Kevin Shattenkirk, who could demand a king’s ransom on the open market after the 2016/2017 season.
1 Anaheim Ducks
This is a team that appeared poised to take steps forward after the 2014/2015 season, but have been relatively quiet here in the off season. With talk of moving defensemen Cam Fowler, who appeared to be a key part of the team’s future, more questions appear to have arisen. They did acquire winger Mason Raymond, who once again will have to prove himself in order to earn a long term deal once this year has ended. With over twenty-five million dollars in cap space allocated to Cory Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, the concern could be that other changes may be needed. There are questions about what will happen with impending free agents Brandon Pirri, Shawn Horcoff and Mike Santorelli, as their roles on the team are to add depth and there is no certainty that deals may be reached with all of them.