Day One has come and gone. On a wild Canada Day, there was plenty of activity on the first day of NHL free agency. July 1 was as busy as expected. Even if this year’s class isn’t loaded with stars, it hasn’t stopped NHL GM’s from spending money.
The biggest fish Kevin Shattenkirk surprised many prognosticators by choosing the Rangers to a shorter term due to wanting to come home. He left a lot of money on the table. The Sabres and Coyotes were after him and bid more. That also included the Devils, who actually were asked for a shorter term. Something GM Ray Shero noted. But the 28-year old New Rochelle, New York native decided he couldn’t pass up the oppportunity to play for the team he grew up rooting for.
Initially, NHL Network’s Kevin Weekes broke the story in a tweet. He had Shattenkirk signing with the Rangers for a higher term over four years.
The confusing thing is nobody on TSN’s panel seemed to know it was happening. The Rangers were considered out of the loop due to re-signing Brendan Smith. It was no secret that GM Jeff Gorton wasn’t going to be able to offer as many years for the good skating offensive right defenseman. That made them long shots to get him. Even Larry Brooks didn’t see it happening.
What it ultimately came down to is a player going out of his way to make a childhood dream come true. All the credit goes to Shattenkirk, who was willing to forego more years so he could be a Ranger. This interview with Sportsnet is great stuff. Listening to Shattenkirk explain his decision and then citing some of his Rangers heroes growing up brings a smile to my face.
If a player will sacrifice a longer term with more cash on the table, it tells you all you need to know. He’s sincere. Hopefully, it will work out the way the pro Shattenkirk crowd envision. He admitted that Ryan McDonagh was part of why he wanted to come. So, the Rangers will have the top pair everyone wanted.
With Smith also back in the fold and Brady Skjei entering his second year, there’s no doubt the blueline will be improved. There are still questions surrounding Marc Staal and Nick Holden along with newcomer Anthony DeAngelo. How will Alain Vigneault play it? What about Gorton? Is he done wheeling and dealing? Hard to say. We know they are going to look at prospects Ryan Graves, Alexei Bereglazov and Neal Pionk.
The other move was signing former Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. He went from being a starter who helped the team reach the playoffs in ’14-15 to a struggling backup who twice was brought back from the AHL. It remains to be seen if goalie coach Benoit Allaire can fix the soon to be 30-year old Czech. He has a great track record prolonging Steve Valiquette’s career and then turning Cam Talbot into a good starter for Edmonton. Antti Raanta will graduate to a starter role for the Coyotes after two excellent seasons backing up Henrik Lundqvist.
The bigger question for Gorton is what are his plans to address the lack of center depth. With just about every big name signing and the current roster left with key restricted Mika Zibanejad and the undermining Kevin Hayes, whose playoff track record is discouraging, what are the Rangers gonna do? They can always try J.T. Miller at center. But they are thin. Unless Cristoval Nieves can make the roster and fill the fourth line slot, there will continue to be questions about the team’s center depth.
While the Rangers will continue to search for a center bargain, the Devils went to a familiar face to fill a checking pivot by signing Brian Boyle to a two-year contract worth an average of $2.55 million. The 32-year old vet spent a majority of the past three seasons in Tampa helping the Lightning reach a Stanley Cup Final and another Conference Final. In Year 3, he was traded to the Leafs where he played a role helping Toronto make the postseason where they pushed the heavily favorite Caps seven games in the first round.
Now, the dependable Boyle will be looked to as a leader by the Devils in a rebuilding year. They remain very young with top pick Nico Hischier expected to join the team and have a impact. The Devils also will look for more from Pavel Zacha, John Quenneville, Miles Wood and Joseph Blandisi. They still boast vets Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac along with captain Andy Greene and Cory Schneider.
So, it’ll be a mix of youth and experience for the Devils who will be hard pressed to compete in a tough Metro Division. They should improve but how much is the question.
After failing to add Shattenkirk, the Sabres were able to sign Benoit Pouliot and ex-Devil Jacob Josefson. Pouliot is a perfect third liner who is a bit streaky. He is capable of contributing double digit goals and between 30-40 points. But it largely depends on what his role is. He was most successful in New York playing with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello on a good Rangers third line that forechecked and contributed big goals during their run in the 2014 playoffs. Without them, they don’t get past the Pens in the second round.
It’s really about can the 30-year old Pouliot bounce back from a down year in Edmonton where he went 8-6-14 in 67 contests with no points in the playoffs. He was good the first two years but fell off and was bought out. On a cheap one-year deal making just $1.15 million, it’s a low risk/reward move that could benefit the Sabres. Pouliot has something to prove.
As for Josefson, the former Devils first round pick has never proven he can be a NHL regular. The center possesses decent speed but has never scored more than six goals in any season. The 26-year old Swede took the league minimum on a one-year deal. Who knows if he’s even in their plans. It’s just a depth signing.
In a decent move, they brought back Chad Johnson to backup restricted free agent Robin Lehner. Lehner remains a question in net due to injuries. If he stayed healthy, he could probably be a above average starter. He posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.68 GAA with a career high 23 wins and career best 59 games. He’ll turn 26 later this month. So, it’s make or break for him after the Sabres parted with a first round pick to Ottawa that became top prospect Colin White.
Johnson will earn $2.5 million. The 31-year old won 22 games with a 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage two years ago with Buffalo. He won 18 with Calgary this past year. Maybe he’ll split time with Lehner.
As for some of the other notables, Joe Thornton re-signed with San Jose, who also extended Martin Jones after ’17-18 to a manageable $5.75 million cap hit. They also for some reason overpaid Marc-Edouard Vlasic going eight years, $56 million following ’17-18. Patrick Marleau remains out there and has interest from the Kings and Rangers.
The Ducks wisely extended Cam Fowler for eight years at a AAV of $6.5 million starting in ’18-19. They also signed veteran Ryan Miller as the new backup replacing Jonathan Bernier, who went to Colorado. As expected, the Flyers signed Brian Elliott and the Jets signed Steve Mason.
Nick Bonino traded in his Pens gear for the Preds agreeing on a four-year contract that’ll pay him an average of $4.1 million thru 2021. So, he changes sides. We’ll see how it goes for him. Mike Fisher might retire. The Preds had a need for a smart two-way center who can contribute offensively.
In a puzzling move, the Leafs signed Ron Hainsey for two years and $6 million. Meanwhile, Matt Hunwick left for Pittsburgh. Former Stars goalie Antti Niemi also signed with the Pens to backup Matt Murray.
The Canucks added Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto while landing Anders Nilsson. Vancouver has become a place where NHL careers die. We’ll see if they improve.
Formed Cap Karl Alzner signed with Montreal long-term for an AAV of $4.625 million thru 2022. The bigger news happened today with the Canadiens antying up to keep Carey Price probably for the rest of his career. He got the Lundqvist treatment agreeing to a mammoth eight-year, $84 million extension that won’t start until ’18-19 when he’s 31. He’ll go from earning $7 million to making $10.5 million, becoming the NHL’s highest paid goalie. Lundqvist gets $8.5 million AAV for another four years.
The Habs still are trying to re-sign Alex Radulov who is being pursued by Dallas. I think he’ll leave. Montreal can then turn their attention to Alex Galchenyuk.
Dan Girardi made it official agreeing to a two-year deal worth $6 million with Tampa. So, he’ll be reunited with Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman. I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully, he proves he can still do it silencing the tools who couldn’t wait to get rid of him. They must’ve not watched the playoffs.
Justin Williams returned to Carolina accepting a two-year deal worth an average of $4.5 million per season. So, the proven winner goes back to where he won his first Cup on a young up and coming team who might compete for the wildcard. His leadership and intangibles should help.
That’s it for now. I know I didn’t cover everything. But got most of it for this scorching holiday weekend. Happy Canada Day 🇨🇦 to those who celebrate. Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans. The 4th of July fireworks 💥 are two days away. Have fun. Be careful. 🇺🇸