July 1st as all hockey fans should know if the beginning of the free agent frenzy in the NHL (as well as the NBA but that’s for a different article) and we as hockey fans were treated to quite the day. There were numerous signings throughout the league in this articles I’m going to take a look at the winners and losers of the first day.
Buffalo Sabres: The Buffalo Sabres have been a rebuilding team since the team traded the last “piece” away if you will, in goaltender Ryan Miller in a deal that sent Miller, and forward Steve Ott to St. Louis in exchange for goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first round pick in the 2015 draft, and a third in the 2016 draft. Yesterday the Sabres made a huge splash in signing forward Kyle Okposo to a 7 year $42M contract to sure up the Buffalo top six. Going into the season the top six could be something dangerous, barring any suspensions/injuries the top six could look something like; Evander Kane-Ryan O’Reilly-Kyle Okposo for the first line, then Tyler Ennis/Marcus Foligno-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart. If these guys can get some chemistry together there’s a good chance you could see Buffalo pushing for a playoff position.
Detroit Red Wings: Detroit has a huge hole to fill with the loss of Pavel Datsyuk who has returned to Russia to play the remainder of his career in the KHL. They signed the hopeful replacement in center Frans Nielsen. Nielsen is coming off of one of his best statistical years where he put up 20 goals, 32 assists, for 52 points while missing one game all season. Not only did they sign one of the bigger free agents, they also resigned forward Darren Helm who is one of the best penalty kill guys in the league and a very underrated player. While signing both those players to six and five year contracts respectively they also took a small risk in signing forward Thomas Vanek who was recently bought out by the Minnesota Wild. Vanek signs a one year very cap friendly contract, and if he produces he could force Detroit to extend him another year or two.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild have been looking for a number one center to play alongside Zach Parise who can score and dish the puck and that’s exactly what they got in Eric Staal who signed a three year deal with Minnesota. While Staal appears to be on the back side of his career playing with someone like Parise could really revitalize his career and we could possibly see a 20-25 goal, 30 assist, 50+ point season if not better out of Staal. Minnesota is in a win now mode in my opinion neither Parise, or Ryan Suter who they signed a couple years ago to huge contracts are getting any younger and they need a cup now. In addition to Staal, the Wild also signed backup goaltender Alex Stalock, and forward Chris Stewart who is a solid third liner who could help elevate the Wild’s game.
San Jose Sharks: The San Jose Sharks appear as though they’ll be making another run at Lord Stanley next season, after the first day of free agency. If you rewatch the Stanley Cup finals you noticed they really lacked speed against the quicker Penguins, and they got exactly that in forward Mikkel Boedker who not only has the speed, but has one of the best shots in the NHL. Along with Boedker the sured up the back end of their defense by signed David Schlemko who could turn out to be a very good stay at home defenseman.
Anaheim: In my opinion the Anaheim Ducks are one of the biggest losers on day one. They have been looking to trade young defenseman Cam Fowler and have yet to strike a deal, not only have they not moved Fowler, they also didn’t make a single signing. If Anaheim is really in a win now mentality they need to add depth outside of Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf.
Montreal Canadiens: What are you doing GM Marc Bergevin? You trade away someone in P.K. Subban who had his on and off ice issues and whatnot then go out and sign someone who has a worse track record than P.K. in Alexander Radulov. This signing makes no sense to me and it landed you on the losers list.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Right I know, I’m a Pens fan I should be bias towards them right? However I do believe that they are losers in a sense on day one. They currently sit about $1M over the salary cap and ended losing one of the best defensemen they had down the stretch in Ben Lovejoy who signed a 3 year $2.66M contract with New Jersey. A deal has yet to be reached with 40 year old forward Matt Cullen, who was a key piece in the Stanley Cup team. The biggest news of the day was the extension of GM Jim Rutherford, outside of that a quite day in Pittsburgh.
Teams that just missed the cut:
Vancouver Canucks: Loui Eriksson will have a huge season alongside the Sedin twins.
Boston Bruins: Signing David Backes to be your third line center almost makes you a contender next season
Edmonton Oilers: Milan Lucic will be there now to stick up for McDavid and others as he looks to put up a career year.
Tampa Bay: Not only did Tampa Bay sign Steven Stamkos earlier in the week, Steve Yzerman also locked stud defenseman Victor Hedman up with an 8 year deal, and signed young goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three deal and will more than likely be the starter if the Lightning can move Ben Bishop