NHL teams are known to get crazy when free agency begins every year at noon on July 1st. This weekend featured a mix of chaos and surprising restraint. Here’s a look at some of the best/worst free agent signings, including some notable players yet to find a new home:
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was the biggest name to hit the NHL free agency market. Coming off a career year with 56 points, many pundits expected Shattenkirk to land in a deal in the neighborhood of $40 million. Uncharacteristically though, the New York Rangers did not throw the bank at the top-pair D-man. Instead, the blue shirts signed Shattenkirk to a 4-year deal worth $26.6 million. A manageable cap hit of $6.65 made this one of the better July 1st signings in recent memory.
After a major whiff last off-season, signing Loui Eriksson to a 6-year, $36 million contract, the Vancouver Canucks made an under the radar acquisition on Saturday. The team inked Sam Gagner to a $9.45 million deal for three seasons. Gagner recorded a career-high 50 points last year with Columbus. And at only 27 years-old, Gagner still has time to improve his game. His versatility playing either center or wing gives the Canucks some much needed flexibility.
Several buyouts afforded teams opportunities to buy-low on big name free agents. The Nashville Predators welcomed back old friend Scott Hartnell with a 1-year, $1 million deal. Goalie Antti Niemi got a 1-year contract from the Pittsburgh Penguins as an insurance policy for starter Matt Murray. Instead of paying $5.75 million for backup Marc-Andre Fleury’s services, the Pens invested $700 K in Niemi, the former Cup winner. In an effort to get the band back together, Chicago Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman signed winger Patrick Sharp to a 1-year, $1 million deal. The agreement came just days after the team re-acquired Brandon Saad. Both players were key pieces to the team’s last title run in 2015.
Patrick Marleau is a big get for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The deal sends a clear message to the rest of the league that the Leafs’ young core is ready to win now. Marleau is a future hall of famer, coming off a 27-goal campaign with the San Jose Sharks. The problem is the contract itself. The Leafs gave the 38-year-old a 3-year deal worth $6.25 million per season. At his advanced age, it only makes sense that Marleau hits a wall soon. Will management feel good about his cap hit in 2019 when Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner seek monster contracts of their own?
The two biggest boom or bust signings occurred in the Western Conference. The Dallas Stars handed winger Alexander Radulov $31.25 million over five years. He recorded 54 points for Montreal last season, but his commitment to the game must be questioned following his four-year stint in the KHL before returning to North America last season. He’ll also be 36-years-old when his contract expires. The Nashville Predators paid a premium for potential, giving Nick Bonino a 4-year deal worth more than $16 million. If the center continues to progress, then the deal looks great. If he doesn’t, Nashville is stuck with a big cap hit for a bottom-six player.
The worst deal so far belongs to the Winnipeg Jets, who inexplicably gave D-man Dmitry Kulikov 3 years and $12.99 million. The 26-year-old is fresh off a horrific season with the Buffalo Sabres, which saw him finished with a plus-minus rating of -26.
Forwards Jaromir Jagr, Thomas Vanek, and Mike Fisher remain as three of the most serviceable players on the free agency market. Future hall of famers, Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla are likely to explore their options before pondering retirement.