My take on the notable free-agent signings of the opening day of the NHL’s 2016 free-agent market.
Tampa Bay Lightning re-sign defenseman Victor Hedman to an eight-year, $63 million contract.
Hedman’s new deal kicks in for 2017-18, with an annual average cap hit of $7.875 million. He probably would’ve received $9 million annually had he tested next summer’s UFA market. Instead, like teammate Steven Stamkos, he accepts less money to stick with a perennial Stanley Cup contender. The Bolts successfully retain one of the NHL’s top defenseman for the long term and for a hometown discount. They also avoid season-long questions over his future.
Edmonton Oilers have signed left wing Milan Lucic to a seven-year contract worth $42 million.
The Oilers are investing heavily in the 28-year-old Lucic, who’s considered among the NHL’s best power forwards. While he’ll certainly bring championship experience and an aggressive physical style to the Oilers, he’s unlikely to replace the departed Taylor Hall’s offense. Maybe wunderkind center Connor McDavid can help Lucic reach new offensive heights? He’s earning the same annual salary ($6 million) as his previous contract but on a much longer term. He’ll be 35 when this contract expires. Most power forwards are usually spent forces by then. For the Oilers sake, they better hope Lucic bucks that trend.
Buffalo Sabres sign right wing Kyle Okposo to a seven-year, $42 million contract contract.
The Sabres wanted to add experienced offensive depth on the wings and get it in Okposo. If he can mesh well with either Ryan O’Reilly or Jack Eichel, he could be a good fit. Considering they’re investing $6 million annually for seven years, they’re banking on it. Like Lucic, Okposo will be 35 when this deal expires. It’s too long by two years, but obviously the Sabres feel it’s worth it.
Vancouver Canucks sign winger Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $36 million deal.
Canucks GM Jim Benning continues rebuilding on the fly. It was widely assumed Eriksson was one of his top UFA targets. A solid two-way winger, he should be a comfortable fit at right wing on the first line, having played with Canucks stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin in international competition. It’s a hefty price to pay for the 30-year-old Eriksson for a lengthy period. If he and the Sedins have strong chemistry, this move should could provide an offensive boost for at least the remainder of the twins contracts (two years) with the Canucks. After that, things get murky.
Boston Bruins sign forward David Backes to a five-year, $30 million contract.
The Bruins had to replace the skill and versatility of departed two-way forward Loui Eriksson and needed more leadership and toughness. Backes, the former captain of the St. Louis Blues, will be a good addition for the first two or three years of this deal. However, there’s a real risk the physical style of his game could catch up to him by the midpoint of this deal.
New York Islanders signed left wing Andrew Ladd to a seven-year deal worth $5.5 million annually.
With the departure of Kyle Okposo, the Islanders had to find a top-line winger to skate alongside center John Tavares. Ladd’s an experienced and physical two-way forward with leadership skills. While his stats were down last season, he could be rejuvenated playing alongside a superstar like Tavares. However, a seven-year deal for a 30-year-old forward is far too long. They probably won’t get full value for this contract.
Montreal Canadiens have signed right wing Alexander Radulov to a one-year, $5.75 million.
After swapping P.K. Subban earlier this week for Shea Weber, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin rolls the dice on the 29-year-old Radulov, who last played in the NHL four years ago. Radulov’s an undeniable offensive talent who was a KHL superstar, but there’s also questions about his character. The salary is expensive but at least the Habs aren’t on the hook long-term if he doesn’t pan out. Radulov has the skills to help the Canadiens popgun offense. If he fails, however, this signing will only provide more fodder to Bergevin’s growing choir of critics.
Detroit Red Wings sign center Frans Nielsen to a six-year contract worth $5.25 million per season.
Now that Pavel Datsyuk is headed to Russia next season, the Wings found themselves a reasonable replacement with Nielsen. While he’s not on the same skill level as Datsyuk was in his prime, the 32-year-old former Islander is an underrated two-way center. While the dollars are sensible, however, this deal is probably two years too long.
San Jose Sharks sign winger Mikkel Boedker to a four-year, $16 million contract.
A modest pay raise for Boedker (up from $3.75 million last season) for four years. It’s a very reasonable contract for a player of his skills.After falling to the speed of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks get a significant boost in that regard. The 26-year-old Boedker’s a speedy playmaker who should mesh well as a top-six forward in San Jose.
Minnesota Wild sign center Eric Staal to a three-year contract worth $3.5 million per season.
Staal’s declining performance sent his free-agent stock tumbling this season. He takes a deal worth considerably less than his previous contract (seven years, over $57 million). If Staal can regain his form, this could become a bargain for the Wild. If he doesn’t, it could become another regrettable free-agent signing for Wild GM Chuck Fletcher.
Calgary Flames sign right wing Troy Brouwer to a four-year deal worth $4.25 million annually.
A strong performance in the 2016 playoffs certainly boosted Brouwer’s value. The 30-year-old should provide invaluable grit, experience and playoff leadership for the rebuilding Flames. His new contract is a a slight pay bump over his previous salary ($3.66 million per season) and the term isn’t unreasonable.
Tampa Bay Lightning re-sign goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year contract extension worth $3.5 million annually.
The Lightning’s re-signing of key players continues this week. Vasilevskiy has one season left on his current entry-level contract. He is seen as the heir apparent for Ben Bishop, who could be dealt this summer or retained for one final push next season for a Stanley Cup. Vasilevskiy , however, will be their starter after 2016-17 and for a very affordable deal.
The Florida Panther signed goaltender James Reimer to a five-year deal worth $3.4 million per season.
A good deal for a goalie who appeared to be running out of options in what was a limited goalie market this summer. Reimer will be the backup for Roberto Luongo, but the length of the deal suggests the Panthers wanted someone who can handle more playing time than a traditional backup. The dollars are sensible for a goalie who could perhaps take over as the Panthers starter down the road.
St. Louis Blues bring back winger David Perron on a two-year contract worth $7.75 million.
Unable to agree to terms with Troy Brouwer, the Blues are going with an affordable short-term blast from the past in Perron. He’s bounced from the Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks since he left St. Louis in 2013. Injuries and consistency have been a concern, but perhaps he can put that behind him with a return to St. Louis.
Brian Campbell returns to the Chicago Blackhawks on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with a $750K bonus.
The Blackhawks needed an experienced, skilled and affordable puck-moving blueliner for their second defense pairing. Campbell, who helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup in 2010, should address that need for the cap-strapped club. Though 37, he can still log big minutes and has sound offensive instincts. He shouldn’t have much difficulty settling back into the Blackhawks system.