Day One of the Free Agent Frenzy: As predicted, Trocheck signs with the Rangers, Halak the new backup, Copp heads home and Strome out West, Gaudreau turns down Devils for Blue Jackets, The best contracts of July 13th


Day One of free agency didn’t disappoint. The July 13th FA Frenzy featured almost every big name. There were so many signings that it may as well have been a carnival.

Even with the late news that Evander Kane stayed put in Edmonton for less money and Kevin Weekes breaking the news that Jack Campbell would become the Oilers new starter, the biggest story entering Wednesday was the status of Johnny Gaudreau.

The biggest star on the board had informed Calgary late Tuesday night that he wouldn’t be returning. With hockey insider Frank Seravelli noting that it wasn’t about money for Gaudreau, it sure hinted at a potential homecoming. However, his preferred choice of the Flyers were out due to Chuck Fletcher’s ridiculous spending.

That left the Devils and Islanders as likely candidates for Johnny Hockey. Both rivals made good offers. Based on what I followed on Twitter, the Devils came in higher for the Salem, New Jersey native. But as Hasan documented in his post last night, Gaudreau surprised everyone by signing with the Blue Jackets. A true shocker. He took less money (if you can call it that) to move his family to Columbus by agreeing to a seven-year contract worth an average cap hit of $9.75 million.

Even though the news came later than expected, you knew something was up when he delayed his decision. If it were me, I’d have chosen to play in New Jersey. He could’ve formed a potent duo with Jack Hughes. Instead, the 28-year old star forward chose the Blue Jackets, who likely will have to move restricted free agent Patrik Laine. Unless they can create space to keep him for the next year.

While that remains the most puzzling news from Day One, the Rangers didn’t surprise me at all by signing free agent center Vincent Trocheck. In fact, I accurately called it in my fun-filled Free Agent Predictions post before noon yesterday. I don’t often take a bow as it’s not in my nature. But I’ll give myself credit for this one. Here was my contract detail:

Vincent Trocheck Rangers 6 for $5.75 million AAV

Close. But no cigar. I almost nailed it. The Rangers wound up giving Trocheck seven years for an AAV of $5.625 million. While the term is long for a player who just shared a birthday with Ryan Strome on July 11, I’m not concerned with years six and seven. It’s the first four to five that matter. That’s the Rangers’ window to win a Stanley Cup. Especially the next three years with every key player under contract. It’s about WINNING!

The sense I got the night before in a chat with close Buffalo Sabres contributor Brian Sanborn was that the Rangers would bring Trocheck to the Big Apple. Based on everything I heard about Andrew Copp and Strome likely moving elsewhere, it felt like Trocheck made a lot of sense.

The former Hurricane is a bit different stylistically than Strome or Copp. Although to be honest, he’s replacing Strome who wound up going out West to Anaheim for five years at a team friendly AAV of $5 million per season. No matter what anyone says, he was a good Ranger who had excellent chemistry with Artemi Panarin. They worked well together.

Before I close the book on Strome, who I’ll miss, there are clueless people who bashed him at every turn. Despite solid production and playing through a pelvis injury that limited him against the Lightning, he was always a target due to missing open nets.

Do these fools realize Jeff Gorton turned Ryan Spooner into Strome as part of his best ever deal that sent Rick Nash to Boston for Ryan Lindgren and a first round pick that became K’Andre Miller? You have to be out of your mind to not appreciate what Strome did here. Best of luck to him with the Ducks.

Back to the newest Rangers second line center Trocheck. Unlike Strome, he’s a two-way player who wins face-offs and finishes checks. Not big in stature, he more than makes up for it with how he plays. A strong player on the forecheck who goes to the net and isn’t shy about shooting, the 29-year old looks like a good fit for what the team needs.

Even better, he’s familiar with Gerard Gallant, who coached him in Florida earlier in his career. His best year came  during ’17-18 under Bob Boughner when he posted 31 goals with 44 assists for 75 points, 13 power play goals and three shorthanded goals in ’17-18.

After struggling with consistency, he was eventually acquired by Carolina. His play improved under Rod Brind’Amour. That included posting 43 points (17-26-43) in 47 games during ’20-21.

This past season was his best since age 24. In 81 contests, Trocheck had 21 goals and 30 assists for 51 points with 78 penalty minutes and a career high plus-21 rating. That included 15 even strength goals and 24 even strength assists for a total of 39 points at even strength. He added 12 power play points (6-6-12) while averaging 17:52 of ice time.

He also went 54.6 percent on face-offs. An area that should help the Rangers. Over his nine-year career, Trocheck is 52.1 percent on draws. Considering how effective he was in the second round series, don’t doubt Gallant and Chris Drury noticed. He was one of the most consistent Hurricanes in that round won by the Rangers.

Trocheck also posted a career best 185 hits. He’s not shy about finishing checks I the corners. A good quality Turk prefers. A 200-foot player who is solid defensively, he was a plus-eight with 50 takeaways compared to 42 giveaways. A good quality to have for playing with Panarin.

I really love the signing. He’s the player I wanted. As much as I would’ve loved to keep Strome or Copp, I understand that it’s a business. I’ll miss both. Especially Strome, who really became a good player and key leader in the locker room. I wish him well in Disney.

As for Copp, I also was proven right about where he’d wind up. He’s from Ann Arbor, Michigan. So, I put two and two together and figured he’d sign with the hometown Red Wings.

When asked on NHL Network about it, the good Copp admitted that he rooted for the Wings as a kid growing up. He feels they’re on a similar path to our team. He enjoyed his time in NYC. Now, he’ll play on the second line and help out close friend Dylan Larkin. He agreed to a five-year deal worth the identical $5.625 million cap hit Vinny T got here. Except it’s for two fewer years. A great move by Steve Yzerman.

So, it turned out that Copp was a rental. The same for Frank Vatrano (also signed by Anaheim), Justin Braun (returned to Flyers) and Tyler Motte, who Drury admitted they didn’t have enough room for. That’s too bad. I really wanted to keep him. Wherever he goes, he’ll help out whoever he signs with.

They all played key roles in helping the Rangers get to their first Eastern Conference Final in seven years. I’m thankful to all four for what they gave. Without them, there’s no big run. Good luck to all four.

It’s kind of ironic that both Strome and Vatrano will play together in Anaheim. Maybe this time, they’ll wind up on the same line. Considering that Trevor Zegras will likely team with leading goal scorer Troy Terry on the top line, it’s a good bet Vatrano could be on Strome’s right side. Frankie V got three years and $3.65 million on average to become a Mighty Duck.

Close friend of the blog Sean McCaffrey was really pushing for Nazem Kadri, who actually remains unsigned. I understand why he wanted him. Kadri is better than any of the players mentioned. He proved what he could do in helping the Avalanche get over the finish line to win their first Cup in 21 years. However, he’s gonna be 32 entering ’22-23 and will cost more money. It would’ve been too rich for the Rangers to afford him.

Especially when they entered yesterday with less than $10 million left until Drury predictably sent Patrik Nemeth out to the desert with a conditional second round pick for defenseman Ty Emberson. A 22-year old former Coyotes third round pick in 2018. He spent last season in the AHL. I don’t know anything else about him other than he played three years at Wisconsin.

The bottom line here is Drury was able to offload $2.5 million to free up a bit more space. A necessity to re-sign Group II free agent Kaapo Kakko. The Team President and GM also found a cheaper replacement for Alex Georgiev by signing former Islander Jaro Halak for a year at $1.5 million.

Now 37, the veteran netminder is best known as being a Ranger killer. This was especially true when he played for the Islanders. He owned them at MSG and at Barclay’s Center. In fact, Halak is 24-9-1 with a 2.33 GAA, .927 save percentage and five shutouts versus the Rangers for his career.

That’s absurd. But it proves how dominant he was against our team. Now, he’ll join them and play the backup role getting between 15 to 20 starts behind Russian ace Igor Shestyorkin. Even though I would’ve preferred Thomas Greiss, who also had Islander ties, Halak was my second choice. He’s a proven and experienced goalie who should get the job done.

In a twist of irony considering the role he played against them in a very tough first round, the Rangers went out and added goalie depth by agreeing with former Penguin Louis Domingue on a two-year deal worth a total of $1.55 million.

A likable vet who’s now 30, he will likely be ticketed for Hartford. They let go of Adam Huska and the also personable Keith Kinkaid, who signed with the Bruins for a year at $750,000. So, they needed an experienced netminder who could fill the void with the Wolf Pack and be an emergency call-up if needed.

Domingue is best known for his funny remark following the marathon Game One won by the Pens 4-3 in triple overtime over the Rangers. When he replaced Casey DeSmith, he got the job done and then told reporters he had spicy pork between periods. Domingue is already on the lookout for his favorite cuisine.

These depth goalies have great personalities. You love to see it. Domingue also played well in the series the Rangers needed seven games to win. Although he gave up a bad goal to Chris Kreider late in Game Six, he did a good job before Pittsburgh went back to Tristan Jarry for Game Seven.

Welcome aboard. After a successful Day One, Drury turned his attention to adding some depth by signing veteran center Ryan Carpenter. Best known for his checking role under Gallant in Vegas, the 31-year old veteran will replace recently departed Kevin Rooney (signed by Calgary) on the fourth line. He is a solid penalty killer who can take draws and hit.

While Rooney went to the Flames for two years at $1.3 million AAV, Carpenter signed for $750,000. All about saving money. That’s how it is in a cap crunch. Good luck to Rooney and former Ranger Greg McKegg. The Keg Man wound up in Edmonton for two years at $762,500. He’ll most likely play in the minors and be a call-up when needed. Similar to the role he played here.

It’s even those types of gritty, hardworking players who you admire. Look how many games McKegg got into in ’21-22. He played 43 games and was a solid role player under Gallant. All you can ask for.

It can’t be easy going from city to city with his family. He once was a Hurricane before coming to NYC the first time in ’19-20. Then spent time in Boston mostly on the taxi squad before one more stint between New York and Hartford. A lot of mileage on those trips back and forth.

McKegg has been part of seven organizations. First the Leafs. Then the Panthers, Lightning, Penguins, Hurricanes, Bruins and Rangers twice. He moves out West to the frigid cold in Alberta. Tough sledding for the 30-year old journeyman.

So, where does that leave the Rangers? If you’re keeping track, they currently have 20 players signed at $78,466,468 per puckpedia.com. That leaves them with just over four million to work with. Here’s how it looks:

Kreider-Zibanejad-Lafreniere

Panarin-Trocheck-Kakko

Blais-Chytil-Kravtsov

Hunt-Goodrow-Reaves

Extra F: Carpenter, Gauthier, Brodzinski

Lindgren-Fox

Miller-Trouba

Jones/Robertson-Schneider

Extra D: Lundkvist, Hajek

Shestyorkin

Halak

At the moment, it’s important to note that Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist, Matthew Robertson, Jonny Brodzinski and Vitaly Kravtsov are not counted as roster players against the cap. Ditto for top prospect Brennan Othmann and former second round pick Will Cuylle. Libor Hajek is.

Much will be determined at training camp, which believe it or not is two months away. There will be some good healthy competition for spots up front and on the blue line.

As much as last year was about the key additions of Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves and Sammy Blais before he went down due to P.K. Subban, the upcoming season will be more about the kids. Alexis Lafreniere is penciled in on the top line. Kakko is expected to be in the top six. If not, that could be either Blais or Kravtsov, who for now is a Ranger with something to prove.

Filip Chytil should be counted on to play a bigger role. Even with the addition of Trocheck, it’s time for Chytil to perform consistently and stay healthy. He showed what he’s capable of in the playoffs. There’ll be more pressure on him, Kakko and Lafreniere next season.

That could also be the case for Braden Schneider, Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist and Matthew Robertson. Schneider is the third right defenseman without a partner. There’ll be an open competition that for now includes Hajek with the aforementioned other three young prospects.

Unlees something changes, the defense will be younger. Could Drury still have a move up his sleeve? Sure. But with former Blueshirt Marc Staal moving from Detroit to Florida for $750,000, he’ll have to look elsewhere if he wants to bring in another vet.

How much will Kakko get? Even though he played better in the postseason, the former 2019 second pick only had two goals and three assists. It’s still mind-boggling that Gallant healthy scratched him in favor of Dryden Hunt for Game Six at Tampa.

I’d like nothing better than to see Othmann make enough of an impression to get into a few games as a 19-year old. He can’t be reassigned to Hartford. Cuylle is now eligible due to being 20. If he doesn’t make the roster, he’ll get valuable experience in the AHL.

When you evaluate the organization, they still boast considerable depth on the blue line. Unless he can prove capable of playing the left side, it’s hard to see much of a future for Lundkvist in Manhattan. He could still wind up traded this Fall. So could Kravtsov if he fails to impress the coaching staff.

We know that Dylan Garand is a name to remember. The goalie prospect developed well with Kamloops of the WHL where he posted superb numbers both in the regular season and playoffs. The former 2020 fourth round pick is ready to play for the Wolf Pack.

It’ll likely be with Domingue providing the necessary experience and leadership he can lean on. If that’s the goalies at Hartford, that would leave Olof Lindbom to start in the ECHL.

We are still waiting to see where Motte winds up. Would he consider Detroit to join close friend Copp? He’s also from the area. The Red Wings have plenty of space for a gritty checking forward who plays fourth line and kills penalties.

So far, nothing new to report on Kadri. Maybe he really wants to return to Colorado. It doesn’t seem likely. They made three key signings on Wednesday. All are good moves.

In my opinion, the first two are the best contracts so far. The first one was re-signing defenseman Josh Manson for four years at $4.5 million per season. After helping them win the Cup, he wanted to stay. He took less money and got a modified no-trade clause.

The second move was signing RFA Artturi Lehkonen to a brand new five-year deal worth the same exact cap hit of $4.5 million. After coming over from Montreal, the former Canadien was such a good fit that he had a good postseason highlighted by scoring the Cup clincher in Game Six. He also received a modified NTC.

The Avalanche also kept key checking center Darren Helm. Like Andrew Cogliano, he re-signed for an identical $1.25 million over a year. They have Logan O’Connor too for the next three seasons making a shade over a million. A younger player they signed out of college in 2019.

Even without Kadri, they’re loaded again for another run. They’re the favorites to repeat. Led by Gabriel Landeskog, Nathaniel MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Erik Johnson and a deep core, I wouldn’t bet against it. It’ll be interesting to see how Alex Georgiev and Pavel Francouz perform in net. They are part of a great team.

In regards to the FA frenzy yesterday, there was plenty of other action. Let’s go through a few highlights.

Darcy Kuemper found a new home in the nation’s capital. The former Avalanche Stanley Cup hero is now the new Washington starter after agreeing to a five-year deal worth $5.25 million per season. His backup will be Charlie Lindgren. They gave the older brother of Ryan Lindgren $3.3 million over three years. So, it averages out to $1.1 million per season.

The Caps also acquired Connor Brown from Ottawa for a ’24 second round pick. The Senators were busy bringing Claude Giroux home for the next three years. He’ll make $6.5 million on average through 2025 with a full no-move clause. The 34-year old had no interest in returning to the Flyers. He and his son Gavin had quite the big day yesterday.

In a wise move, the Hurricanes took advantage of the Golden Knights by acquiring Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan for basically nothing. That’s due to how mismanaged the Knights are. They had to dump the salary of their best finisher and even included a good young defenseman that can help Ottawa.

Yeah. I’d say that Jack Eichel trade is really going well so far. At least they re-signed Reilly Smith. He gets three more years at the same $5 million rate in Vegas to stay.

One of the oddest moves also involved the Hurricanes. They acquired veteran defenseman Brent Burns from the Sharks witn Lane Pederson in exchange for Steven Lorentz, Eetu Makiniemi and a conditional third round pick in 2023.

The 37-year old Burns isn’t what he once was. But he still provides offense as his 15 goals and 54 points attest the past season. So, the Hurricanes go from Dougie Hamilton to Tony DeAngelo to now the older Burns, who’ll pair up with Jaccob Slavin. In adding Burns and Pacioretty, they’re thinking offense. Coghlan can also provide that on the second power play.

Ondrej Kase was also added as a solid depth forward to help offset the loss of Nino Niederreiter. He’s likely to go elsewhere. They still must re-sign restricted free agent Marty Necas. Is he moving to center? Expect Jesperi Kotkaniemi to have a bigger role.

Mason Marchment got a nice contract from the Stars. He received an average cap hit of $4.5 million over four years. The ex-Panther cashed in on a career season that saw him set career bests in goals (18), assists (29) and points (47). He only earned $800,000. We’ll see if he can add that same gritty physical game in Dallas. They paid a premium for a player I felt would be an Islander target.

The Devils might’ve swung and missed on Gaudreau. But that doesn’t mean they had a bad day. Able to acquire center Erik Haula from the Bruins for Pavel Zacha to improve their center depth, they also added veteran defenseman Btendan Smith. He signed for two years at $1.1 million AAV.

Like I told Hasan, I have a soft spot for Smith due to his honest hardworking game. He really picked himself up after struggling due to a big contract here. Although he wasn’t worth what he made, Smith had a great attitude and worked hard to play both as an extra defenseman and fourth line forward. He also helped K’Andre Miller adjust and was a positive influence on Kakko.

Along with a physical style, it’s that no-nonsense approach that should provide some leadership in the Devils room. When Hasan had originally finished his story last night, he expressed frustration over not getting Gaudreau. But right after that, Ondrej Palat signed for five years at the projected $6 million figure I had.

Palat is a player I like. A former seventh round pick who made good for the Lightning, he’s got great wheels and good hockey sense. If it weren’t for his clutch goals in the Eastern Conference Final, the Rangers would’ve advanced to play the Avalanche for the Cup.

Had they not gotten a 2C or had enough room with Trocheck to add a proven winner who seems to always raise his level in the postseason, I was interested in seeing the Rangers go after Palat. That’s how highly I think of him. The combination of skating, skill, grit and intelligence make him better than his statistics.

Palat can play in any situation. He excels on the penalty kill due to his speed and instincts. He moves well without the puck and is good on the forecheck. It’s a good move by GM Tom Fitzgerald. Palat should improve the Devils, who still have plenty of room if they want to add another piece. They did sign second pick Simon Nemec to an entry-level contract on Thursday.

Just checking the Puck Pedia site now, I see that the Senators gave RFA Josh Norris a huge eight-year contract worth $63.6 million. Whoa. I thought he’d come in at around $7.5 million on average. That’s nearly $8 million. He’s a very good young player who finishes.

Norris scored 35 goals and added 20 helpers for 55 points in 66 games. Only 23, that’s quite the long-term investment for Ottawa. To think they got him in that Erik Karlsson trade with the Sharks. Tim Stutzle also became the first round pick they took in 2020. Wow. That’s a trade that up the Sens. They will be in wildcard contention next year.

Having added Alex DeBrincat, Giroux and acquiring Cam Talbot from the Wild for Filip Gustavsson yesterday to partner up with Anton Forsberg, they could compete with the Maple Leafs and Bruins for the wildcard. They have over $10 million left to re-sign RFA’s Mathieu Joseph, Alex Formenton and Erik Brannstrom.

The Lightning might’ve lost Palat. But that didn’t stop Julien BriseBois from handing out eight-year contracts to Mikhail Sergachev ($8.5 million AAV), Erik Cernak ($5.2 million AAV) and Anthony Cirelli ($6.25 million AAV). Somehow, they manage to make it work. Most of their corr from the two Cups and recent Stanley Cup Final remain.

The Bolts filled some holes by signing Ian Cole ($3 million) and Vladislav Namestnikov ($2.5 million) for a year. Namestnikov returns to where his career began. He was part of the regrettable package the Rangers got for Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller. I’m not going to rehash it for the umpteenth time.

As for Cole, you have to wonder what he’s thinking. A solid third pair defenseman who has won the Cup, he recently was outed by the former fiancé of Hurricanes reporter Abby Labar. She had an affair with Cole, who’s been married to Jordan Rockwell for seven years.

Yikes. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. Labar was supposed to tie the knot last Saturday. But the wedding was called off. I can’t imagine she’ll stay in Raleigh after this scandal which also is alleged to involve another key member of the Hurricanes.

Moving on… after they dealt for Matt Murray, the Leafs decided to sign former Capital Ilya Samsonov for a one-year contract worth $1.8 million. A former first round pick who never was consistent, he gets another chance in Toronto. Could he take the reigns from Murray? Leaf fans aren’t too happy with Kyle Dubas. I don’t blame them.

The Blues gave Robert Thomas an eight-year extension for $65 million. He had a career year. Here’s the thing. That’s north of $8 million starting in 2023-24. Last Fall, the Rangers signed Mika Zibanejad to an extension worth $8.5 million on average. Who’s better? The more you look at it, what a steal Zibanejad is.

St. Louis also signed Greiss to backup Jordan Binnington. He will earn $1.25 million. Nick Leddy stayed put by agreeing to a four-year deal for $16 million. The Blues have a good roster. But there are a lot of veterans including Ryan O’Reilly, who’s up at the end of next year.

They also must decide if they’re trading Vladimir Tarasenko, who still has a trade request after proving he still has it. Might the Islanders be interested? Or do they think they can sign Kadri?

The best free agents remaining are Kadri, Patrice Bergeron, Niederreiter, John Klingberg, Paul Stastny and Phil Kessel. I figure Bergeron has a handshake agreement to return to Boston once they free up necessary space. Klingberg was trying to negotiate with the Stars to return. Kessel only scorer eight goals last year. Who wants him? Stastny can be a solid third center at this stage.

The other big name who signed was Andre Burakovsky. As predicted, he went to Seattle for big money, getting an AAV of $5.5 million from the Kraken over five years. It made sense. They needed a scorer and Burakovsky wanted to cash in.

As for Dylan Strome, the Capitals gave him one year at $3.5 million. That could work out for them. He should get to play with good players. Though it shouldn’t be Ovechkin, who’ll team with Evgeny Kuznetsov on the top line. But Strome could find himself with either T.J. Oshie or Tom Wilson.

It’s too bad about Nicklas Backstrom. One of the game’s great players, he’ll never be the same due to a serious hip injury. I’ve always admired his game. A great playmaker who is a top notch passer with an underrated shot, Backstrom was lethal at running the power play that still features John Carlson, Ovechkin, Oshie and Kuznetsov.

Now 34, Backstrom could be forced to retire. That would suck. His big salary will go on LTIR. The future Hall Of Famer has three years remaining on a contract that pays $9.5 million per season.

If he never played another game, he finishes with 264 goals and 747 assists for 1,011 points in 1,058 games with a career plus/minus of 111. He has totaled 114 points (38-76-114) over 139 postseason games. He will forever be linked with Ovechkin for winning the franchise’s only Stanley Cup in 2018.

There were other signings. Just not many too significant as what I covered. With the news much slower today, we’ll see what happens with Kadri. I’ll have an update whenever he signs.

I can be followed on Twitter at BattleOfHudson. See you soon.

Derek

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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