Day 1 of NHL Free Agency has come and gone, and it was nothing short of exciting as some big names came off the board.
Almost every free agent goaltender was swallowed up on Friday, and multiple elite goalies will be donning new threads next season.
With the craziness of NHL Free Agency calming and the dust settling, we look back at the top five teams that won free agency on Friday, and the top five that could have done a lot better.
1. Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks won free agency solely based on one signing and one signing only. The elite, Stanley-Cup winning goaltender Braden Holtby is heading to the Canadian west coast on a two-year deal that pays him $4.3 million per season. The thought of Holtby combining with emerging star goaltender Thatcher Demko in Vancouver is one that is definitely intriguing. After the Canucks lost out in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals this year, Holtby could be the missing piece this team needs to get to the next level.
Other than signing Holtby, the Canucks have been very quiet thus far, with the only other action being the re-signing of RFA Tyler Motte. They also lost UFA defenceman Chris Tanev and UFA goaltender Jacob Markstrom, although the signing of Holtby more than makes up for the loss of Markstrom.
Don’t expect the Canucks to be done just yet, though. They are still looking for that true top-pairing defenceman to pair with emerging young superstar Quinn Hughes. Alex Pietrangelo, perhaps?
2. Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers quietly made a few key pickups on Friday, none that were blockbuster-type, but definitely some bottom-six depth signings.
The Panthers started by signing UFA defenceman Radko Gudas to a 3-year deal worth $7.5 million. Gudas is known as a big, rugged blueliner in the league and will definitely help solidify Florida’s back end. A few minutes after signing Gudas, new GM Bill Zito pulled the trigger on a player from state rival Tampa Bay Lightning, acquiring Carter Verhaeghe on a 2-year, $2 million contract. Verhaeghe is a very capable bottom-six player in the league and should add some pizzazz to this Florida team.
Lastly, the Panthers signed former Columbus Blue Jackets playmaker Alexander Wennberg to a 1-year, $2.25 million deal. This is a very good pickup for the Panthers, as Wennberg has the ability to put the puck in the net and make great plays. He should fit in nicely in Florida’s middle-six.
3. Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames had a very strong Free Agent Friday, to say the least.
After losing free agent goaltender Cam Talbot to the Minnesota Wild, the biggest hole that the Flames needed to fill was in between the pipes. That being said, they definitely upgraded in net, signing former Vancouver Canucks starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom to a monsterous 6-year deal worth $36 million. This signing was definitely the biggest and best one for Calgary on Friday.
The Flames lost defenceman TJ Brodie to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and filled the gap left by him to sign another former Canuck, defenceman Chris Tanev. Tanev should be able to fill the void left by the departing Brodie. The Flames also locked up a few farm-team players, signing Alex Petrovic, Buddy Robinson, Byron Froese, and Zac Rinaldo to minor-league deals.
And the biggest thing about the Flames’ extremely active day? They likely aren’t done yet.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
Canadian teams had a hay day on Friday, as some of the most productive and active teams were north of the border.
The Toronto Maple Leafs made a splash early on Friday just after free agency opened up, signing free agent forward Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds, a native of the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, ON, agreed to a smaller amount of money in order to play for his hometown team, something we hockey fans like to call a “hometown discount.” Simmonds will definitely add more depth on an already extremely deep, highly talented offensive group.
However, the Leafs’ biggest and most pressing need is on the blue line, and everyone knows it. GM Kyle Dubas did his best to acquire a top-pairing defenceman given the tight salary cap situation they are in. He finally found his man, signing TJ Brodie to a 4-year, $20 million deal.
Do the Leafs have enough pieces of the puzzle now to finally make it out of the first round of playoffs?
5. Detroit Red Wings
Steve Yzerman is beginning to work his magic in Detroit.
Immediately following a very disappointing 39 point season, the worst campaign in Red Wings’ franchise history, Yzerman knew he had to make changes to the once dynamic franchise that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs 25 years in a row. The Red Wings’ GM began the day looking for some forward depth, and he found it in 33-year-old UFA Bobby Ryan. The former Senators forward will undoubtedly add a scoring touch to the Red Wings’ depleted forward group, and they got him for cheap.
Yzerman didn’t stop there, signing free agent defenceman Jon Merrill to a cheap one-year deal. Even though he did not spend a lot of money on these players, do not underestimate them. Ryan and Merrill will likely slot right in to the Red Wings’ lineup when next season begins, and both will make an impact on an otherwise young and inexperienced team.
As the saying goes: it ain’t much, but it’s honest work. Honestly, things probably can’t get any worse in Detroit. Given the team’s situation, there is nothing wrong with these signings and it’s a successful day in my books.
1. Buffalo Sabres
For a team that has not qualified for the postseason for ten straight season, you would think the Buffalo Sabres would be a buyer during free agency.
And they were, to a point. But not to a point that will make a difference this coming season. The Sabres signed three players on Friday and spent a total of $2.1 million between all of them. GM Kevyn Adams signed three UFAs, D Brandon Davidson, F Tobias Rieder, and D Matt Irwin. All three were signed at 1-year, $700K deals.
Sure, all three of these players could very well see full-time NHL action with the Sabres this year, but Adams will have to do a lot more than this if he wants to break the longest active playoff drought in the NHL. Especially playing in an Atlantic Division with powerhouses like the Lightning, Bruins, and Leafs running the show.
2. Edmonton Oilers
What in the world are the Edmonton Oilers thinking?
On a team that should have defence and a goalie as their number one and two priorities, the Oilers failed to address either one of them. Again. The only notable splash that GM Ken Holland made was signing UFA Kyle Turris to a 2-year contract worth $3.3 million. Not a bad signing, I’ll give him that. But as for defenders? Nothing. Goaltenders? Nothing.
Free agent goaltender Mike Smith should not return. He’s 38 years old, well past his prime, and not a reliable goaltender anymore. The Oilers will need a high-caliber goalie to split time with Mikko Koskinen if they want any chance of being able to compete in a strong Pacific Division. They signed goaltender Anton Forsberg to a one-year contract on Friday. Who?? A veteran of 48 NHL games. That’s who. Not good enough. And by now, all the best available goaltenders have signed elsewhere.
The Oilers most likely are not done, however, and we should give an experienced GM like Ken Holland some time to work his magic. But as of right now, the Oilers put the F in Free Agency.
3. Los Angeles Kings
Another team that should have done a whole lot of something did a whole lot of, well, nothing.
The Los Angeles Kings drafted probable NHL superstar Quinton Byfield second overall on Tuesday night. Since then, not a thing has been done to further improve this aging team. The Kings are old. Drew Doughty? Old. Anze Kopitar? Old. Jeff Carter? Old. Hockey is no longer an old man’s sport; in fact it gets younger and younger every season.
If the Kings have any hopes of staying competitive in what is sure to be a powerhouse Pacific Division, with the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Vegas Golden Knights all likely to lead the way, they will need to get a lot more youth on this team to keep up with the superstars of today’s NHL. GM Rob Blake failed to address this on Friday.
The Kings made a grand total of zero signings on the first day of free agency. Perhaps they’re holding out, waiting for all the chips to come into play before striking a deal. But one thing is for sure, if the Kings do nothing, they most certainly will be a bottom feeder again this season.
4. Boston Bruins
In a race between the top three Atlantic Division teams, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins, the Bruins are losing.
The Bruins are still a good team, don’t get me wrong. But they were dealt a huge blow on Friday when top defenceman Torey Krug, a 9-year veteran of the squad, left Boston to sign in St. Louis for $6.5 million per year. The Bruins definitely could have paid that amount to Krug, but it was quite evident that he wanted to test the open market.
The Bruins are now left with a massive hole on the back end that would need to be filled in order to stay afloat with the other two powerhouses in the Atlantic. GM Don Sweeney has not yet found Krug’s replacement, and until he does, the Bruins will be labelled losers in free agency for letting Krug walk. Sweeney did, however, re-sign forward Kevan Miller to a cheap one-year deal.
There is still time, with plenty of free agent defencemen still left unsigned. Who will Sweeney go after?
5. San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are among those teams that needed to do a lot, but failed to do so.
A positive note for the Sharks is the acquisition of goaltender Devan Dubnyk and forward Ryan Donato, both formerly of the Minnesota Wild, whom they received on October 5 in exchange for a couple of draft picks. Dubnyk will add some stability in goal for the Sharks, and Donato will add some middle-six forward depth.
But much like their state rivals from Los Angeles, this team finds themselves with too many aging veterans and not enough youth. And the Sharks did hardly anything on Friday to improve; their only signing being a cheap one-year extension for forward Stefan Noesen.
The Sharks are fine in net and okay on the blue line, but what they really need is those gritty, bottom-six depth players that can dig in the corners and make plays. They did not get that so far in free agency. But once that happens, or rather if that happens, the Sharks may just be a dark horse team in the West.
There are still some big names left on the free agent board who are surely to get signed to new teams. Among those players are top-pairing blueliner Alex Pietrangelo, former first-overall pick Taylor Hall, gritty defenceman Tyson Barrie and speedy sniper Mike Hoffman. With the sun rising on another day, it’s only a matter of time before any of these players pack their bags and head off to join their new team.
Featured photo courtesy of NBC Sports
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