NHL Free Agent Frenzy: Puck Daddy’s Winners and Losers of Day 1

TAMPA, FL - May 20: Steven Stamkos #91and Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate the win against the New York Rangers after the overtime period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Amalie Arena on May 20, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL – May 20: Steven Stamkos #91and Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate the win against the New York Rangers after the overtime period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Amalie Arena on May 20, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL saw 119 players signed for $630 million on July 1, which is a lot of dough even if it doesn’t compare with the NBA, whose free agent totals rivaled the gross domestic product of Belize.

There were winners in the NHL. There were losers, at least at first glance, in the NHL. And here they are:

WINNER: Steve Yzerman and Jeff Vinik

Let’s begin with the obvious: The Tampa Bay Lightning are blessed by playing in a state with a favorable tax rate, so that Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman can sign cap-friendly contracts and make oodles of cash. And in the case of Stamkos, Yzerman lucked out that his heart was still with the Lightning and winning a Cup with this group.

OK, that established: Stamkos at $8.5 million through 2024. Hedman at $7.875 million through 2025. Vasilevskiy at $3.5 million through 2020, when he’ll still be an RFA. And, of course, the Matt Carle buyout. Yzerman deserves much of the credit here for being a general managing samurai, but a GM is only as good as his ownership, and Vinik not only stepped up with big money but has created an environment where players want to remain with the Lightning.

LOSER: Ken Holland

Remember at the NHL Draft, when everyone thought the Detroit Red Wings were going to snag Stamkos after clearing the decks in salary space? Well, they not only didn’t get him, they didn’t even get a meeting with him. Then they give five years to Darren Helm, sign Steve Ott and give Thomas Vanek – who might have reached Jonathan Cheechoo status as goal-scorers who lost it – a one-year show-me contract at $2.6 million.

This is your friendly reminder that Yzerman would be the Red Wings’ general manager if Ken Holland had agreed to move upstairs.

WINNER: Loui Eriksson

The most underrated player (like, six years running) in the NHL ends up getting six years for $6 million annually from the Vancouver Canucks and a spot on the wing with the Sedin Twins. Maybe not the best move for the franchise, but, uh, attention Loui Eriksson fantasy owners …

LOSER: David Backes

The bruising center wanted to stay with the St. Louis Blues but they weren’t down with giving him the money or (especially) the term he was looking for. The chances that Bruins fans look at that $6 million salary as a mistake at some point during his five year term with Boston is rather high.

WINNER: Public Perception of the Oilers

In the span of 48 hours, that talk about the fleecing of the Edmonton Oilers in the Taylor Hall trade turned to ‘maybe Adam Larsson is pretty good, actually’ and then the Milan Lucic lovefest. Rather than this being seen as Peter Chiarelli Bruins nepotism, as Lucic was given a seven-year deal, the hockey punditry were falling over themselves to praise this signing as a transformative moment for the Oilers. Like, on a Messier-to-the-Rangers level.

But on top of all of this: The Connor McDavid Effect is real!

LOSER: Public Perception of the Islanders

The Islanders handed a 30-year-old Andrew Ladd a seven-year contract and a 37-year-old Jason Chimera a two-year deal, while watching Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen leave the team. Happy first day of ownership, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin!

Pittsburgh Penguins' Kris Letang holds the Stanley Cup overhead along the victory parade route in Pittsburgh, Pa., June 15, 2016. The Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks on Sunday to win the NHL hockey championship. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kris Letang holds the Stanley Cup overhead along the victory parade route in Pittsburgh, Pa., June 15, 2016. The Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks on Sunday to win the NHL hockey championship. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

WINNER: Jim Rutherford

So here’s Jim Rutherford, looking at potential retirement in 2015, until the Pittsburgh Penguins call him up and ask if he wants their general manager job. He takes it, and declares it’s about a “two or three year” gig.

Then they win the Stanley Cup in 2016, and all of a sudden Rutherford gets a new three-year deal through 2019. Hey, beats watching the History Channel in your comfy chair.

LOSER: Marc Bergevin

Quite a week for the Montreal Canadiens GM. He inks Andrew Shaw, a role player, to a six-year deal. He makes what’s being called the worst trade in franchise history in dealing P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators. He nearly signs the team’s most hated rival as a free agent in Milan Lucic. And then he hands $5.75 million against the cap to Alexander Radulov, whose most notable achievement in the NHL is breaking curfew.

We’d say Bergevin has lost the faith of Canadiens fans, but after hitching his wagon to Michel Therrien, it’s not like he had it to begin with.

WINNER: Buffalo Sabres

Love, love, love that Okposo signing. He’s someone equally at home as Jack Eichel’s running mate as he is playing down the lineup. Character guy that a team on the cusp of contention can use.

LOSER: New York Rangers

Nathan Gerbe? Michael Grabner? Nice additions, but not really worth much when the radical changes the team needs haven’t happened yet. But sure, keep shopping Rick Nash.

WINNER: John Scott

The mercurial All-Star Game MVP appeared on several TSN segments and charmed the pants off of everyone. Seriously, give us John Scott over Team Canada roster projections during the slow segments, going forward.

LOSER: Bob McKenzie’s Patience

WINNER: Signing Veteran Defensemen

Two veteran defensemen find perfect landing spots: Brian Campbell back with the Chicago Blackhawks with an incentive-laden one-year contract, and Dan Hamhuis going where he should have gone at the trade deadline in the Dallas Stars for two years. Campbell gives the Hawks the defensive depth they lacked last postseason. Hamhuis gives the Stars a veteran defensive defenseman they lacked.

LOSER: Signing Veteran Fourth-Liners

Dale Weise and Matt Martin get four-year deals from the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs respectively; and if it’s not for expansion draft bait, why are these people getting four-year deals?

WINNER: Calgary’s Goaltending

You could do a heck of a lot worse than Brian Elliott starting ahead of free-agent pickup Chad Johnson.

LOSER: Ben Bishop

The Vasilevskiy deal increases the chances that Bishop is going to be somewhere other than Tampa Bay before his contract expires next summer.

RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 21: Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up prior to an NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena on February 21, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC – FEBRUARY 21: Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up prior to an NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena on February 21, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

WINNER: Eric Staal

Staal has given zero reason in the last few years to entrust him with a three-year contract and the second-line center spot on your team. But the Minnesota Wild stepped up with a reasonable contract, and Staal might spend the next season skating with Zach Parise in search of a career renaissance.

LOSER: Whoever Signs Kris Russell

One of the only top-ranked free agents not to earn a deal on Day 1 of free agency, he’s still going to get $5 million a year for blocking shots. This particular obsession by NHL general managers is a puzzler.

WINNER: Las Vegas (Probably) Black Knights

First off, the looming expansion draft helped ignite at least some of the transactional fun we’ve had in the last two weeks.

But as for the Vegas team itself, one assumes they’ll want some stability on the roster, which means drafting players next summer with a few years of term left on their contracts.

Like, for example, a goalie with a five-year contract and a nominal $3.4 million cap hit named James Reimer, who will be left unprotected by the Florida Panthers. Or a speedy penalty killer with a five-year contract and a nominal cap hit of $3.85 million named Darren Helm. Or a decent, veteran defenseman with a four-year contract and a $2.1 million cap hit named David Schlemko.

Say hello to your 2017-18 Las Vegas Knights. Or at least the 2017 Sacrificial Expansion Draft Lambs.

LOSERS: Lovers Of Labor Peace

The bonus money built into the contracts for players like Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo and Aaron Ekblad is a harbinger of lockouts to come, as early as 2020. That money can’t be touched in, say, a salary rollback as part of a lockout settlement.

NHL agents … your canaries in the coal mines.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.