They call it “Free Agent Frenzy,” and to NHL General Managers it’s a time where they can cement their legacy of making genius moves to win a Cup or disastrous ones that paralyze their team. They can pick the pieces to solidify their lineup, generate excitement, and fill their fans with images of parades. All GMs have to do is predict the future, be judicious and fiscally responsible, avoid the hype, and wait for the beginning of October to see what the heck they did.
More often than not, GMs fail miserably. They pay on past performances, fear of rivals signing the player, and desperation. One of the earliest busts occurred in 2003, when Teemu Selanne and Paul Karriya took pay cuts to try to win their first Cups and signed with a loaded Avalanche team. It seemed impossible to fail, but it did, because as all fans know, great teams rarely win the Cup by names alone but by guts and chemistry. Another terrible signing was Buffalo jumping all over a very mediocre season by the Flyers’ Ville Leino. The 27 year old winger had a career-best, whopping 53 points and scored a six-year, $27 million deal from the Sabres. Leino was a massive mistake in Buffalo with a lowly 8 goals and 25 points. Then he got hurt and went the entire 2013-14 season without scoring a single goal. The Flyers dodged that bullet but were hit with the Bryzgalov failure, a $51-million deal they are still paying for. Then, in 2013, with a shallow pool reminiscent of this year, Toronto signed the 1 time 30 goal scorer David Clarkson to a six-year, $37-million deal. Clarkson got himself suspended, never fit in with the Leafs, and even topped the Leino disaster.
The Frenzy of 2016-17 saw GMs spend over $300 million. Every team is putting a positive spin on what they did or didn’t do, and convinced themselves they are better off even if they lost out on premiere players. Some teams went all in, some are starting over, and some are just trying to survive a salary cap world. Time will only tell, but my crystal ball will tell you now what teams won and which teams lost.
15. Best – Kevin Shattenkirk To New York
Shattenkirk was the top defenseman on the market and the Rangers scored big time by signing the New York native to a 4 year, $26.6 million deal. The Blue Shirts added a deadly offensive weapon who can quarterback the power play, score 5 on 5, and kill penalties. Though he isn’t very physical, he’s such a smooth skater and sees the game so well that he is also dependable in his own end. The term and salary are very team friendly and the Rangers will have Shattenkirk through his prime and have room under the cap. He won’t bring back memories of Leetch, but he’ll eat up minutes and instantly make them better. Furthermore, they certainly weaken a reeling Capitals team that gave up draft picks and failed to resign their deadline pickup. He doesn’t guarantee the Rangers anything, they aren’t as far along as the Caps team that traded for him to be their missing piece last year, but he’ll provide a lot of value in New York.
14. Worst – Martin Hanzal To Dallas
I didn’t like him in Minnesota, apparently the Wild didn’t either, and I don’t understand what Dallas saw. The Stars signed the overrated, two-way center to a three-year, $14.25 million contract to give Hitchcock the best chance to win now. Dallas may end up doing that, but it will have more to do with Bishop and other players than the over hyped, enigmatic, and overpaid center. The former 1st round pick has quietly played 10 years now, and averaged 57 games played over the last 7 years. He barely averages a half point per game, and when he was added to the Wild for their playoff run last season, he was a non factor. Sure, he’s got great size and is terrific at faceoffs, but this is the type of contract teams hate because it inflates the value of average players. Hanzal seems to have all the tools which makes GMs drool, but he is injury prone, doesn’t finish, and vanishes in big games.
13. Best – Patrick Marleau to Toronto
Statistically, there is no way Marleau is worth his 3 year, $18.75 million contract, but for this Leafs team he’ll be worth every penny. It will certainly be strange to see the old captain and assistant captain who played 19 years in San Jose in a different uniform, but he’s a piece Toronto needs. He was often criticized for his lack of being a “vocal” leader, but they don’t need him for that. In Toronto, he’ll be a silent leader and presence. He can play on any line, the power play, and shorthanded. He still has the skills and speed to keep up with the kids and he will find his role and fill it.
Best of all, in three years, when his contract is up, the team will have gotten everything they need from him. His money will come off the books and can be put into extensions or free agent signings. It’s a perfect term, price, and fit for this club.
12. Worst – Carey Price Extension
Good for Carey Price to sign such a monster deal, but this is a panicky move for the Canadiens who know their door is closing. The 29-year-old netminder has slowly started to face injury problems, his game fades in the second half of the season, and his recent playoff performances have been less than spectacular. I can’t imagine Price refusing a slight raise for the next 5-6 years or even a 5 or 6 year deal for the same money. Instead, this deal for a goalie starting the long decline is going to strangle the Habs with a $10.5 million cap hit for the next decade. It’s also poor cap management and foresight with the Weber contract and future signings. I can’t believe Price and the Habs won’t regret this because the Canadiens will have very little room to add key players.
11. Best – Justin Schultz Re-signing
Schultz shows why being a GM can drive a person nuts. Edmonton jumped on the young UFA with tons of promise, but the hockey gods didn’t smile on him in Edmonton. His offensive game was inconsistent and his defense was awful. He was often confused, looked lost, and no part of his game lived up to the hype. It’s hard to fault Peter Chiarelli to not want to give Schultz the obligatory raise and long term deal, so they cut ties and he went to the Penguins for a song. Then, every GMs worst nightmare came true as his game came together in Pittsburgh. The Pens saw all the characteristics Edmonton hoped for as he replaced Kris Letang, ran the power play, and played terrific defense. The Penguins and Schultz signed a fair, 3 year and $16.5 million deal.
10. Worst – T.J. Oshie 8-Year Extension
The Capitals loss to the Penguins was crushing and it has trickled down into their off season. They seem lost and confused and have made some curious moves and trades. There is no doubt that Oshie is a terrific teammate and very good player. He is an excellent possession player and two way forward who can play on the power play, shorthanded, and at any stage of the game. However, he just turned 30 and is coming off a career year where he scored 30 goals for the first time. The Caps seemed to “choke” and Brian MacLellan signed him to an 8 year contract with a cap hit of $5.75 million. INSANE! Oshie would have never received that term and money from anyone. Washington just locked up some serious money when younger and better players will want it.
9. Best – Connor McDavid
A 20-year-old boy just signed an 8 year extension for $12.5 million per season. So how is this good? Well the 20-year-old already scored 100 points, won the Art Ross, the Hart Trophy, has made his team a serious contender, and is the “generational talent” teams tank for. Some argue this type of contract will prevent the Oilers from signing guys like Draisaitl, but many teams have been able to sign at least two players to mega contracts. It will put pressure on management to draft well and make smart signings, and it also puts pressure on the players. McDavid will have to elevate average players’ game, a la Crosby and Kane, but these guys can do it. And of course, they’ll need to win a Cup.
8. Worst- Alexander Radulov’s 5-Year Deal
It’s a sad state of affairs when a 31-year-old is coming off a career year with 18 goals (107th in the league), 36 assists, and 54 points signs a five year, $31.25 million contract. Radulov makes Oshie look like a steal. So what’s going on? By Dallas over paying Hanzal and Radulov, they are going all in for the next year or two and could care less about the future. They think these 2 players can add enough scoring depth to win the Cup now. Many teams have tried this approach and more often it fails, but the Stars are going for it. I bet it fails miserably, for Hanzal and Radulov are far from elite. Then Dallas will sink to tanking status in hopes of landing the next #87 or #97.
7. Best – Habs Trading For Jonathon Drouin
I predicted Drouin would be dealt, but I never thought Yzerman would send him where he wanted to go. Though Mikhail Sergachev, the main player going to Tampa may turn into something special, Drouin is much closer to actualizing his potential. The 22-year-old has improved every year and has already surpassed Radulov, Hanzal, and Oshie as a far more complete and impactful player. Drouin is also 7-8 years younger, so when he signed a 6 year, $33 million (average annual value of $5.5 million) contract, it makes Dallas and Washington look silly. You can argue they didn’t have to give up a young, valued defensive prospect, but to get the superstar in waiting for a better price is a no brainer.
6. Worst- Marcus Johansson Traded To New Jersey
The Capitals GM, Brian MacLellan, signed the 30-year-old Oshie to an 8 year, $5.75 million dollar cap hit after netting over 30 goals for the first time while playing on the first line. Then, he traded the 26-year-old Swede, Johansson, who scored 24 goals and 34 assists for 58 points, also a career high but on the 2nd line, for 2 non first round draft picks. Huh? The playoff loss has left the Caps dazed and confused. How does this make sense? I know stats don’t mean everything, but Johansson is faster, more skilled, and the picks are a shot in the dark. New Jersey has suddenly become a player.
5. Best- Dallas Acquiring (And Extending) Ben Bishop
Dallas did do something right this off season when they made another move I predicted by sending a 4th round pick to the Kings for the huge goaltender. The 30-year-old then signed a fair value contract for 6 years and just south of $5 million a year. Now Bishop is not the best goalie in the world, but with a 6’7″ frame and the ridiculously large padding, he fills the net and can make saves by accident. Even though his stick work and feet are clearly weaknesses, he is a huge improvement in net. He alone is enough to put the Stars back in the playoffs. Now if only Dallas wasn’t stuck with Kari Lehtonen’s $5.9 million cap hit to back up Bishop.
4. Worst- Nick Bonino To Nashville
Though many hockey people love the signing, it’s a waste. Bonino was a great fit on Pittsburgh, where a solid 3rd line guy could benefit from a top heavy lineup. Nashville didn’t lose the Cup because of a lack of competent two way forwards. They lost because Rinne ran out of juice and they couldn’t score on Matt Murray. So how does signing the 29 year old Bonino t0 a 4 year, $4.1 million dollar contract help? It doesn’t. Bonino is a nice player, but 3rd line centers should be young, emerging draft picks or less expensive veterans. He has no shot at suffocating bigger, faster, and stronger centers in the east or west. Is it that big of an upgrade over Mike Fisher?
3. Best – Andre Burakowswky Staying In Washington
Washington had the worst offseason in the league, but at least MacLellan got this right. They signed Burakowswky to a… two year, $6 million contract. That’s about all they could afford because of the Oshie contract, which cost them Johansson, and may cost them the young left winger. Burakowswky’s points per game increased in his 3rd year and he should only get better. He also had a very good playoff season for the underwhelming Caps. The Capitals could be in a precarious cap position very soon, and as the Ovechkin era starts closing they won’t have any young talent. Their window is definitely closing and one might wonder if their best chance has already passed with several of their players leaving this summer.
2. Worst – Washington Overpaying Evgeny Kuznetsov
Washington thinks the 25-year-old Kuznetsov is the next premier center so MacLellan signed him to an eight year, $7.8 million per season contract. In 2015-16, he had a career season with 20 goals and 77 points, but was awesome all over the ice. He showed elite skill but also used his size and speed to split defenses and really drive the net. But last season he took a huge step back, scored 18 less points, was tied for 107th in goals, and 43rd in points. Despite a huge drop in points and in overall play, he was offered high end money. Thus is the dilemma of a GM. A year ago, despite the points and based on his play, no one would question this contract. But now? MacLellan must be right.
1. Best – Columbus Acquiring Artemi Panarin
And this, my friend, is proof of hockey gods. In 2010, this kid was 19 and not one GM drafted him. He went back to Russia, and 5 years later, Chicago invited the then, 24 year old in for a tryout as every other GM was sleeping. Suddenly, this young man puts together two straight 30 goal, 70 point seasons, and wins Rookie of the Year. Suddenly, he woke up the hockey world with an amazing hockey IQ, an ability to read teammates, slip into seams and open space, and had an accurate, wicked shot. More so than any player on this list, a HUGE raise was coming, but with monster contracts signed by Kane and Toews, Bowman knew he couldn’t afford him and sent him to Columbus.
The Blue Jackets might now have the only offense capable of scoring with the Penguins, and though Bowman got some players back, his hands were tied. Columbus got the best available player, but they’ll have serious contractual decisions to make very soon. Hockey gods? Toews and Kane openly criticized the deal. Think they would have renegotiated their contracts to keep Panarin? NOT.
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