More than a week has passed since July 1st, which means NHL teams have been digging into the free agent market (quite a bad one, to be honest) for some time now. On top of that, and thanks to the expansion draft that welcomed Vegas to the league, multiple franchises opted to make some moves here and there to fix their rosters and prepare them for the next season. Now that the major pieces have been allocated and the dust has settled, it is time to look at some winners and losers of the offseason so far.
Winner: New York Rangers
The Rangers finished this past season with the ninth-best record in the league (48-28-9) and the fourth best in the Metropolitan Division, but most importantly, they closed the year with just one goal in mind: signing soon-to-be free agent Kevin Shattenkirk.
And they did, and they became the free agency winners just because getting Shattenkirk equated getting the best available free agent. Not only that, but New York was able to get Kevin for the next four years at an AAV of $6.625M that is considered more than a hometown discount given what had been reported about Shattenkirk’s demands.
Although the Rangers are nothing close to a locked Stanley Cup contender and they have made questionable moves this summer (trading away Stepan and Raanta one of them) it sure feels like they have won the free agency by getting the most coveted player and also by getting rid of a negative impact player on Dan Girardi.
Loser: Kevin Shattenkirk
Is he going to play for the team he has always been a fan of? Yes. Is he going to make a run for the Stanley Cup? Probably. Is he going to enjoy his time in New York? Sure. But Kevin Shattenkirk comes out as a loser in a free agent market that he could have destroyed in terms of demands had he wanted to.
Not only did Shattenkirk signed a contract for only four years (expect them to be those forming the peak of his already impressive career, from age 28 to 32) with the Rangers, but he did it for only north of six million per year. If we take out the fact that New York is Kevin’s home and think only in terms of pure skills, Kevin could have reached eight million for at least six or seven years easily, getting more security and money than he will from the Rangers.
The problem for Shattenkirk then is that is not only gambling with his future (what if he gets injured during his peak years and all of a sudden he can’t get another big contract at age 32 when this new deal ends?) but also with his chances of winning a cup. New York is not the worst team in the league but neither is it the one giving him the best chances to get the trophy. We could be looking at a top pair defenseman wasting his best years.
Winner: Dallas Stars
The Stars started the offseason in a much stronger fashion than they ended the season when they flopped and missed the playoffs even while having a roster more than capable of making them. In order to fix its woes, Dallas signed Ben Bishop from Los Angeles and later got rid of the troubling Antii Niemi at goal. Taking advantage of Vegas’ selections in the expansion draft, they negotiated the acquisition of Marc Method (more famous for being Erik Karlsson’s partner in Ottawa than anything else) for almost nothing in a trade with the Golden Knights and entered the free agency with hopes of improving their offense.
And oh boy they did. After three days of waiting since the opening of the market, and with almost all of the big names out of the board, Alexander Radulov remained out in the wild trying to get the best deal out of Montreal, only they didn’t want to match his demands and the Russian opted to sign with the Stars.
Maybe Shattenkirk is considered the best free agent of a weak 2017 class, but Radulov is not far from his production. Alexander declined the Canadiens offer to sign with a Stars team that will try to put a first line in the ice comprised of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and the very own Alexander Radulov. That equates to 101 points during the last season in a rather low-producing season from the first two, so expect that number to rise in 2018. If someone is bound for a rebounding season and a run for the cup, that’s the Dallas Stars.
Loser: Washington Capitals
As much as New York and Dallas improved during the past week-and-change, Washington destroyed almost everything they’ve been building lately and then some. It all started at the expansion draft, where they lost defenseman Nate Schmidt (their fifth best CF% player with at least 500 minutes of ice time) to Vegas. Days later, with the free agency gates open, Karl Alzner (second highest TOI for the Capitals during the past season) left the team and signed with Montreal. Kevin Shattenkirk ratified his rental condition by not re-signing with Washington and becoming a free agent, signing with the Rangers. Finally, Justin Williams changed the Capitals for the Hurricanes, so he won’t return to the capital either.
Just in case all of that wasn’t bad enough, the moves that Washington completed around the start of the free agency are also highly questionable. It is hard to understand what they were thinking when they inked TJ Oshie, already 31 years old, to an 8-year extension with an AAV of almost six millions that will start to look pretty bad by season-three or -four. Evgeny Kuznetsov played his cards on the Capitals by threatening with an escape to the KHL if Washington didn’t meet his requirements for an extension that finally was closed at an AAV of $7.8M for 8 years, exceeding by far the price other teams paid for some players with a similar production in the past and handcuffing the team to the point they ended trading Marcus Johansson to the Devils for a bag of peanuts.
After a second-round exit against the Penguins in the last playoffs, Washington could have taken the rebuilding path or tried to stay the same. They did neither and clouds are forming over a team which window of winning may be starting to close faster than they expected.
Winner: Nick Bonino
When looking at the list of signings of any free agency period you always find incredible amounts of money thrown to people that are not totally deserving of it. Enter Nick Bonino.
Bonino’s production in Pittsburgh has not been bad at all, and he has become a postseason hero for the Penguins during the past two seasons in which he has helped to win back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pens. The interesting thing is that his role hasn’t been much more than that of a third line center behind Crosby and Malkin. Not frequently you see a player of that caliber making north of four million, as Nick will be scoring during the next few years in Nashville.
On top of the money he will receive, Bonino will probably find himself in a more prominent role while playing for the Predators, leading a second line of forwards and fighting again for a cup next season with a team that proved most wrong during the past season and that is poised to make another impressive run for the title in 2018.
Loser: Pittsburgh Penguins
It is hard to explain how the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup during the last season given their problems with injuries and their lack of talent in a defense that was shaking from the start but that ultimately was good enough to lift the Stanley Cup. That is why Pittsburgh will have it hard to do the impossible and win three in a row, but also why no one is ruling them off.
The problem is that the Penguins have lost even more valuable pieces during this summer that won’t come back after they recover from a season-ending injury. Bonino is going to Nashville to strengthen a team that already made it to the final, Kunitz is also gone and that means the third- and fourth-line centers of the Pens are already out of town. Add Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey to the equation and Pittsburgh has not lost any key player but will definitely miss some of its depth during next season play.
Marc-Andre Fleury also left the team by means of the expansion draft and his replacement will be a putrid Niemi (which helped Dallas’ case as winners of this offseason after buying him out). We’re looking at a reigning champion that will need to reinvent itself in order to make history, but given what they have accomplished as of late it is going to be hard to not give them a fair share of chances.
Winner: Patrick Marleau
I don’t think anyone made a better decision than good old Marleau during the past few days. An all-time Shark, Patrick Marleau will change teal for Toronto’s blue and keep wearing it (barring a move by the Maple Leafs) for at least three years. While San Jose has opted to maintain and extend his core of players in order to keep trying to win the Stanley Cup during the next few years, Marleau has opted to jump to a younger and promising project being carried by a core of three youngsters with much upside.
Toronto’s core of Matthews, Marner (rookies this past season) and Nylander (sophomore) will lead the Leafs during next season and beyond and Patrick Marleau will fit in perfectly as a mentor and leader of this bunch of young’uns. But not only will Marleau become this bright light in Toronto, he will make over $6M AAV for the next three seasons being 37 years old, which is insane from an economic perspective. Anybody could have expected a one-year deal, two-year at most, but giving a regressing player like Marleau three years at that price feels outrageous.
The Maple Leafs, though, had the cap room to complete the move and it won’t probably haunt them in the long run given that they will still have enough flexibility to re-sign their core during the next couple of seasons, so they opted for bringing Marleau in instead of saving the money and leave it unused. While this signing won’t be critical for their success, it will probably help them in terms of depth if Patrick Marleau can somehow maintain his already decaying production.
Loser: Jaromir Jagr
This is not your average loser, or a loser as you commonly understand it at least. We all love Jagr and want him to sign and play for the team we root for, that’s for sure. The idea of having Jagr coming back to Pittsburgh, signing with San Jose and playing alongside Joe Thornton, or actually going to any other team in the NHL looks cool by nature, no matter what. The problem for Jagr is that this copycat league has become one based on speed, acceleration, and velocity and Jaromir has lost a step there.
As obvious as it is that the 47-year-old still wants to play the game for some time and keep his career numbers growing, it is hard to envision a team committing many resources to him, therefore the delay in his signing announcement.
Florida has already declared its intention to pass on his re-signing, so it’s up to the rest of the franchises to come with an offer (probably a one year deal) that makes Jagr happy and makes him dress again during next season. Time will come and we will watch Jaromir doing wonders again soon on the ice, although it may not be for much longer.