Day 1 of NHL free agency is in the books. Yay! And much happened. Players were signed. Long-time general managers stepped down. There was even a major trade of an NHL superstar.
We took a look at the day that was and who/what won and who/what didn’t quite come out victorious.
1. Phil Kessel
He gets to leave the Toronto market. Huzzah! Granted, it seems Kessel is better suited for a non-traditional spot with limited media coverage than Pittsburgh. But He doesn’t have to be ‘the’ guy with the Penguins. Plus, potentially playing on Evgeni Malkin’s wing should probably make Kessel a happy man. Losing James Neal last offseason probably stung Malkin a bit. Offensive players like to play with offensive players, and Kessel is as dynamic as they come, even if he is a little doughy.
2. Jeff Gorton
The guy who really was behind the Rangers’ recent run of success can finally be the face and the name of New York management. Glen Sather is one of the last of a dying breed of a super old boys network in the NHL and Rangers fans probably feel some sense of freedom without him officially or unofficially running the show anymore. Now if only New York’s owner could also retire.
3. The Arizona Coyotes/Antoine Vermette
Everyone always jokes about a team trading a pending UFA bringing him back when it can re-sign him in the offseason. Arizona did this with Antoine Vermette. The Coyotes dealt away the forward around the trade deadline. He won his Stanley Cup with Chicago and then returned home for two years at $3.75 million per. It was a win for the Coyotes who got a first-round pick from Chicago along with Klas Dahlbeck in the initial deal for Vermette. If Vermette likes playing in Arizona it’s a good move for him and his family. You can also sort of add Zbynek Michalek to this list. He also came back to Arizona after a trade sent him to St. Louis last season, though without a Cup ring.
4. Trading contracts of injured non-retired players
Boston’s Don Sweeney and Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall found brilliant ways to unload the contracts of Marc Savard and Chris Pronger – deal them to teams trying to make it to the salary cap floor, or stay above the salary cap floor or looking to take on less salary. The Pronger deal to Arizona happened on draft day, Savard’s trade gave us something to snark on at the end of Day 1 of unrestricted free agency.
5. KHL players wanting to play in North America
Viktor Tikhonov (signed with Chicago), Sergei Plotnikov (Pittsburgh) and Alexander Burmistrov (Winnipeg) all wanted to leave the KHL to play in the NHL. Tikhonov and Burmistrov were both highly touted NHL prospects at one point. Tikhonov was an Arizona Coyotes draft pick and Burmistrov bolted the Jets in 2012. Normally you see players going the other way. With the salary cap going down and the KHL reportedly in some financial trouble, this could be a way for cap strapped teams to add players cheaply.
1. Matt Beleskey’s worth
Matt Beleskey is not worth a five-year contract. But at $19 million total – $3.8 million salary cap hit per-year – over five years, that’s not a bad value for the 20-goal scorer. The thought was Beleskey would want somewhere in the ballpark of between $4 million and $5 million per-year. He was pretty much the consensus top unrestricted free agent forward going into this offseason, and normally those get paid a lot more than $3.8 million per-year.
2. Matt Beleskey’s Stanley Cup future
Maybe Sweeney’s offer was the best Beleskey received. But if you’re Beleskey, do you really have faith the Bruins general manager is handling his team’s salary cap crunched rebuild the right way? At least the Blackhawks are getting NHL-ready assets to replace a lot of their players they need to let go. Sweeney seems to keep whiffing all over the place. Beleskey was a win away from a Cup Final with the Ducks last year. He’ll be lucky to get anywhere close to that with the Bruins next season.
3. Nobody in the Phil Kessel deal
This strangely was a win/win for everyone. Kessel got to leave Toronto and go to a team where he doesn’t have to be a leader. The Maple Leafs finally unloaded an expensive player who had worn out his welcome.
4. Clutch hockey players
Outside of Vermette, two guys known for playoff success didn’t land big Day 1 contracts as of filing. Washington’s Joel Ward and Los Angeles’ Justin Williams remain available for any team that wants them. Ward’s 34, but he had 19 goals last season and notched nine points in Washington’s 14-game postseason run. Williams, 33, is known as Mr. Game 7. Both aren’t young, but the fact that 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro is signed and those two aren’t is mind blowing.
Update: Williams signed with the Washington Capitals on Wednesday evening for two years at $6.5 million.
5. The offer sheet
There was no discussion of an offer sheet situation Wednesday, at all. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko didn’t get hit with one. Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said his team would match any offer sheet for newly acquired forward Brandon Saad. So I guess all that threatening talk was for nothing.
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