In around 12 hours, NHL Network will be live on the air with a July Free Agent Special at 11 AM. As Hasan mentioned in his Devils preview which may or may not include a big fish starting tomorrow, the action will be fun to follow. Being that it comes in the final week of July, this could last into the dog days of summer.
We’ve already seen a flurry of activity. Trades have been made. Signings already revealed. Plus the usual rumors circulating. Speaking of flurry, there was the sad end to Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas. He was traded to the Blackhawks for a player I’ve never heard of. A clear salary dump of the first ever Golden Knight who was heroic in leading the franchise to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season. They’re rumored to be interested in acquiring Jack Eichel or perhaps could sign free agent center Phillip Danault if Georges Laraque is right. Give Fleury credit for taking the high road after Kevin Weekes revealed that Vegas didn’t tell him about the deal. He was informed of Chicago’s interest. They needed a number one goalie to justify the insane contract they gave Seth Jones.
While I understand the nature of the business, would it have been hard for Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon to pick up the phone and tell Fleury about the trade? Weekes did indicate that Pending Trade Calls don’t require it. But Fleury meant so much to the Golden Knights with owner William Foley very sorry to see him go. I think Fleury deserved at least that. He’s one of the classiest players in the game. I hope he decides to play for Chicago and leads them back to the playoffs. A Vezina winner dealt who’s a future Hall of Famer.
With the free agent frenzy officially beginning on Wednesday, July 28, the Rangers are one of the teams who could still sign players. One player they’re expected to make official is veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth. A big lefty D who’s 29, Nemeth has spent the first eight years of his career with the Stars, Avalanche, Red Wings and then again the Avs. Listed at 6-3, 228 pounds, he’s a physical defensive defenseman who blocks shots and finishes checks. The rumored deal is an average cap hit of $2.5 million over three years. We’ll know more tomorrow.
The Nemeth addition is obviously for the third pair which might include Nils Lundkvist ‘if’ he wins the third right D job out of training camp. Remember. For as much hype as Lundkvist has, he’s never played an NHL game. So, we have to be patient. Wait and see. Libor Hajek was qualified by Team President and GM Chris Drury. I hope he’s not an afterthought. He proved himself last year as a sixth defenseman. Zac Jones also should be competing with Lundkvist in camp. The good part is whoever doesn’t make the roster will play in Hartford. Best for development so they aren’t rushed.
In other news, former Blueshirt Pavel Buchnevich signed a new contract with the Blues earlier this evening. It’s for four years at $23.2 million. Basically, a shade under $6 million AAV. Many of us grew to love Buchnevich in what was his breakout year. However, due to the flat salary cap, they couldn’t afford to keep him. It’s a business. That’s what some unrealistic fans can’t understand. If Mika Zibanejad is more important (he is) a year away from unrestricted free agency, then center is far more crucial than the left and right wing where the Rangers have Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov to comprise the top two lines. You can’t keep everyone. BTW. One of those players will play on line three. That’s good depth.
Don’t forget Filip Chytil must be re-signed. His future might be on the wing. Especially given his face-off issues and defensive struggles. There’s a reason they added proven Cup winner Barclay Goodrow and traded for former champion Sammy Blais. Both play both sides of the puck and are tough. It’s all about balancing out the roster. Kevin Rooney and Julien Gauthier are also still around. So, the supporting cast should have more of an edge to it. Something they lacked against the Islanders.
With a little over $19 million left, we know who some of it is going to. Igor Shesterkin is restricted and needs a new deal. It should cost between 4 to 5 million. I would say closer to five over four to five years. Figure Chytil to come in at around $2.5 million. That leaves Drury to re-sign Hajek and Tim Gettinger, who they qualified. They bid adieu to good team guy Brendan Smith, who was a locker room leader. I wish him the very best. Ditto for Buchnevich. That’s what happens in a cap era with the number not budging due to the COVID Era. Hopefully, brighter days are ahead with more people vaccinated. You still have to be mindful due to the new Delta Variant. Ugh. Will we ever be free? I don’t know. Nobody does.
If Drury decides to get creative, Ryan Strome could be moved. His name came up at the past weekend’s NHL Draft with possibly Ottawa or Seattle rumored. Who knows. Would you rather keep Strome at $4.5 million for another year behind Zibanejad? Unless they’re getting Eichel (doubtful considering what Buffalo wants) or a different center, I’d rather hold on to Strome, whose chemistry with Panarin is undeniable. He can always be moved by next trade deadline. That all depends on where the new Rangers are in the standings which could include the 2022 Winter Games. I’m actually not in favor of going to Beijing. The NHL has not fully committed to it yet. They’re in wait and see mode.
Alex Georgiev was also made available before the draft. However, the asking price of a first round pick was too steep. No GM in their right mind would pay a number one pick for an unproven backup goalie. As much as I like Georgiev, I don’t pull any punches. That’s like the Rangers’ rumored offer of Buchnevich, their first round pick and more for Eichel. I would’ve proposed something similar for former Sabre Sam Reinhart. Funny thing is he only netted goalie prospect Devon Levi and the Panthers’ first round pick. That better explains why Buchnevich didn’t get a better return. Reinhart is a center who’s been more consistent. There wasn’t much value for restricted free agents. But if you have a veteran defenseman under contract, you were in better luck. Look at what Brenden Dillon netted the Caps from Winnipeg. A pair of second round picks over the next two drafts, which are stronger classes. Rasmus Ristolainen got a first and second with Robert Hagg.
I’ve seen some suggest bringing back Henrik Lundqvist for a Broadway reunion. As nice as that sounds, the truth is he’s 39 coming back from heart valve replacement surgery. We have no idea if he can come back let alone what kind of goalie he’d be. I wouldn’t bet against Lundqvist. I just feel maybe it’s better to keep Georgiev, who will make a shade over $2.4 million. That’s up to management.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they add another depth forward who checks off the grit and experience boxes. Candidates include Brock McGinn, Erik Haula and Nick Ritchie, who the Bruins didn’t qualify to make him unrestricted. As much as I dislike him, taking a flyer on Ritchie wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Depth is going to be important over a full 82-game schedule.
In another development, former Blueshirt Tony DeAngelo could land in Carolina. The offensive defenseman who posted career bests in goals (15), assists (38) and points (53) over ’19-20, was last seen upset at Georgiev following an overtime loss to Pittsburgh. That skirmish led to his dismissal. I still feel like the way David Quinn handled him was perplexing. Treating a good player with kid gloves following a big season never made any sense. Would any other player have been a healthy scratch for slamming a penalty box in a season opening blowout loss to the Islanders? It was mishandled by Quinn, Jeff Gorton and John Davidson. That’s part of why they’re no longer here.
Drury decided it was best to make a clean break, allowing DeAngelo to go to the open market by buying him out. He is rumored to be possibly signing with the Hurricanes for a year at around $4.5 million. About half of what Dougie Hamilton will get on the open market. It makes sense. Carolina also has to pay Andrei Svechnikov and figure out who their goalies are. Petr Mrazek, Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer all are available. Why did they trade Alex Nedeljkovic? Detroit GM Steve Yzerman took a little dig at the Canes after stealing him. The Canes are a very good team. If DeAngelo lands in Raleigh, he knows it’s his last chance. Forget all the nonsense being spread from unreliable sources. I’m sure teams interested did their homework. I’ll take the word of former teammates over fraudulent sources. DeAngelo has kept a low profile since departing by instructing kids Under 18 in South Jersey. He also congratulated Adam Fox on his Norris and thanked the Rangers organization on his Instagram. Whatever happens, best of luck to him.
There have been other moves. I like the Canucks locking up forward Conor Garland for five years at just shy of $25 million. He’ll help them. Especially with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes due big raises. They also added Oliver Ekman-Larsson to stabilize the blue line and acquired Nate Schmidt. Smart moves that should improve the roster. Who backs up behind Thatcher Demko? Braden Holtby is gone. Philipp Grubauer is unrestricted. Is he re-signing with Colorado? It might depend on what happens with Gabriel Landeskog. The Avs are now willing to go seven years to keep their captain.
If they get it done, we’ll see. He is an important player and leader who would attract a lot of interest. OFFICIAL: They got it done. It’s the max of eight years for $56 million. So, he comes in at $7 million AAV. Good for Colorado.
We also will see where Vladimir Tarasenko winds up. The Islanders could make sense. They should be able to fit the scoring forward in with Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd gone. They also have options like free agent Kyle Palmieri or bumping up Oliver Wahlstrom. Casey Cizikas will be a top priority along with re-signing Adam Pelech. They didn’t qualify Michael Dal Colle. The former fifth overall pick never established himself. An expensive miss when you pick that high.
The Panthers kept Brandon Montour ($3.5 million AAV) while the Coyotes continued to accept vets by adding former Cat Anton Stralman. A salary dump for Florida, who I also believe could be in on Tarasenko. They sure look like they’ll be contending. A 1-2 punch of Aleksander Barkov and Reinhart up the middle with the electric Jonathan Huberdeau and checking pivot Sam Bennett. They should be exciting to watch.
I like the Flyers adding Cam Atkinson from Columbus for Jakub Voracek, who needed a change. He returns to the Blue Jackets. Atkinson seems like a better fit for a Philly team changing their leadership by also adding Ryan Ellis and signing Keith Yandle for $900,000. They also now have Ristolainen. Will all these moves result in a better Flyers returning to the postseason under coach Alain Vigneault? It better.
And finally. Nice to see Alexander Ovechkin stay put with the Caps. He got a lot of signing bonus money. But negotiated his own five-year deal for an AAV of $9.5 million to remain a Washington Capital for life. Now, we can follow the Great Eight in his pursuit of Gretzky’s goal scoring record. I think he’ll come up short. But it’ll be exciting. Love Ovi.
If any news breaks, I’ll have something up. Stay tuned.