We’re already into the fourth day of the NHL free agency period, and it has been an exciting one with plenty of big signings and trades so far. So let’s find out what big names stayed and which may have left. We will also review what teams may or may not have come out on top during the first few days of free agency.
The biggest name entering this off-season was Steven Stamkos. Several teams wanted him, but only one team could have him, and it was the Tampa Bay Lightning who re-signed Stamkos to an eight-year, $68 million deal. The team didn’t stop there, as they re-signed defenseman Victor Hedman to an eight-year, $63 million extension. They have also given a contract extension to Andrei Vasilevskiy for three years at $3.5 million a year. With two talented goalies in the fold, what will happen to Ben Bishop is still uncertain, but for now he remains in a Lightning jersey.
While Stamkos stuck around, another talented center has found a new home. David Backes will now be playing for the Boston Bruins, as the former captain of the St. Louis Blues signed a five-year deal with the Bruins worth $30 million. A strong veteran leader, he should be able to help Boston through what they hope to be a short rebuilding period. Meanwhile, center Eric Staal will be playing with the Minnesota Wild next season. With Staal on the decline, the Wild shouldn’t be expecting the kind of production he put up in his prime. But Staal should be able to bring a strong veteran leadership presence to a Minnesota Wild team looking to add some more offense.
While Boston acquired Backes, they lost winger Loui Eriksson, who will now be playing for the Vancouver Canucks. Eriksson signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the Canucks. The Buffalo Sabres were in the hunt for Stamkos, but that fell through. Their consolation prize was a good one, though, as they signed Kyle Okposo to a six-year, $42 million deal. He is a player Buffalo is hoping will help speed up their rebuild and eventually put them into Cup contention. While the New York Islanders lost Okposo, they did get former Chicago Blackhawks Andrew Ladd. Ladd will be a good fit for the Islanders as well as a good replacement for Okposo.
The Edmonton Oilers capped off an interesting week when they acquired Milan Lucic. The Oilers will pay him $42 million over seven years. This would have been a great deal for the team had they not have traded Taylor Hall. Hall was dealt to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson. The Oilers are looking for Larson to have a big impact on their defensive zone play, something that has been a major weakness for several years.
The Florida Panthers have been active this free agency period, looking to strengthen their blue line this off-season while shoring up their backup goaltending spot. After Al Montoya left for Montreal, they acquired the services of James Reimer, formerly of the San Jose Sharks, to take his spot. Florida has also signed a defenseman from the Dallas Stars, as Jason Demers will make $22.5 million over five years. The Panthers also traded for defenseman Mark Pysyk from Buffalo and re-signed blue liner Aaron Ekbland to an eight-year, $60 million extension. They also re-signed forwards Vincent Trocheck (6 years, $28.5 million) and Reilly Smith (5 years, $25 million) to new deals. These additions to their defense, while keeping a strong forward group together, should help push the Panthers deeper in to the playoffs next season.
The Detroit Red Wings weren’t quiet this off-season, either. The Red Wings lost an aging, but crucial member of their team this off-season when Pavel Datsyuk left for Russia. Detroit picked up center Frans Nielsen from the Islanders after missing out on Stamkos. Nielsen will make $31.5 million over six years. The Red Wings also signed forward Thomas Vanek, formerly of the Wild, for one year at $2.6 million and former Blues center Steve Ott for one year at $800,000 dollars. With the re-signing of Darren Helm at five years and $19.25 million, combined with their other moves, it looks like Detroit may have rebounded nicely from the Datsyuk departure even though he will be missed.
There have been a good number of moves, trades, and re-signings already this off-season. It seems like teams that were on the cusp of greatness may have done what they needed to to get over the hump and be in Cup contention. All we can do is wait for October and for the 2016-17 NHL season to start. For me, it can’t come soon enough.
Stats and figures compiled from NHL.com and Yahoo.com
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