Bolts, Oilers, Hawks make mark early in 2016 free agency
If we were being fair, we'd wait a year or two had passed before assessing the winners and losers of the opening day of NHL free agency.
But where's the fun in that, right?
While we can all agree that every newly-signed player was overpaid during that record-breaking spending spree, there's room for debate over which teams made the most of their opportunities at hand... and which tied a financial anchor around their own necks.
Here's our take:
Tampa Bay Lightning
There's no better approach to Juy 1 than this: Instead of buying outside help, Steve Yzerman on Friday simply sold two of his current players on the value of remaining with the Lightning.
First, Yzerman secured the services of Norris-contending defenseman Victor Hedman with an eight-year, $63 million deal. The $7.875 million AAV will make Hedman the second-highest paid blueliner when it kicks in, but represented a deep discount from the $10 million-plus he would easily have secured in free agency next summer. Yzerman then tied down future starter Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year deal worth $10.5 million that should prove to be a tremendous value when current No. 1 Ben Bishop is inevitably moved.
Did Peter Chiarelli over-commit to Milan Lucic with a seven-year, $42 million deal? Absolutely. But by landing the player who arguably was the best on the board, the Oilers GM didn't simply repair some of the damage caused by his disastrous trade of Taylor Hall earlier in the week. He proved the narrative has changed about his team. With Connor McDavid leading the way, Edmonton is now a viable option for a free agent looking to win down the road.
The Hawks made just one move on Friday, but it was one of the best of the day. Brian Campbell signed at a bargain rate of $2.25 million for one year, filling the glaring hole in their defense while allowing Chicago to remain under the cap. He's a legitimate top-four option who, at 37, can still wheel and deal with the best of them.
GM Tom Rowe might have saved a few bucks by signing Aaron Ekblad to a bridge deal, but he understands exactly what he has in the 20-year-old defenseman. The eight-year, $60 million contract they agreed on recognizes Ekblad's role as a franchise cornerstone and ensures he'll remain a Panther throughout his prime years.
Rowe also upgraded his goaltending by signing goalie James Reimer to a five-year deal worth $3.4 million per season. That's a hefty commitment to an apparent backup, but with Roberto Luongo getting up there in years (and recovering from off-season hip surgery), Reimer provides top-flight insurance. The price could look like a bargain before the deal is up.
Rowe also made three solid depth additions, bringing in analytics darling Jonathan Marchessault and center Colton Sceviour to bolster his bottom-six before adding defenseman Jason Demers on Saturday.
After cutting ties with half of last season's defense corps, GM Jim Nill entered free agency needing to bolster the veteran presence on his blueline. He snagged the best fit in Dan Hamhuis, signing the former Canucks to a team-friendly two-year, $7.5 million deal. Hamhuis is expected to suit up alongside John Klingberg, providing a safety valve who can free the skilled youngster to work his magic.
Nill also had to make a call between veteran forwards Vernon Fiddler and Mike Eaves. He chose wisely, signing the more versatile Eaves to a one-year, $1 million deal.
St. Louis Blues
The hard truth is that the Blues aren't as good a team today as they were when the season ended. Losing both David Backes and Troy Brouwer to free agency carves a gouge deep into their roster and their character. But GM Doug Armstrong recognized that meeting the term demands of a couple of 30-plus bangers would have been cap suicide. By letting them walk, he allowed himself financial flexibility that could be used to re-sign RFA Jaden Schwartz and KHL returnee Vladimir Sobotka, and to retain 2017 UFA Kevin Shattenkirk, if he desires.
Armstrong also brought back former Blues forward David Perron with a two-year, $7.5 million contract, then settled his goaltending situation by re-upping goalie Jake Allen (four years, $17.4 million) and signing UFA backup Carter Hutton (two-years, $2.25 million).
GALLERY: Top free agents to hit 2016 market
New York Islanders
The Islanders replaced Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin with Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. Let that sink in for a moment. Ladd somehow capitalized on a down year in Winnipeg, earning a seven-year, $38.5 million deal that he can't possibly live up to. He'll be 37 at the end of his contract which, coincidentally, is the age Chimera is now. Granted, he's on a two-year deal that suggests he's a stop-gap until the talent down on the farm ripens, but the former Cap is due for a major regression after tying his career high of 20 goals last season.
Loui Eriksson's six-year, $36 million deal would be easy to justify if the Canucks were contenders. But for a team that's in rebuild mode, this one's hard to figure out. No doubt he'll find a comfortable fit alongside the Sedins, where it's entirely possible that he'll match the 30 goals and 63 points he scored this past season with Boston. But he doesn't really move the needle for a team that's destined the miss the playoffs for the next few years.
Toronto Maple Leafs
As expected, the Leafs were relatively quiet on Friday, but the one deal they did sign was a puzzler. Matt Martin is sure to bring energy to a building that was a mausoleum most nights last season, but that doesn't justify rewarding the fourth-liner with a four-year deal worth $10 million.
Adding Backes gives the Bruins one of the best groups of centers in the league, but that contract? Giving five years and $30 million to a 32-year-old middle-six banger with a history of concussions is bound to end in regret. More to the point though, this signing fails to address Boston's biggest need, which is for immediate top-four help on the blueline. Unless the B's turn around and flip David Krejci for a top-pair blueliner, this feels like a move designed to make a splash rather than improve the team.