Hey, well done, NHL general managers. A pat on the back is deserved.
You each exercised composure, for the most part, as the NHL’s free-agent window lifted for another summer, making this exercise a little more difficult than in years past.
Alas, we still need winners and we still need losers. So here goes:
New York Rangers
At a time where leverage is exclusively with the talent that reaches auction, the New York Rangers commanded negotiations with this summer’s marquee free agent, convincing him to discard three seasons of salary negotiated inside his maximum earning window.
The lure of home, of Madison Square Garden, ended up being too strong for Kevin Shattenkirk, who accepted a four-year, $26.6-million contract to live out a childhood dream, therefore eschewing seasons of fixed-rate earning while his skills diminish.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility to suggest that Shattenkirk – a defenseman who trails only Brent Burns, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson in rate production over the last three seasons – could have signed a contract in excess of $50 million today.
A few of the biggest winners were the franchises that made a lasting impression years back.
Justin Williams, Scott Hartnell and Mike Cammalleri each signed deals to return to former teams from more than a decade ago, while Patrick Sharp is reuniting with the Chicago Blackhawks’ core he won three Stanley Cups with.
Hartnell, Cammalleri and Sharp signed bargain-basement deals, and, for this reason, they can resume being productive members of an NHL team.
Williams is the lone returnee mentioned who earned a raise, having signed for two years and $9 million with the Hurricanes. He’s been able to maintain a middle-six standard in his chase for a fourth Stanley Cup, and should help the Hurricanes on their path back to contention.
There was one more intriguing homecoming in Florida as well. Evgeny Dadonov signed a three-year deal with the Panthers after a half-decade run in Russia. It will be fascinating to see how his scoring prowess translates this time around.
Need and fit can be two different things.
Nick Bonino wasn’t just the best free-agent center available, but most suitable for the Nashville Predators, who entered the summer needing a No. 2 pivot to fill in behind Ryan Johansen – especially with Mike Fisher mulling his options moving forward.
Facilitate, win faceoffs, kill penalties, score a little: Bonino does a little bit of everything under the middle-six forward umbrella. But most importantly, he does it with pace.
Bonino could be the perfect axis between two talented wingers on Peter Laviolette’s second line, and he’s jumping ship for a reasonable price and term.
(Note: We’ll consider the Scott Hartnell and Alexei Emelin acquisitions a wash).
As the other 30 teams worked to fill out rosters Saturday, making it much more difficult to house a $6-million contract in a potential trade, the Colorado Avalanche continue to leave Matt Duchene in limbo, waiting for the move that’s right for them.
Thing is, we’re now well past the point of optimal return for the former 30-goal man, and whatever leverage Joe Sakic had on the draft floor will diminish the longer this drags on.
Columbus seems to be the only team still pressing for a deal after Nashville sprung for Bonino. How does Colorado expect to land an optimal return with one team involved in the bidding war?
Kevin Cheveldayoff, an executive normally reserved around this time of the year, signed Steve Mason and Dmitry Kulikov – a goaltender and defenseman who each failed to perform at a replacement level last season – for a combined $8.43 million.
Mason forms an inexpensive and potentially effective goaltending tandem with Connor Hellebuyck. There is no such similar spin when assessing the deal for Kulikov, who secured a third year of term after an abysmal season in Buffalo.
The Karl Alzner contract isn’t egregious, but it speaks to a bigger issue in Montreal. This is a defenseman who offers absolutely no impact offensively, and he was was prioritized ahead Alex Radulov – the second-leading scorer last year on a team that simply hasn’t scored enough throughout Carey Price’s entire tenure.
Radulov could still wind up back in Montreal, but if it fails to retain him (Dallas is reportedly aggressively in pursuit), then the Canadiens took a step backwards even with the acquisition of Jonathan Drouin.
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