Analyzing the signings, trades and rumors on the first day of NHL free agency.  

By Allan Muir
July 01, 2016

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No Steven Stamkos? No problem.

Losing the star attraction ahead of today's opening of the NHL's free agency period might take a little luster off the proceedings, but leaves us with a market flush with cash and almost impossible to predict.

Milan Lucic is the new headliner, supported by a strong cast of top-nine forwards that includes Loui Eriksson, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, Andrew Ladd and David Backes. All are likely to sign new deals shortly after the bell rings at noon eastern.

There's less depth on defense, ensuring demand will be high for complementary players like Brian Campbell, Kris Russell, Jason Demers and Jason Schultz. In net, James Reimer is the only viable starting option, with Chad Johnson, Al Montoya and Jeff Zatkoff ready to provide relief.

Stay with's NHL Free Agent Tracker and we'll keep you up to date on all of the signings and provide expert analysis of who wins ... and who loses.

TRACKERS: Trades | Signings since 6/1 | GALLERY: Top free agents

5:05 PM: Per LeBrun, the San Jose Sharks have signed Mikkel Boedker to a four-year deal with a $4 million AAV.

React: That's a significant discount from the $6 million per year he was seeking as a member of the Coyotes, and lot closer to his real value. Boedker is an elite skater and a creative playmaker, but gets killed defensively. If anyone can get him on track, it could be Pete Deboer, who coached Boedker in Kitchener during his draft season. Properly protected, he could add some much needed speed to San Jose's top nine.

5:04 PM: As Milan Lucic takes to the podium in Edmonton to discuss his new contract, here's the tweet that won the Internet:

4:30 PM: The Red Wings add another forward, signing former Blue Steve Ott to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

React: Yes...another forward. At least Ott brings something different to the table than anyone else on the roster, and he's coming at a bargain price to play a fourth-line role. And it's nice for Otter, who played his junior hockey in Windsor and has a home nearby, to finish out his career close to friends and family.

3:45 PM: The Maple Leafs jump into the fray late in the day, signing hard-hitting winger Matt Martin to four year deal worth $2.5 million per year.

React: That's a nice deal for Martin, who made $1 million a year on his last contract with the Isles. Hard to see this as a win for the Leafs, though. Sure, Martin was part of "hockey's best fourth line" in Brooklyn, where he routinely led the league in hits. And his presence will act as a deterrent to opponents who might be inclined to take a run at Mitch Marner, William Nylander and even Auston Matthews. He's sure to be a crowd favorite at the AAC. But giving both term and dollars to a player who performs that role defies contemporary logic. The Leafs could have found someone else to perform that task for much, much less.  

3:35 PM: A week after having the final year of his $6.5 million contract bought out by the Wild, Thomas Vanek has found a new home in Detroit. It's a one-year deal worth $2.6 million.

React: In terms of value, this looks like another solid signing for the Wings. Things didn't quite work out for Vanek in Minnesota, but the 18 goals and 41 points he scored this past season would be a decent return on the investment Detroit made. The signing does seem to create a logjam up front, though. After signing Nielsen earlier in the day, the Wings now have 15 NHL-ready forwards. If that excess leads to a trade for a depth defenseman, everyone's happy. If not, it could mean another year of arrested development for Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen while top prospect Anthony Mantha continues to over-ripen in Grand Rapids.

3:10 PM: Per Pierre LeBrun, Brian Campbell's one-year contract with Chicago pays $1.5 million in base salary with a bonus of $750k after 10 games played ($2.25 million total).

2:50 PM: The Dallas Stars have re-signed UFA forward Patrick Eaves for one year at $1 million, according to Mike Heika. This is one of those quiet signings that you can only fully appreciate as a regular viewer of the Stars. Eaves is a two-way forward who can slot anywhere in the lineup and is a key cog in their devastating power play. 

2:45 PM: The Colorado Avalanche complete a couple of low-key deals. They sign Patrick Wiercioch (one year, $800K) and Fedor Tyutin (one year, $2 million AAV) to bolster their blueline, then add depth center Joe Colborne from the Flames (two years, $2.5 million AAV).

React: It's interesting, but not necessarily telling, that two of these players didn't get qualifying offers while the other was bought out. Wiercioch is an analytics darling and could be a nice fit on their third pair at a rock-bottom price. Tyutin is a serviceable veteran who can play in their bottom four. Colborne can step in as Colorado's third-line center. Based on his inflated shooting percentage, he's bound to regress from his career-best 19-goal, 44-point season, and his skating is an ongoing concern, but Colborne brings size and consistency and is dynamite in the shootout.

2:32 PM: The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Lee Stempniak to a two-year deal worth $2.5 million per year.

React: Stempniak is the Steve Buscemi of the hockey world. He'll never be a star, but he's highly effective in any role he's given. The 33-year-old isn't likely to match the 19-goal, 51-point season he just enjoyed with New Jersey and Boston, but he gives coach Bill Peters a versatile weapon that he can deploy across his top nine. Nice to see him earn some security after having to sign a PTO last fall.

2:15 PM: Best under-the-radar signing today? How about Jonathan Marchessault. The Panthers signed the former Bolt to a two-year, $1.9 million deal that could pay quick dividends. The 25-year-old is a right-handed shot who can play center or wing. He posted great possession numbers with Tampa (54%, above the team average) and create offense (1.6 points per 60 minutes). He's also a reliable defensive player, making him an ideal depth add for a Panthers team that needs improved two-way play from its bottom six.

1:53 PM: Dan Hamhuis signs a two-year deal with the Dallas Stars worth $3.75 million per year, according to John Shannon.

The Stars failed to wrangle Hamhuis from the Canucks ahead of the deadline. Now they get him for straight cash. Big win for Dallas, big loss for Vancouver. Kudos to GM Jim Nill, who lands the veteran blueliner he needed to bolster a very young blueline at a value price and the right term. He'll likely slot onto the first pair alongside John Klingberg for these two seasons before clearing a roster spot for promising prospect Julius Honka.

1:35 PM: Radulov to Montreal is official. One year, $5.75 million, per Pierre LeBrun.

React: This pretty much sums it up:

1:30 PM: Victor Hedman has signed an eight-year contract extension worth $7.875 million per year

There won't be a better deal signed today. Hedman is an elite defenseman who, at 25, is only now entering the prime of his career. He's being well compensated (only P.K. Subban will make more in 2017-18) but he took considerably less than he would have earned as a free agent. Steve Yzerman still has some tough calls to make (beyond Ben Bishop, who is a goner) but the Lightning's GM appears well positioned to sign Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson and keep the core of this championship-caliber team intact.

12:44 PM: Ben Lovejoy to the New Jersey Devils, per Darren Dreger. Three years, $2.66 AAV.

React: Another savvy move by Devils GM Ray Shero as he backfills the hole created by the trade of Adam Larsson. Lovejoy was a first unit defender on the fifth-rated penalty kill during the regular season, but elevated his contributions in the playoffs, especially after Trevor Daley was injured. He brought poise and smarts to Pittsburgh's second pair, and was a key cog in their championship run. While he's not an ideal puck mover, his possession stats suggest he makes a positive contribution in transition. A great depth add.

12:35 PM: Jason Chimera to the New York Islanders, per McKenzie. Two year deal, $2.25M AAV.

12:30 PM: Frans Nielsen to Detroit. Six years, $5.25 million AAV.

React: The perfect fit to fill the spot vacated by Pavel Datsyuk. Plays a complete, 200-foot game, great on the draw, outstanding on the penalty kill and has averaged 20 goals per over the past three seasons. Some pretty sweet mitts in the shootout as well. There's some concern that the Wings already have too many of this type of player, but ignore that. Nielsen is a risk-free addition at fair market value.

12:24 PM: Eric Staal to Minnesota. Three years, $3.5 million AAV.

React: It speaks to Staal's diminished reputation that he secured a shorter term and a smaller stack of bills than others signing right after the bell. Still, his size and tools make him an intriguing option for a Wild team that had a glaring need down the middle. He'll likely slide into the third-line center role, but if his game rebounds after an abysmal season in Carolina and New York, he could move up the roster. Call this a reasonable gamble for the Wild, and an excellent contract for Staal.

12:23 PM: Kyle Okposo to the Sabres. Seven years, $6 million AAV.

React: After losing out on Stamkos, the Sabres rebounded by signing the next best player available in Okposo. The 28-year-old winger brings a big body, quick feet and proven scoring ability (184 points in 210 games, more than any other UFA over the past three seasons). Imagine this potential top-six in Buffalo: Kane-O'Reilly-Okposo, Vesey-Eichel-Reinhart. Sounds like a group that can lead a team to the playoffs, doesn't it? And because his deal is front-loaded, it frees up some cash down the road when Eichel and Reinhart need to be paid. There's reason for concern towards the end of the deal, but this is really about years 1-5. Framed that way, this is a solid signing for both sides.

12:22 PM: Troy Brouwer to Calgary. Four years, $4.5 million AAV.

React: Tough day for the Blues, who lose two big, banging forwards. At the price though, it made sense for St. Louis to cut ties with both. Brouwer is a solid add for the Flames, a young team with a pressing need for veteran leadership and some size and skill (averaging 20 goals over the past five seasons) on the right wing. It's possible he'll slide into a top-six role for them next season. Calgary fans might blanche at the cap hit, but the four-year term should make it easier to swallow.

12:13 PM: David Backes to the Boston Bruins. Five years, $6 million per, according to Bob McKenzie. He also reports John-Michael Liles will return to the Bruins on a one-year deal.

React: The Bruins need defense. They instead tie up cap space on a 32-year-old power forward. It's called Sweeneying. 

Backes proved in the playoffs that he has something to offer. He plays a classic Bruins game, big, tough and intimidating. He's not a bad addition to a team hoping to make the playoffs next season. But spending $6 million on a third-line center is maddeningly short-sighted move for a club that needs to be looking further down the road. The smart play would have been to keep their powder dry and hold on to their cap space until an opportunity to add one (or more) top-four defenders presented itself. If that meant waiting until the trade deadline, so be it. This feels like a move made only to prove they're paying attention to the calendar. An early contender for worst signing of free agency.

12:12 PM: Loui Eriksson to the Vancouver Canucks, six years at $6 million per.

React: Eriksson is a smart, quick, defensively reliable winger who is coming off a terrific year in Boston. The Canucks are gambling that he can score at a similar clip (25+ goals, 60+ points), which is probably a safe bet if he's slotted alongside the Sedins for the final two years of their current deal. His net-front presence and deft touch in the paint should also be a boost for Vancouver's 27th ranked power play. Still, he's another 30-plus player on a team that's not competing for a playoff spot, let alone the Cup, so it's hard to see the motivation for making this deal.

12:10 PM: James Reimer to the Florida Panthers, five years, $3.4 million per, according to Bob McKenzie.

React: Couldn't love this deal more. Roberto Luongo is signed for six more seasons, but at 37 his age and his health are legitimate concerns. Reimer was solid as a starter in Toronto and excellent in a backup role with the Sharks. He provides top-notch insurance for the Panthers. The price might be a bit elevated, but Florida had the cap space. Investing some of it here makes sense.

12:05 PM: Andrew Ladd signs with the New York Islanders, seven years at $5.5 million per.

React: Two-time Stanley Cup winner brings leadership, scoring and a reliable physical presence. Short term, this is a great deal...but he's 30 years old and, much like Dustin Brown, he's susceptible to early physical breakdown. In a lot of ways, he's an older version of a player they let go in Okposo, saving just $500K in the process. Add in how little impact Ladd had in Chicago after the trade deadline and this looks like a backwards move for the Isles.

12:00 PM: That didn't take long. Lucic is officially an Edmonton Oiler. Seven years, $42 million.

React: The least surprising signing of the day. The buzz suggested that Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli already had this deal in his back pocket when he decided to trade Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson earlier this week. Lucic doesn't replace Hall, but he makes this a bigger, stronger, meaner, more dangerous team, while addressing the need for a more physical and reliable net-front presence. He's likely to ride shotgun on Connor McDavid's line, buying the young center some space while feasting on rebounds and tip-ins.

That said, the term is awful. Lucic is just 28 but history shows his rambunctious style of play tends to take a toll as a player grows older (see his former teammate, Dustin Brown). Maybe Lucic beats the odds. He's been a picture of health, missing just 10 games over the past six seasons. But odds are his game begins to deteriorate within three years. And if it does, that's a big cap hit to carry.

11:55 AM: John Shannon of Sportsnet reporting that Brian Campbell will sign a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.

11:35 AM: Bob McKenzie reports the Boston Bruins are in hot pursuit of David Backes and Calgary is closing in on Troy Brouwer. If the Blues lose both power forwards, they'll be in tough in the Central next season.

11:00 AM: Lots of buzz about deals ready to drop as soon as the gates open at noon. Among them: Milan Lucic to Edmonton (seven years, $42 million); Loui Eriksson to Vancouver; Andrew Ladd to the Islanders; Frans Nielsen to Detroit and Kyle Okposo to the Sabres.

10:40 AM: Funny...but too soon.

10:30 AM: The Montreal Canadiens have reportedly signed free agent winger Alexander Radulov. No terms yet available.

On some level this makes sense. Radulov amassed 169 goals and 492 points over eight seasons and 391 games in the KHL. Skill, he's got plenty of. It's easy to imagine him scoring 20-25 goals in a top-six role. And for a team that finished 16th in scoring last season (2.63 goals per game), that touch would come in handy.

Former NHL free agents tell their tales of suspense and anxiety

But character? Well, this is a guy who was suspended by the Nashville Predators during the 2012 playoffs for violating team curfew. He and teammate Andrei Kostitsyn were reportedly out partying until 5 a.m. the night before Game 2 of a second-round series against the Coyotes. He returned to the KHL the following season.

He's also the guy who blasted his coach in the face with his stick and then laughed about it.

Maybe he's grown up since then. Maybe he's figured out that playing in the NHL is a privilege and he's willing to toe the line to earn it. If that's the case, this could be a decent value signing for the Habs. But Radulov is bringing a lot of baggage with him, and for a team that just dumped P.K. Subban over perceived character issues, that's a curious burden for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin to take on.  

AVAILABLE CAP SPACE (as of 7/1 via General Fanager)

Ceiling 2016-17: $73 million | Floor: $54 million

METRO: Penguins +1.475; Capitals $8.888; Islanders $15.421; Rangers $15.275; Flyers $11.928; Devils $27.583; Hurricanes $26.667; Blue Jackets $4.468

ATLANTIC: Panthers $18.067; Lightning $12.979; Bruins $19.232; Red Wings $18.032; Canadiens $9.805; Maple Leafs $4.156; Sabres $17.270; Senators $17.476

CENTRAL: Stars $13.578; Blues $15.245; Blackhawks $5.266; Predators $9.302; Wild $11.569; Avalanche $20.934; Jets $20.160

PACIFIC: Ducks $15.696; Kings $6.032; Sharks $9.106; Canucks $10.179; Flames $21.108; Coyotes $25.401; Oilers $15.289

• Panthers poised to pounce on market

10:23 AM: Asked for some insight into the opening of the NHL's free agency period, one player agent summed up the market succinctly:Term means everything.”

Everyone has an understanding of what a player will cost, he said. To seal the deal, they'll have to be willing to add an extra year, or two, onto their offer. The buzz about Lucic demanding seven years from the Oilers makes perfect sense, he says. "The spot [Edmonton is in], the spot he's in, that's just what it's going to take."

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