The offseason is always a pretty busy time for GMs across the NHL as they tinker with their rosters, preparing for a brand new season. As such, every year brings a mix of great value signings and terrible contracts that will eventually handcuff a team—especially in a salary cap world.
The 2016 offseason had a handful of contracts that made headlines, as well as a healthy collection of deals that barely caused a ripple but proved to have big impacts on their respective clubs. Today’s list will take a look at both sides of the coin, as we examine eight seemingly small signings that are having positive impacts and seven big signings that are already looking a little disappointing, if not terrible.
Most of the good signings are one-year deals, and most of the players who signed those contracts were in desperate situations prior to the season’s start. Some of them would have signed any contract anywhere, so long as it was offered. Those players are rewarding their GMs for taking a chance on them.
Conversely, the big offseason signings often were coupled with longer terms, meaning that if the deals already look a little suspect, they’re only bound to get worse as we move through the deal. It’s not unusual for teams to overpay mid-to-high profile UFAs, so it’s not a huge surprise that we found seven bad signings to include here on the list today.
Without further ado, here are the top eight small offseason signings that look great, and the top seven big signings that are already giving their coaches' ulcers. Enjoy:
15 Small/Good – Kris Russell
When July 1 hit this past offseason, some pundits expected veteran defenseman Kris Russell to sign somewhere for big term and decent money. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, Russell found himself sitting on the sidelines in the first week of October, still without an employer. Finally, on October 7, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli decided to shore up his defense and sign the veteran to a one-year deal worth $3 million.
14 Big/Bad – James Reimer
Things aren’t going very well for the Florida Panthers this season, a team that is just one year removed from winning the Atlantic Division. The playoffs are looking like a pipe dream for the club at this point; it’s not that goaltending is the sole reason for that, but it’s safe to speculate that the Panthers expected a little more from James Reimer than what he’s given so far.
13 Small/Good – Eric Staal
While there was once a time Eric Staal was considered an elite NHL forward, this past offseason teams certainly weren’t clamoring to sign the veteran center. He was dealt from Carolina to the Rangers at last year’s deadline, and upon his arrival in the Big Apple he did a whole lot of nothing, which is likely why his status was at an all-time low this past summer. The Staal signing wasn’t a huge headline when it went down.
12 Big/Bad – Kyle Palmieri
The 2015-16 season saw Kyle Palmieri break out in a big way, scoring 57 points in a full 82-game campaign with the Devils. New Jersey was sold on Palmieri enough to offer him a five year extension that would see the winger make $4.65 million per season against the cap. So far, 2016-17 has seen Palmieri take a step back from last season’s production, meaning he’s a little overpriced for the Devils now.
11 Small/Good – Kris Versteeg
Kris Versteeg signed a PTO with the Edmonton Oilers prior to 2016 training camp. That’s why many people found it rather odd when the veteran winger turned around and signed a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames at the end of camp—just down the highway from Edmonton. It was a strange turn of events, and with the way Versteeg has played thus far, one that has benefited Calgary.
10 Big/Bad – Andrew Ladd
The start Andrew Ladd had to the 2016-17 season was nothing short of abysmal. He registered two points in his first 12 games, causing fans in New York to wonder why they essentially chose to replace Kyle Okposo with Ladd in the offseason. Ladd has picked it up ever so slightly, but still not quite enough to justify the $5.5 million cap hit he carries with him through 2022-23.
9 Small/Good – Alexander Radulov
This entry was a tough one to decide whether to include, given that some feel this was a big signing. Well, if it was a big signing, it sure flew under the radar. After four years out of the NHL, the Canadiens lured former Nashville Predator Alexander Radulov back to the NHL on a one-year deal worth $5.75 million. Talents like Radulov don't usually get signed on one-year deals, but Radulov chose the Habs among numerous other offers.
If the Habs only get one year out of Radulov, they've already gotten their money's worth. Radulov has emerged as the team's best right winger, and has made everyone around him better. He controls the puck and has been able to set up Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, who before his recent knee injury, was averaging a point-per-game. Radulov leads the team in assists and is second in points.
8 Big/Bad – Andrew Shaw
When GM Marc Bergevin acquired the rights to RFA Andrew Shaw for two 2nd round picks in the offseason, he cited Shaw’s winning pedigree as one of the main factors. When he turned around and signed Shaw to a six-year contract that came tethered with a $3.9 million annual cap hit, most fans of the game of hockey saw this as a bit of an overpay.
7 Small/Good – Thomas Vanek
After a relatively disappointing 2015-16, the Minnesota Wild decided to pull the trigger on a Thomas Vanek buyout. The highest-scoring Austrian of all-time recorded just 41 points last season, and the Wild decided that wasn’t close to what they wanted for the paychecks they were signing over to him, so they cut him loose. They’ll pay him out through the 2017-18 season.
6 Big/Bad – Frans Nielsen
While Detroit made a good signing with Thomas Vanek, they made a pretty bad signing when they inked the 32-year-old Frans Nielsen to a six-year deal on the very same day. Nielsen’s deal will pay him a cap hit of $5.25 million until he’s 38 years old, and that’s simply too much for a guy who has only cracked the 50 point plateau twice in his career, and is likely past his prime anyway when you consider his age.
5 Small/Good – Justin Schultz
The Edmonton Oilers finally gave up on Justin Schultz at last year’s trade deadline, sending the under-performing defenseman to Pittsburgh for a third round pick. Schultz won a Stanley Cup with the Pens later that spring, playing a depth role on the Pittsburgh blue line throughout the playoffs. He re-upped in Pittsburgh as a champion, signing a one-year deal that pays him $1.4 million.
4 Big/Bad – Milan Lucic
Fans in Edmonton are pretty happy these days, and why shouldn’t they be? They’re in the thick of a playoff race for the first time in over a decade, and they have generational talent and current scoring leader Connor McDavid on their roster. However, there was an offseason signing made by GM Peter Chiarelli that was one of the worst of the summer, and that was the seven-year, $6 million AAV contract he inked Milan Lucic to on July 1.
3 Small/Good – Chad Johnson
After a disappointing 2015-16, one thing was for sure; the Calgary Flames needed to find a reliable starting goaltender. To remedy the situation, GM Brad Treliving signed Brian Elliott to a one-year deal. Elliott has been very hot/cold so far this season, and if not for the stellar play of (backup?) goalie Chad Johnson, the Flames could be in deep trouble.
2 Big/Bad – Loui Eriksson
The script was too good to be true. The Sedins would finally get that high-scoring winger they always wanted in Loui Eriksson, and he’s a fellow countryman to boot! So far in 2016-17 in Vancouver, Eriksson (and the Sedins, for that matter) have under-delivered, and that’s a major problem because the Canucks have Eriksson on the payroll at an AAV of $6 million for five more seasons beyond the current one.
1 Small/Good – Sam Gagner (CBJ)
Sam Gagner spent the previous three seasons prior to the present one bouncing around the NHL. He’s had trouble finding a permanent home in the world’s best league since being dealt from Edmonton, the team that drafted him 6th overall in 2007. In the 2016 offseason he was offered a contract by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he accepted. The pint-sized forward signed a one-year, $650,000 contract with the club.
So far in 2016-17, that contract has proven to be one of the best values in the league. As the first-place Blue Jackets roll along in the NHL, Gagner is pitching in far more than should be expected for his $650,000. He’s already hit the 30 point plateau, and is on pace to best his career high of 49—set in his rookie year. Fourteen of those points have come with the man advantage; Gagner centers the top unit of the league’s most potent power play. Did anyone see that coming before the season began?
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