If you have been paying any attention to the UFA market over the past several seasons – or even just keeping an eye on this year’s buyout window – you would know a good chunk of UFA signings age like milk left in the July 1 heat.
It would be really easy to sit here and clown on the worst signings in recent memory. But Peter Chiarelli’s taken enough heat these past few years. So instead, let’s direct our energy toward positivity.
When making a UFA signing, every GMs' ultimate, pie-in-the-sky goal is for that player to help win a Stanley Cup. The names that fill out this list may not exactly have been the studs of their cohort – at least in the summer for which they’re mentioned – but each played a role in hoisting Lord Stanley’s grail immediately upon signing with their new teams.
Here are five UFA signings from the past seven seasons who helped push their teams over the edge.
Matt Cullen (2015 and 2016) and Justin Schultz (2016) – Pittsburgh Penguins
Cullen was already a veteran of 1212 NHL games by the time he hit the free market in the summer of 2015. While he may have been 38 at the time, he didn't quite hit the early bird special, kicking around on the market for a little over a month. He eventually signed a one-year deal worth $800,000 with the Penguins on Aug. 6, 2015. Cullen had 32 points in 82 games for Pittsburgh, won nearly 56 percent of draws, and earned two down-ballot Selke votes that season. Among non-ELC players, Cullen had the ninth-best cost-per-point in the NHL. He also had six points in 24 playoff games en route to Pittsburgh’s first of back-to-back Cups. The best part? He hit UFA again the proceeding summer, ultimately re-signed in Pittsburgh for a slight raise, and did more of the same. In total, the Penguins handed Cullen $1.8 million over two years for 63 points, great bottom-six play and two Stanley Cups. Not bad.
Schultz came to the Penguins at the 2015-16 trade deadline and almost immediately became the player Edmonton thought it was getting when it signed him from the University of Wisconsin. He was a part of that Pens 2016 Cup team but – as a trade acquisition – doesn’t make this list for that reason. Schultz was a UFA in the summer of 2016, though, ultimately signing for one year at $1.4 million back in Pittsburgh. He was a stud that season, putting up 51 points in 78 games and finishing 10th in Norris voting. On a Pens D-corps that was very much by-committee, Schultz logged nearly 20 minutes a night in the playoffs, as Pittsburgh won their second Cup in as many years.
David Perron – St. Louis Blues (2018)
Perron was already a familiar face in St. Louis when he signed a four-year, $16-million pact with the Blues on July 1, 2018. He’d played 479 total games across two previous stints with the Blues at the time. Of the 444 NHL points he’d netted by July 2018, 290 came with a winged note on his chest.
Perron has been a consistent contributor over the length of the deal, putting up 67 goals and 164 points in 184 games. That ranks him 45th in NHL scoring in those three seasons combined. He was a vital cog in the lineup that brought St. Louis its first Cup in 2019, finishing fifth in playoff scoring for the Blues. He enters the final season of his contract as a 33-year-old who's been worth every penny so far.
Kevin Shattenkirk – Tampa Bay Lightning (2019)
Shattenkirk was one of the top names among the 2017 UFA cohort, and he was off the board quickly, signing a four-year, $26-million deal with the New York Rangers when free agency opened on July 1. That contract was a dud; the Rangers bought it out just two years later. But the ever-opportunistic Lightning swooped in to scoop the offense-minded D-man four days after that buyout was complete. Shattenkirk agreed to a one-year, $1.75-million show-me contract to play on Florida’s gulf coast and build some value during his days in the sun. He benefitted from favorable deployment and Tampa’s stud goaltending providing him with an on-ice save percentage of .937 at 5-on-5, but Shattenkirk played much better hockey under coach Jon Cooper. Shattenkirk had eight goals and 34 points in 70 regular-season games in Tampa Bay. He added another 13 points in 25 playoff games in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, helping the Lightning to the first of back-to-back championships.
The deal was lucrative for both sides. Tampa Bay got a stud blueline contributor on a bargain deal to help it to a Cup, and Shattenkirk got to rebuild a ton of value. (Oh, and he probably doesn’t mind that whole Cup thing, either). The New Rochelle, N.Y. native signed a three-year, $11.7-million deal with the Ducks shortly after the 2019-20 season. It’s not exactly what he was valued at back in 2017, but it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.
Brad Richards – Chicago Blackhawks (2014)
Sorry Ranger fans, it just worked out this way. Richards signed a giant nine-year, $60-million contract with New York on the second day of free agency in 2011. Though they bought the contract out one-third of the way through its nine-year term, it didn’t actually work out that poorly for the Rangers. Richards put up 151 points in 210 games on Broadway and helped the Blueshirts to the 2014 Stanley Cup final, where they lost in five games to the LA Kings. But the Rangers couldn’t help but jump at the chance to use a compliance buyout on the aging center’s contract that summer since no money would count against their cap.
So it shouldn’t have been too shocking that Richards still had some value to exploit when he became a free agent in the summer of 2014. He’d come within three wins of a Cup in the months prior, and he wasn’t exactly hurting for cash, so Richards chose to sign on the cheap somewhere he could compete for a championship.
Enter the Chicago Blackhawks, who’d won two of the five preceding Cups. When free agency opened on July 1, 2014, Richards quickly agreed to a one-year, $2-million pact to play at the Madhouse on Madison. There's no question the twin eight-year extensions Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signed eight days later were Chicago's biggest off-season moves that year, but the Richards signing helped too.
Richards scored 12 goals and 37 points in the regular season, finishing sixth among Blackhawks forwards. That Blackhawks team wasn’t exactly hurting for Cup experience, but having the 2004 Conn Smythe winner didn’t exactly hurt, either. Richards had three goals and 14 points in 23 playoff games, as the Blackhawks won their third Cup in six years.
Richards only played one more NHL season – for Detroit in 2015-16 – but don’t feel too bad for him; he earns a little over $1 million each of the next five summers stemming from his Rangers buyout. What is it with the New York City area and everlasting buyouts?