The transaction rush is over, so let’s get take-y.
Here are the winners and losers from the first few hours of NHL free agency.
Carolina shot up to the top of this list in the late afternoon after landing a second major asset for virtually no cost.
The first of two major moves was the acquisition Brent Burns, and a tremendous opportunity awarded to a veteran running out of leash on his professional career. The 37-year-old Burns will take the place of Tony DeAngelo as an offensive-focused, and perhaps slightly sheltered defenceman in Rod Brind’Amour’s system. Burns quietly remained a productive and heavily-used player as the San Jose Sharks plummeted from their competitive window, which should indicate that he will thrive in Carolina.
That they didn’t pay an exorbitant price — Steven Lorentz, a goaltending prospect, and mid-round pick — for the right-side replacement at retained cost makes this a win for the Hurricanes.
Then just before the television networks left the airwaves, the Vegas Golden Knights broke out of their hibernation, sending Max Pacioretty (and Dylan Coghlan) to the Hurricanes for literally zero cost. While Burns is a replacement for a specific departing player, Pacioretty represents something the Hurricanes have been without: a natural goal scorer.
Without question, Carolina had the strongest day, having addressed two issues with proven assets.
Detroit Red Wings
Steve Yzerman had to show something resembling short-term ambition at some point. While he’s earned the luxury of executing a slow and methodical rebuild, we’ve reached the point where the Red Wings need to demonstrate some on-ice progress.
Yzerman took steps toward that in the early stages of free agency, adding three legitimate top-nine forwards between Andrew Copp, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik, who together form some much-needed insulation for a young core. Copp arrives at a bit of a rich price tag at five years with an average annual value of $5.625 million, but Perron and Kubalik will cost a combined $7.25 million and could conceivably provide in the neighbourhood of 50 combined goals.
Detroit also brought in an experienced defender to insulate Moritz Seider on the back end in Ben Chiarot. His value may exclusively be tied to taking the load off the Calder Trophy winner by eating up some of the more taxing and difficult minutes.
Pierre Dorion certainly fancies himself a winner based on the palpable self-satisfaction at Claude Giroux’s introductory press conference, but the player may have done slightly better than team when considering the major splash in Ottawa to open free agency.
Giroux banking another $6.5 million for the next three seasons is an unquestioned victory for the free-agent forward and former Philadelphia Flyers captain, who will now have the chance to move his family back to the region in advance of the end of his NHL career. It’s going to be a challenge for Giroux to meet the expectations tied to the $19.5 million deal, but, between Alex DeBrincat, Brady Tkachuk, and Tim Stutzle as linemates, he may still drink from the fountain of youth.
Any reservations on Jack Campbell are understandable; it’s not often that a netminder without surefire starter experience co-leads a free agent class. But for the first time in several summers, the Oilers were able to attract one of the biggest names at the position, which should be worth an upgrade at the most important position on the ice.
But it’s how the Oilers retained the services of two impact additions from last season that helped Ken Holland make the grade. That the Oilers didn’t have to pay free-market prices on either Evander Kane or Brett Kulak, which not only keeps the team in tact but allows them to pursue other options throughout the summer months.
Lightning extended core
It was a wonderful day to belong to the Lightning’s extended core group. Julian BriseBois handed out a trio of maximum-term contracts on the first day of free agency, committing nearly $175 million in future salary to Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak.
It’s hard to go as far as to say that the Lightning were obvious winners at the end of the day — or at least provided yet another reason to re-share the Aaron Paul Breaking Bad meme. Instead, these are full-value contracts — some of which may represent slight overpays and of which will curb future flexibility — awarded to three players who’ve been and remain immensely important to the success of the team while helping establish its championship identity.
Joe Sakic and newly-minted general manager Chris MacFarland have done impressive work keeping the Avalanche’s championship framework in tact. They identified what was expendable, and solved the Darcy Kuemper problem before the starting netminder officially walked. They have also retained several key members of the Stanley Cup winning roster on manageable contracts.
The two big names signed on the opening day of free agency might be the best so far, with Josh Manson and Artturi Lehkonen each returning on a $4.5 million annual salaries for four and five seasons, respectively. That’s solid work.
The Columbus Blue Jackets threw $16 million of total earnings at Erik Gubranson, who will be earning entirely too much money over the next four seasons after the most obvious overpayment of the afternoon. Though he found some stability with the Calgary Flames last season, Gudbranson remains highly limited in what he’s able to provide, making this an absolute windfall for the player.
We could leave it right here.
Johnny Gaudreau’s decision to leave the Flames carries with it more consequence than any other decision made in free agency. With him, the Flames were a Stanley Cup contender. Without him, it might all crash in his wake.
Management likely hasn’t carved out a firm direction after devoting all its resources in their bid to hold on to the Hart Trophy candidate from a season ago. It feels as though this was illustrated in that they didn’t make a single move that would move the needle in the opening moments of free agency.
Compounding the issue, a tricky contract negotiation with Mathew Tkachuk looms.
This organization is, suddenly, in dire straits.
It was not a productive day for the Panthers, who witnessed two assets acquired for first-round picks — Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot — sign on with new clubs on free transfers, while one of the breakout stars from a season ago, Mason Marchment, took his opportunity to cash in on his sudden success in South Florida, signing a four-year deal with the Dallas Stars.
Unfortunately, Florida’s story serves as a cautionary tale. The Panthers’ aggressive nature over the past few seasons has most certainly caught up to them, and they now stand to start next season with a severely diminished roster.
They did sign Marc Staal to a one-year deal while reaching a PTO agreement with his brother, and recent Olympian, Eric Staal. Though it might buy them some goodwill, these aren’t additions which will replace what was lost.
It’s becoming a bit sad, what’s become of this franchise.
Considered lead candidates for Johnny Gaudreau in the event he left Calgary, it seems the Flyers haven’t left themselves enough flexibility to even be involved in the negotiations. There are apparently no takers on the $7-million James van Riemsdyk (though we probably shouldn’t be surprised), leaving Chuck Fletcher stuck with the very flawed roster he’s assembled in only a few short summers.
What hurts the most is that Philadelphia did find one avenue to cut cost, albeit with one of the more inspirational stories to come out of the market in many seasons when they bought out cancer survivor Oskar Lindblom.
How was that freed up cash spent? To help bring in the far-from-inspiring Tony DeAngelo on a two-year deal.
What a brutal offseason this is turning out to be.
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