Simply put, what transpired in a nearly one-hour span on June 29 was a precursor to the National Hockey League’s July 1 shopping spree.
P.K. Subban. Shea Weber. Taylor Hall. Adam Larsson. All were dealt in shocking trades that, in essence, dropped the puck on the league’s reset which many observers felt would have taken place at the draft.
A little less than 48 hours later, more names — significant ones — signed on dotted lines to ply their trades in new destinations. Some of the deals make sense for both player and team. Some remain to be seen. Some are doomed to be an albatross for both parties.
Metro New York spent the weekend studying the deals, and we believe we have a strong idea which teams and players made out well, and which ones would want a do-over.
We’ll start with the locals:
If Ray Shero decided to sit back and put his feet up on his desk following the acquisition of Taylor Hall, no one could have criticized the Devils general manager. After all, he only landed one of the five best left wingers in the NHL for Larsson.
Instead, Shero re-signed Devante-Smith Pelly and Jon Merrill; locked up Beau Bennett, whom he acquired at the draft from Pittsburgh; and signed UFA center Vernon Fiddler and defenseman Ben Lovejoy.
While Shero still has to re-sign Reid Boucher and Kyle Palmieri, among others, he has given second-year coach John Hynes more offense and more depth to work with.
The question posed to GM Garth Snow when he held a conference call with reporters after the end of the season was whether he felt a need to add a legitimate top-six winger to play with John Tavares.
As is tradition, Snow was relatively circumspect when answering the question.
Then came the first day of free agency.
Snow signed Andrew Ladd to a seven-year deal, ostensibly giving Tavares a skilled power forward. Add in the one-year deal given to old friend P.A. Parenteau, and the Islanders top line is set. Snow also signed Jason Chimera to a two-year deal, likely to fill the vacancy created by Matt Martin’s departure.
Still, the question is whether the Islanders have improved. The free agent losses of Martin, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen will create a leadership void that Ladd, Chimera and Parenteau, among others, must help Tavares, Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic fill.
As Bob Dylan famously sang, the times, they are a-changing.
It used to be that the New York Rangers would open the organizational coffers on July 1 to entice the premier free agents to play on Broadway. But following the signing of Brad Richards on July 2, 2011, the Rangers haven’t participated in the wild, profligate spending that had once been a franchise hallmark.
This year was no different, as the Rangers signed ex-Islander Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe. Grabner adds speed and penalty killing to a team that lacked in both areas last year. Gerbe is potentially a fourth-line forward.
Neither are marquee signings, but both add value at a relatively low cost.
What remains to be seen is whether GM Jeff Gorton can create some salary cap flexibility by moving one or more long-term deals (Rick Nash, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal). Likely, Gorton’s biggest acquisitions will be RFA’s Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Dylan McIlrath.
Now we’ll move on to the rest of the league. We will place teams in three categories: playoff contenders, to be determined and wait till next year.
How does a team build upon its first playoff appearance since 2012? By not standing pat.
First year GM Tom Rowe traded for Keith Yandle, signed homegrown cornerstones Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad to extensions, and brought in Jason Demers, Colton Sceviour, Jonathan Marchessault and James Reimer.
The Panthers, who were eliminated by the Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, look primed to be a contender for years. The only reason we’re not planning a parade in Sunrise, Florida, is the Panthers’ divisional and in-state rival, Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay Lightning
All GM Steve Yzerman did was re-sign top-line center Steven Stamkos and agree to an extension with Victor Hedman, merely one of the five best defensemen in the NHL. While Yzerman still needs to work out deals with Alex Killorn and, notably, Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning have to be an early favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
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To be determined
GM Ron Francis has not been shopping in the upscale market, and maybe that’s for the best. Even though the Hurricanes are $2.991 million under the cap floor according to industry website GeneralFanager.com, the Hurricanes have added useful components in Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell (acquired in a trade with Chicago), and the free agent signings of Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg provide more depth upfront.
The biggest question about the Hurricanes is in net. Francis re-signed Cam Ward to a two-year deal, who is likely to again split time with Eddie Lack. It seems likely one or the other will be made available to the Las Vegas franchise in the expansion draft.
Maybe GM Tim Murray didn’t get the man he wanted but Kyle Okposo certainly will look good riding shotgun on Jack Eichel’s line. So, too, would Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey, and Murray has until Aug. 15 to get him to sign. But the Boston Globe reported Vesey wants to reach unrestricted free agency, which would mean the Sabres would have to battle Boston and Toronto, among others, for the Harvard star.
Wait till next year
So let’s get this out of the way: Anton Khudobin and John-Michael Liles were decent signings. Khudobin and Liles add depth in goal and on the back end, respectively.
So that’s a positive.
The negative is the five-year, $30 million contract David Backes signed. A $6 million annual average value for what looks to be a third line center since the Bruins already have Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci in the fold is risky, especially one who is 32, and had spent the entirety of his career playing physical Western Conference hockey.
Factor in the Bruins’ need for defensemen and the only logical conclusion is that GM Don Sweeney is, A) planning on trading Krejci for St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk; or B) the organization is going all-in on a heavy, grinding, forechecking style of hockey and hoping star goaltender Tuukka Rask can keep enough pucks out of his net.
Either way, it’s a risk. But it’s not as much of a risk as what’s taking place in La Belle Province.
Where to begin? Trading Subban for Weber did not endear GM Marc Bergevin and Head Coach Michel Therrien to a passionate fanbase. Critics of the trade have argued Subban wasn’t traded for hockey reasons, but rather because his outsized personality may have overshadowed the Canadiens brand. Which, if true, is a fireable offense.
Bergevin signed a capable goaltender in Al Montoya to backup Carey Price, but the signing of Alex Radulov brought the questions about character and Subban back to the forefront.
Essentially, Bergevin and Therrien made a dangerous bet. If they’re proven right, they still gave up on 27-year-old defenseman who has already won a Norris Trophy. If they’re wrong, they will both be out of a job.
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman.