The signings came at $100 million per hour. With five days to court free agents, discuss contract parameters and line up deals, NHL general managers burst through the doors when the market opened at noon on Tuesday. They spent about a half-billion bucks by 5 p.m. ET.
Some deals made you shake your head, as usual. The Washington Capitals gave $40.25 million over seven years to defenseman Matt Niskanen, the biggest deal of the day, and $27.5 million over five years to defenseman Brooks Orpik, the craziest deal of the day. The Florida Panthers gave $27.5 million over five years to center Dave Bolland. The Calgary Flames gave $8.7 million over three years to defenseman Deryk Engelland. Yikes.
But some bigger prizes took smaller deals than expected. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff accepted only a one-year, $4 million deal from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defenseman Dan Boyle took a two-year, $9 million deal with the New York Rangers. Winger Thomas Vanek took a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. Center Paul Stastny took a four-year, $28 million deal with the St. Louis Blues. Each could have received more term or more dollars elsewhere.
Amid the action, several contenders strengthened themselves in the Western Conference, especially in the Central Division. After the Anaheim Ducks traded for center Ryan Kesler and the Nashville Predators traded for winger James Neal at the draft Friday, the Dallas Stars traded for Jason Spezza before the market opened Tuesday. Then the Blues signed Stastny, the Wild signed Vanek, the Colorado Avalanche signed Jarome Iginla, the Chicago Blackhawks signed Brad Richards and …
Here are our annual knee-jerk reactions:
Dallas Stars: Jim Nill has done a hell of a job in little over a year as GM. He landed a center in Tyler Seguin last year, bumping Jamie Benn to the wing and creating a dominant first line. Now he has landed a second-line center in Spezza and brought in another skilled winger in Ales Hemsky. Spezza is signed for one more season at a cap hit of $7 million. Hemsky signed a three-year, $12 million deal. Fresh off their first playoff appearance in six years, the Stars are stronger down the middle and have more of a veteran presence surrounding their young talent.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Slick maneuvering by GM Steve Yzerman. Before Tuesday he signed winger Ryan Callahan to a pricey six-year, $34.8 million extension and acquired defenseman Jason Garrison, who has four years left at a heavy $4.6 million cap hit. But he also made moves to clear cap space. (Sam Gagner, we hardly knew ye.) Yzerman ended up signing defenseman Anton Stralman to a five-year, $22.5 million deal – a better player and a bargain compared to, say, Orpik – and center Brian Boyle to a three-year, $6 million deal. Finally, he signed veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov for one year at $1.55 million. The Bolts needed to add grit, bolster their blue line and find a backup goaltender, and they did it all.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues needed to upgrade at center. They landed Stastny – who grew up in St. Louis the son of former Blues star Peter Stastny – and signed Jori Lehtera, a 2008 third-round draft pick who has been in Russia. Captain David Backes brings so much, but he isn’t really a No. 1 center and can move to the wing. GM Doug Armstrong told the media he envisioned Stastny centering Backes and Alex Steen. It remains to be seen how Lehtera will look, but he and Vladimir Tarasenko played together in the Kontinental Hockey League and could have some chemistry. At worst, Backes can move back to center.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs could afford to lose Stastny, especially after signing winger Jarome Iginla to a three-year, $15.9 million deal. That bumps Nathan MacKinnon from the wing. So the Avs now have MacKinnon and Matt Duchene as their top two centermen, and Ryan O’Reilly can always play the middle, too. Three years might be too much for Iginla at age 37, and you wonder if he’s fast enough to fit a fast team. But he can still score, gives the Avs a power element and will be a great mentor for the youngsters. The Avs also addressed their defense by trading for Brad Stuart, a vet with one year left at $3.6 million. Earlier they flipped P.A. Parenteau for Danny Briere, losing scoring and adding age, but parting with a player who didn’t click with coach Patrick Roy.
Minnesota Wild: Vanek was long expected to sign with the Wild, because he played college in Minnesota and still lives there. Still, it’s remarkable he took a three-year, $19.5 million deal when he could have received much more elsewhere. He turned down something like a seven-year, $50 million deal from the New York Islanders during the season, and the Isles made another run at him in free agency. Vanek was traded twice last season and didn’t live up to expectations in the playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens. You wonder if he will skate and compete consistently enough on a team known for working hard. But the Wild added desperately needed scoring without making a long-term commitment.
Pittsburgh Penguins: One year at $4 million for Ehrhoff? Great, surprising move for the team and the player. The Penguins, who parted with Niskanen and Orpik, added a puck-mover on the cheap. Imagine a power play with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Ehrhoff. You’ve got to think Ehrhoff imagined it. He could have gotten more elsewhere. But he already will be raking in millions from his Buffalo Sabres buyout, and if he rebounds with a big year playing with these guys, he will raise his value for next year. The Pens also signed Thomas Greiss to compete with Jeff Zatkoff for the backup goalie job and Blake Comeau to bolster the bottom six. Nikolai Kulemin seems like a fit on Malkin’s wing now that Neal is gone, but the Pens might not have enough cap space to sign him.
TEAMS THAT DID OK
New York Rangers: The Eastern Conference champions will look different – for better and for worse. After buying out Richards and trading Derek Dorsett leading up to free agency, they lost Stralman, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle. But they added Dan Boyle, who is about to turn 38 but can still move the puck, can still play 20 minutes a night and could have gotten more than two years and $9 million elsewhere. They also kept center Dominic Moore for two years at only $3 million. Three years and $4.35 million for Tanner Glass? Well, they needed depth.
Chicago Blackhawks: Richards is slow. He does not match up well with the elite centers in the West, as we saw when the Rangers faced the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. But the Blackhawks won a championship in 2013 with Michal Handzus as their second-line center, and he wasn’t exactly fast. The Blackhawks didn’t have much cap space to replace Handzus. For one year at $2 million, Richards, a respected veteran, is low risk. At best, he fills the hole and helps a sometimes-confounding power play. At worst, he doesn’t work out. Little harm done. This buys time for prospect Teuvo Teravainen.
Ottawa Senators: For the second straight year, the Sens parted with their captain on July 1. Last year, Daniel Alfredsson left in free agency after a contract dispute. This year, Spezza left after asking for a trade. GM Bryan Murray’s options were limited because of Spezza’s limited no-trade clause, and he received an OK return under the circumstances: forward Alex Chiasson, prospects Alex Guptill and Nicholas Paul and a second-rounder in 2015. He also sent Ludvig Karlsson to Dallas. The good news: He kept Milan Michalek for three years and $12 million.
New Jersey Devils: Five years and $25 million for winger Mike Cammalleri? OK. He’s a scorer. Matt Moulson got the same thing in Buffalo. One year at $1.5 million for winger Marty Havlat? That’s a low-risk, potentially high-reward deal for a guy who can skate and score when he’s healthy and needs to show he can stay healthy.
Montreal Canadiens: The Habs made tough decisions. They didn’t overpay to keep captain Brian Gionta, and they traded popular-but-declining defenseman Josh Gorges for a 2016 second-round pick. Then they made some nice, little deals. They signed defenseman Tom Gilbert, a favorite of the fancy stats community, to a two-year, $5.6 million deal. They brought back defenseman Mike Weaver, a trade-deadline acquisition who played well, for one year at $1.75 million. They added faceoff specialist Manny Malhotra for one year at $850,000. Now comes the hard part: signing restricted free agent P.K. Subban.
TEAMS THAT MADE YOU GO, “Hmmm…”
Buffalo Sabres: Trading a second-rounder for Gorges, who has four years and $15.6 million left on his contract? Signing Gionta for three years and $12.75 million? Signing Moulson for five years and $25 million? Signing defenseman Andrej Meszaros for one year at $4.125 million? Don’t love these deals on their own. But GM Tim Murray seems like a smart man with a clear plan, and he had to spend because the $51 million salary floor. So we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. The vets can mentor the youngsters as the Sabres grow.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Leafs president Brendan Shanahan tried to convince Gorges to waive his partial no-trade clause for Toronto. Not only did Gorges decline, he ended up in Buffalo, which wasn’t on his black list. The Leafs tried to keep Bolland, but he got even more money from the Panthers. Is that good, because the Leafs dodged two bullets? Or is that bad, because the Leafs had to be saved from themselves? GM Dave Nonis flew to Finland and convinced Leo Komarov to come back from the KHL for four years and $11.8 million, and the Leafs signed defenseman Stephane Robidas for three years and $9 million. But what role will Komarov play? How well will Robidas recover from a twice-broken leg? The Leafs also reacquired Matt Frattin, which frankly feels like wheel-spinning.
Anaheim Ducks: After a great trade that gave them a one-two punch at center with Ryan Getzlaf and Kesler, the Ducks signed defenseman Clayton Stoner to a four-year, $13 million deal. Bob Murray was just voted GM of the Year. He has built a contender. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. But this seems like a lot for a 29-year-old career depth defenseman.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have to overpay to attract free agents to Edmonton, and so they overpaid for Pouliot (five years, $20 million) after already trading for the rights to Nikita Nikitin and throwing money at him (two years, $9 million). The interesting signing is defenseman Mark Fayne (four years, $14.5 million). Fayne has put up good possession numbers. But he has put them up for the New Jersey Devils, a structured, shot-suppression team, and he has put them up specifically with Andy Greene as his partner. What happens when he plays for the Oilers?
Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning has been aggressive since taking over as GM, and he was no different in addressing his goaltending situation Tuesday. He once drafted Ryan Miller for the Buffalo Sabres. Now he signed him for the Canucks to a three-year, $18 million deal. This supposedly brings stability to the position. But as well as Miller played for the Sabres last season, he struggled down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Blues. He’s an intense guy who must face the pressure of a Canadian market for the first time. And this might ignite yet another goalie controversy in Vancouver. Eddie Lack will be 30 by the time this contract ends. He wants to be a No. 1. He’s supposed to be a No. 1, right? Would the Canucks have been better off with Jonas Hiller?
Calgary Flames: Hiller makes sense, especially at two years and $9 million. President Brian Burke once brought Hiller to Anaheim and now helps bring him to Calgary. Hiller should be motivated to reestablish himself as a No. 1 goalie, and the risk is low. The Flames needed a winger after losing Cammalleri and signed Mason Raymond for three years and $9.5 million. OK, fine. The real problem was the Engelland deal. He is a sixth or seventh defenseman who made $575,000 last season. Why three years and $8.7 million? Because he can fight?
Florida Panthers: Like the Sabres, the Panthers needed to reach the floor and loaded up on odd contracts. But unlike the Sabres, they don’t seem to have a clear plan. They have done this before, and we have seen how it has turned out. Five years and $27.5 million is just too much for oft-injured Bolland. Four years and $16 million seems rich for Jussi Jokinen, who played well for Pittsburgh but was waived by the Carolina Hurricanes not long ago. Everybody likes Willie Mitchell, who just won a Cup, but two years and $8.5 million for a slowing 37-year-old vet? And two years and $2.4 million for enforcer Shawn Thornton, too?
New York Islanders: The Vanek-Moulson deal continues to dog GM Garth Snow. Vanek turned down that huge contract when he was on Long Island, and then he turned down another offer Tuesday. Meanwhile, Moulson ended up going back to Buffalo, and the Isles landed ... Cory Conacher. The Isles also reportedly struck out with Dan Boyle even though they offered him three years and $15 million.
Detroit Red Wings: No Niskanen, even though the Wings offered seven years and $38.5 million, almost as much as he got from the Capitals. No Dan Boyle, even though the Wings offered two years and $10 million, more than he got from the Rangers. No Robidas, even though the Wings would have matched the three years and $9 million he got from the Leafs. No Stralman. No Ehrhoff, either. The Wings settled for re-signing Kyle Quincey for Mitchell-to-Florida money – $8.5 million over two years. Not what they wanted on defense.
Washington Capitals: Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. The Capitals got the top defenseman available when they signed Niskanen. They added Orpik, too, and there is a comfort level with both because they played for assistant coach Todd Reirden in Pittsburgh. The $40.25 million over seven years is a lot for Niskanen, who has had only one outstanding season, but at least he’s a 27-year-old with skill. He might be worth it. Might. The $27.5 million over five years for Orpik has regret written all over it, considering Orpik will turn 34 during camp and already is in decline. Stralman, Ehrhoff and Boyle all signed for smaller cap hits than either of those two.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have signed only one player on the first day of free agency with Dean Lombardi as their GM – defenseman Jeff Schultz, who got a whopping one-year, $700,000 deal last year. Lombardi already has re-signed Schultz to a two-year, $1.7 million deal this year and winger Marian Gaborik, more importantly, to a seven-year, $34.125 million deal. Any wonder the Kings have won two Cups in three years?
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