Analysis of Notable NHL Free Agent Signings – July 1, 2017
As the opening day of the 2017 NHL free-agent market winds down, here’s a brief look at the day’s notable signings.
San Jose Sharks re-sign defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (eight years, $7 million annual average value) and goaltender Martin Jones (six years, $5.75 million AAV). Both contracts kick in on July 1, 2018. The Sharks also sign center Joe Thornton (reportedly one-year deal and around $6.5 million).
Vlasic’s an elite NHL defenseman and his new contract puts him among such notables as Drew Doughty of the LA Kings and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’d say he belongs there. He’s a crucial part of the Sharks defense corps.
Jones’ new salary places him around fifteenth among the highest-paid goalies. If the 27-year-old returns to his solid form of 2015-16, this could prove a bargain for the Sharks over the long run.
Despite all the speculation linking Thornton to other clubs leading up to July 1, it wasn’t surprising that he re-signed with the Sharks. He was seeking a three-year deal but apparently was willing to accept a one-year deal for a full $6.5 million salary.
It’s been reported Thornton’s future in San Jose was tied to long-time Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau. Thornton’s signing could signal Marleau’s return.
Anaheim Ducks re-sign defenseman Cam Fowler (eight years, $6.5 million AAV) and goaltender Ryan Miller (two years, $2 million AAV).
Like Vlasic’s and Jones’ new contract, Fowler’s kicks in next July. Though he was the subject of frequent trade speculation last summer, it’s apparent the Ducks consider him the key cog of their blueline. Th 25-year-old’s new contract is comparable to that of St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo.
As for Miller, his days as an elite netminder are in the past. He’ll take on a backup/mentor role for starter John Gibson.
New York Rangers sign defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (four years, $6.65 million AAV). The biggest name in this summer’s UFA market lands where he was always expected to go. He finished among last season’s leading scorers among blueliners though he’s earned criticism for his defensive game.
The 28-year-old will be skating on the right side of the Blueshirts top pairing with Ryan McDonagh. He’s being overpaid for his services but the Rangers at least didn’t lock him up for too long.
Pittsburgh Penguins re-sign defenseman Justin Schultz (three years, $5.5 million AAV). Schultz rejuvenated his NHL career with the Penguins, playing a role in their consecutive championships in 2016 and 2017. Tallying a career-high 51 points last season, he was among the league’s highest-scoring blueliners. That ensured the Pens would keep the mobile rearguard in the fold and give him a healthy raise to boot.
Montreal Canadiens sign defenseman Karl Alzner (five years, $4.65 million AAV). The Canadiens land themselves a quality replacement for Alexei Emelin, who was plucked away by Vegas in the expansion draft. The 28-year-old Alzner is a durable, physical shutdown defender. The Habs got him for a reasonable deal.
Dallas Stars sign center Martin Hanzal (three years, $4.75 million AAV). The 6’6”, 226-pounder brings size and two-way skills at center for the Stars. However, he also has a long injury history and only two 40-point seasons on his resume. The salary’s a little pricey but the Stars didn’t saddle themselves with a lengthy term.
Carolina Hurricanes sign right wing Justin Williams (two years, $4.5 million AAV). Williams, 35, returns to the team where he won his first Stanley Cup in 2006. He gets a nice pay raise over the $3.25 million per season of his previous two-year deal. Despite his age, he remains a reliable second-line right wing. The rebuilding Canes should benefit from his skills and leadership.
Nashville Predators sign center Nick Bonino (four years, $4.1 million AAV) and left wing Scott Hartnell (one year, $1 million AAV). Bonino’s two championship seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins bolstered his free-agent value. The Pred needed two-way depth at center and willingly ponied up for him. This move likely means they’re out of the bidding for Avalanche center Matt Duchene.
The Predators also shipped Colin Wilson to the Colorado Avalanche to make room for Hartnell, who was recently bought out by Columbus. He’s returning to the club where his NHL career began. While the 35-year-old is in decline, he could be a worthwhile checking-line depth addition for the Preds.
Winnipeg Jets sign goaltender Steve Mason (two years, $4.1 million AAV) and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (three years, $4.33 million AAV). Mason’s earning the same annual cap hit as he did on his previous three-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Jets needed an experienced goalie to carry the bulk of the workload until promising Connor Hellebuyck is ready for the full-time starter’s job. As with former Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec, however, consistency is an issue for Mason.
Kulikov, meanwhile, hopes to get his career back on track after a back injury hampered him during his brief tenure with the Buffalo Sabres. When healthy, he’s a mobile, big-minute defender. But if his back woes flare up again, this could become a costly error for the Jets.
Vancouver Canucks sign forward Sam Gagner (three years, $3.1 million AAV) and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (two years, $3 million AAV). Gagner’s 50-point bounce-back performance last season with the Blue Jackets earns him a big raise over his one-year, $650K deal in 2016-17. If he can maintain his usual 40-point production, he could provide a decent boost to the Canucks offense.
Del Zotto, meanwhile, takes a bit of a pay cut for two seasons in Vancouver. He’ll provide the retooling Canucks with experienced puck-moving depth, buying time to allow their younger rearguards to develop.
Tampa Bay Lightning sign defenseman Dan Girardi (two years, $3 million AAV) and winger Chris Kunitz (one year, $2 million). The Bolts get older, but perhaps not necessarily better. They sought an experienced top-four defenseman with a right-handed shot. However, the 33-year-old Girardi has a lot of miles on him and has lost a step or two. That’s one reason the Rangers bought him out.
Same goes for Kunitz, who’s also getting $1 million in bonus money. He helped the Penguins win three Stanley Cup titles since 2009 but saw his production decline over the past two years. Yzerman’s taking a couple of gambles here, but at least they’re affordable and only short term.
Toronto Maple Leafs sign defenseman Ron Hainsey (two years, $3 million AAV). Hainsey reached the playoffs last season for the first time in his career, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup. The Leafs expect he’ll bring experienced depth to their defense corps, but it remains to be seen how much the 36-year-old has left in the tank.
Philadelphia Flyers sign goaltender Brian Elliott (two years, $2.75 million AAV). After washing out with the Calgary Flames last season, the 32-year-old Elliott will try to get his career as an NHL starter back on track with the Flyers. His deal is a reasonable one, but he’s unlikely to end the Flyers’ seemingly never-ending carousel of mediocre goaltending.
Florida Panther sign right wing Radim Vrbata (one year, bonus-laden contract, $2.5 million base salary). The 36-year-old Vrbata will replace now-departed winger Jaromir Jagr. He was the Coyotes’ leading scorer last season with 55 points and could be a decent short-term addition to the Panthers’ scoring lines.
Los Angeles Kings sign winger Mike Cammalleri (one year, $1 million AAV). After being bought out by the New Jersey Devils, Cammalleri returns to the city his NHL career began. The 35-year-old still has a decent scoring touch, but injuries in recent years have limited his effectiveness.
Chicago Blackhawks sign winger Patrick Sharp (one year, $800k AAV). The 35-year-old tallied 20 goals and 55 points in 2015-16 but injuries limited him to just 18 points last season. Having recovered from hip surgery, perhaps a return to Chicago, where he had his best seasons, can help him regain to form. It’s an affordable risk for the cap-strapped Blackhawks.