Analysis of Notable NHL UFA Signings for July 1, 2018

by | Jul 1, 2018 | Soapbox | 7 comments

The opening day of the NHL’s free-agent frenzy saw several stars changing teams as well as some interesting depth moves. Here’s a brief look at the day’s most notable signings.

John Tavares comes home to Toronto.

After being spurned by Steven Stamkos two years ago, the Leafs succeed in wooing hometown boy Tavares, inking him to a seven-year, $77-million contract. The annual cap hit is $11 million and it’s believed the 27-year-old center left money on the table to join the Leafs, who’ll now have Tavares, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri as their top-three centers. However, the Leafs still have a porous defense that needs improvement. With few palatable options remaining via free agency, perhaps they’ll turn to the trade market for help.

James van Riemsdyk was among several notable players signing big contracts on July 1 (Photo via NHL Images)

James van Riemsdyk returns to the Flyers.

Six years after the Flyers shipped van Riemsdyk to the Leafs, he returns on a five-year, $35-million deal. The annual cap hit is $7 million per season, a tad expensive for a winger who turns 30 next May. Nevertheless, he’s coming off a career-best 36-goal campaign and reached or exceed 54 points in four of the past five seasons. While van Riemsdyk’s presence should provide a welcome offensive boost for the Flyers, he could also be considered insurance in case winger Wayne Simmonds departs next summer via free agency.

Paul Stastny strikes gold in Vegas.

Unable to agree to terms with the Winnipeg Jets, Stastny accepted a three-year, $19.5-million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. A skilled two-way playmaker, the 32-year-old center should help fill the void left by the departure of veteran leaders James Neal and David Perron to free agency. He’ll also help take some of the burden off young centers William Karlsson and Erik Haula. At $6.5 million per season, Stastny’s an expensive addition but one the Golden Knights can afford over the next three years.

Jack Johnson becomes a Penguin.

As expected, Johnson signed a five-year, $16.25 million deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins, joining his old school buddy Sidney Crosby. His new contract carries a cap-friendly $3.25 AAV, though the term is a little long for a 31-year-old defenseman who struggled last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Still, the Penguins have a history of successful reclamation projects with defensemen (Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley, Jamie Oleksiak). If Johnson regains his confidence in Pittsburgh, he could prove a worthwhile addition to their defense corps.

David Perron and Tyler Bozak get the Blues.

It’s the 30-year-old Perron’s third go-around with the Blues and this tenure will be long than his last, inking a four-year, $16-million contract. A skilled, sometimes streaky  playmaking winger, he should provide a much-needed boost to a Blues offense (especially their sputtering powerplay) that really struggled last season. Last season with the Vegas Golden Knights, he enjoyed a career-high 50-assist, 66-point performance.

Bozak, 32, signed a three-year, $15-million deal to come to St. Louis. He’s a solid two-way playerwho should help the Blues shore up their depth at center. He tallied 41 points in 2017-18, marking the fifth time in nine seasons the now-former Maple Leaf exceeded the 40-point plateau.

Handing out deals worth over $4-million annually to 30-something players can be risky, but the Blues were desperate for help up front. Fortunately, the deals aren’t too long. But with over $73 million invested in 22 players, they don’t have much left to re-sign RFAs such as Joel Edmundson and Robby Fabbri

Cole gets an Avalanche of cash.

A reliable physical defenseman with decent puck-moving skills, the 29-year-old Cole cashes in big this summer, signing a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season with the Colorado Avalanche. Having won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cole could bring a measure of leadership and shutdown ability to the Avs blueliner.

Komarov heads to the Island.

After watching franchise player John Tavares sign with Toronto, New York Islanders general manager (and former Leafs GM) Lou Lamoriello replied by signing former Leafs forward Leo Komarov to a four-year, $12-million deal. It’s difficult to fathom what Lamoriello was thinking here. “Uncle Leo” was a popular, hardworking role player in Toronto but the 31-year-old winger struggled through an injury-shortened 2017-18 campaign. His career-best 19-goal, 36-point season came in 2015-16. He’s not worth $3 million annually.



  1. Lyle, do you think the Tavares signing in Toronto may show a trickle down effect in the NHL in the next couple of years? As in, teams may start to go top heavy and pile up on the top 9 and top 4 d like we used to see in the league? For the last few years (this year included) teams have been over spending on the 4th line guys and dishing out 2-3 million for players who will have minimal roles or impact

    • Remains to be seen how successful such clubs become. For now, it’s all about balance, being able to roll four forward lines and three defense pairings. Going top-heavy can be difficult if those teams lack sufficient depth elsewhere in the lineup, especially during the long slog through the playoffs.

  2. On another blog, the writer is already handing Toronto the Stanley Cup. But without improving their defense, I don’t see it. What I see is Toronto trying to mirror Pittsburgh and Tavares-Matthews-Kadri is something akin to Crosby-Malkin-Kessel. The difference is that Toronto doesn’t have a Letang (in his prime). Then, again, what has always been overlooked in Pittsburgh’s strong-great teams is their defense.

    • While I don’t think their D is as bad as most people say, I will agree that they need that one big, strong shut down guy to play on the top pairing with Reilly. Someone who will block shots and clear bodies from in front of the net

  3. Think people are forgetting what Vegas did I didn’t know what line was what they had zero stars besides maybe the flower. They were fast strong and never gave up relentless. Toronto fans are extatic and I don’t blame them I believe they should have used that 11 million on two good solid d- man. I also believe deep down Mathews is pissed but time will tell. Congrats Leaf fans Johnny is a class act and a leader.

    • The problem is what tWo good defencemen were available? It’s worth spending the money on that but if those players aren’t available you can’t really do it.

  4. C’ryan Oreilly to the blues!