Editorials

NHL: Early Free Agency Winners And Losers

By Colin Likas
May 20, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) is congratulated by Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) and teammates after they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins of game four of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
May 20, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) is congratulated by Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) and teammates after they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins of game four of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
facebooktwitterreddit

NHL free agency is fast and furious right out of the gate

The 2016 NHL free agency period opened about four hours ago, and tons of huge names have already moved on to new teams for crazy amounts of money.

Indeed, you wouldn’t know the salary cap had gone up by just $1.6 million for next season, as general managers readily handed out bulky contracts to well-known players. Very few teams were left out of the spotlight, as plenty of moves happened just in the first two hours of the free agency period.

While plenty of deals are still left to be done, we won’t see anything as fast and furious as we did today. Things should be a lot more tepid moving forward, though that doesn’t mean there won’t still be recognizable players signed and money dished out.

But it’s only fair we take a look back at the wild action so far Friday and find some winners and losers. I’ll take a look at three in each category based solely on moves made through the first few hours of the free agency period.

nhl
Jun 2, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper talks with media during media day the day before the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Winner: Tampa Bay Lightning

I would say they’re the biggest winner so far. After ensuring captain Steven Stamkos would stay with the club long term prior to free agency opening, Steve Yzerman went to work Friday. But he didn’t add anyone (unless you count Blackhawks castoff Jeremy Morin; I do not). Nope, he just extended defenseman Victor Hedman and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

More from Editorials

Vasilevskiy got what could wind up being a really team-friendly three-year deal worth $10.5 million, while Hedman cashed in on some past team-carrying performances to the tune of an eight-year, $63 million contract.

Tampa Bay has declared that it is preparing for a Stanley Cup run in 2017. They fell just short in 2015 and missed the Final by one game last season. But the team is also preparing for the future by extending Vasilevskiy while incumbent goaltender Ben Bishop sits on a one-year contract. His era, filled with injuries and postseason letdowns, could be coming to an end. But the Bolts are definitely playing at their championship aspirations.

nhl
May 23, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues center David Backes (42) celebrates after Jaden Schwartz (not pictured) scores a goal against San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (not pictured) during the first period in game five of the Western Conference Final of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports /

Loser: Boston Bruins

They extended defenseman Torey Krug prior to free agency opening. Good move. They kept veteran blueliner John-Michael Liles on board. Solid. They added backup goaltender Anton Khudobin. Alright.

And then they absolutely ruined all their previous moves by inking David Backes to a disgusting five-year deal. He’ll make $30 million on it, assuming the Bruins don’t want to buy him out before it ends — and I’d be surprised if they didn’t.

This is a guy who has maxed out at 62 points back in the 2010-11 season and has captained playoff failure after playoff failure. At best in Boston, he’s slated to be a second-line center. So you give him that kind of money? That’s insane.

The Bruins have always dramatically overvalued grit and size, which Backes brings in droves. What he doesn’t bring is a cool head and consistent top-six scoring. But don’t be surprised if he usurps Zdeno Chara as captain after Chara retires, thus forcing Patrice Bergeron to leave town. Because Bergeron playing with a collapsed everything in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final wasn’t gritty enough. Enjoy, Boston.

chicago blackhawks
Apr 6, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall (4) takes the puck to the net against the Vancouver Canucks at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports /

Winner: New Jersey Devils

Many of their signings early Friday were of the “eh” variety, but at least you can see this team has some direction and is trying to win with a stud goaltender (Cory Schneider) in the midst of his best years.

The Taylor Hall trade, of course, wins the entire offseason for the Devils. On Friday, they added forwards Beau Bennett and Vernon Fiddler and defenseman Ben Lovejoy while re-signing forward Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman Jon Merrill.

Compared to the Hall move, none of these moves are Earth shattering. But none of them were for insane amounts of money, and you could justify all of them at least went toward improving the team. For a Devils squad that was on the cusp of a playoff berth throughout last season, it’s a solid day of work.

nhl
Apr 20, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun (61) and Los Angeles Kings left wing Milan Lucic (17) vie for possession in the first period of game four of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. The Sharks won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports /

Loser: Edmonton Oilers

What are you doing, Peter Chiarelli? The Oilers general manager has apparently lost his mind, or at least lost sight of what matters in the NHL nowadays.

After the terrible deal that sent Hall to New Jersey for a bonafide second-pairing defenseman in Adam Larsson, the Oilers piled on to their self-made pain by inking Milan Lucic to a seven-year contract. Seven years for that? Yeesh.

The contract is reportedly front loaded and full of early bonuses, so it’s bound to hurt Edmonton and result in an eventual buyout. Lucic’s 55 points in 81 games last season is not nearly worth $42 million, but he said all the things Chiarelli wanted to hear — such as, you need grit and size to come out of the Western Conference (Lucic actually said this during his press conference after being signed).

Oh, but Edmonton also signed backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. Neat?

chicago blackhawks
Apr 9, 2016; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell (51) skates before a game against the Carolina Hurricanes at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports /

Winner: Chicago Blackhawks

Losing Teuvo Teravainen still hurts, but the Blackhawks got exactly what they needed moving forward, and at a cheap price.

The Blackhawks defense was readily exposed by the Blues in the previous postseason, so they went out and got Michal Kempny from the KHL and Brian Campbell from Florida. Soupy, a 2010 Stanley Cup winner in Chicago, really wanted to be back in the Windy City and took quite the discount ($2.25 million over one year) to return.

Even at 37, Campbell provides the Blackhawks with a much more well-rounded blue-line unit, as well as a puck-moving defenseman they’ve really needed outside Duncan Keith. They’ve also been left with enough money to sign a low-cost forward — maybe Tomas Fleischmann — before the offseason ends.

Yeah, the Michal Rozsival and Brandon Mashinter re-signings and David Rundblad contract dump — which will cost the team slightly more than just burying his contract in the minors would’ve — are all weird. But Stan Bowman did a nice job giving the Blackhawks a push back toward Stanley Cup contender territory.

nhl
Mar 9, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) blocks the shot of Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) during the third period at Scottrade Center. The St. Louis Blues defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Loser: St. Louis Blues

This offseason could, down the road, wind up being more of a win for the Blues. They’ve finally ousted their useless longtime captain, opening the door for a younger face (Vladimir Tarasenko, if they’re smart, which they aren’t) to take charge. Extending goaltender Jake Allen could also wind up being a great move.

But for now, the Blues are on the losing end of the spectrum. Backes and Troy Brouwer were important parts of the team’s extended postseason run last season, and they’re both gone. Brian Elliott, another important piece, is also gone. David Perron was brought back for … reasons.

Meanwhile, Kevin Shattenkirk is still waiting for his trade, the Blues don’t have a captain and their coaching situation is among the more bizarre setups in the league right now. On top of that, with the injury history and “Is he or isn’t he the No. 1 goalie” history tagged to Allen, putting trust in him as the No. 1 netminder could fall flat in St. Louis.

Next: Campbell In, Rundblad Out For Chicago

Things could look very different by the time the next season starts, but for now, the Blues are my third loser early in this free agency period.

facebooktwitterreddit