After a few weeks of transactions on the free agent market, big name players have relocated to new teams, others have signed to stay with their current team, many young talents were drafted and a few trades occurred, sending players to other places either for other players or picks. Here are the winners and losers of the NHL free agency (so far):
Winner: Ottawa Senators
Ottawa may be a few years away from being contenders again, but they are starting to build their new core, making Eugene Melnyk look, dare I say it, good. First, the Senators drafted Tim Steutzle, Jake Sanderson and Ridly Grieg to bolster their young guns such as Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. To help this young core develop, the Senators also acquired Evgenii Dadonov in free agency for three years and $15 million. He should be an interesting step in the right direction to improve the offense. In net, Matt Murray is a good replacement for Craig Anderson. The goalie that opposed Anderson in the 2017 Eastern Stanley Cup Finals, Murray’s veteran leadership and playoff experience is going to drive this team forward towards better days. Plus, all the players are going to look amazing when they suit up in the new logo.
Loser: Florida Panthers
Florida has been losing since partway through the last regular season. The Sergei Bobrovsky contract of seven years is currently a disappointment, as Bobrovsky is not playing like his Vezina-winning self. The Panthers had expectations to go to the playoffs last season, but got no further than the Islanders and their young core. The Panthers did manage to sign center Carter Verhaeghe and Radko Gudas, but is Verhaeghe going to replace the talent that Dadonov had? The Panthers will also be significantly weaker if they do not bring back Mike Hoffman, leaving most of the offense to be carried by captain Aleksander Barkov and maybe first round draft pick Anton Lundell. Florida might have some winning programs right now, but not in Sunrise.
Winner: Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas is looking to go full Viva Las Vegas soon. They may have shipped away Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt, but the replacement of Alex Pietrangelo on defense wipes those somewhat necessary trades clean. Pietrangelo’s seven-year $61.6 million deal adds some huge depth to a defense that features Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb and Alec Martinez as the other three top four defensemen. In addition to improving the defense, Vegas re-signed Robin Lehner for five more years and $25 million. Assuming Fleury does not go anywhere after feeling backstabbed by the team that “redrafted” him, the Golden Knights should have an incredible 1-2 punch at the crease that will intimidate goal scorers for years to come.
Loser: Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes are in an interesting situation. They made the playoffs for the first time in eight years thanks to the expanded playoffs but were not able to retain Taylor Hall to help grow that playoff experience on a young team. Even then, Arizona would not have had the money to pay Hall as they have an $84 million cap hit next season and no cap space, as of release, to use on anyone else. Even worse for Arizona, they will have to deal with a dissatisfied Oliver-Ekman Larsson, who gave himself a trade deadline to get out of the desert only to not even be sent away. Now, the Coyotes are forced to deal with his $8.25 million annual salary for the next seven seasons unless something happens. Most of the guys the Coyotes signed were just meant to add to the depth such as John Hayden and Jordan Gross. The Coyotes will start strong but disappoint late in the season, despite their improving young core and veteran experience in Phil Kessel.
Winner: Buffalo Sabres
Of all the teams in the NHL, I did not think Buffalo would be the home of Taylor Hall for just one year. Basically, Kevyn Adams entered the city and injected some life into an organization looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. This signing of Hall just adds to a busy offseason in which the Sabres brought in Eric Staal to bolster the depth and also brought in Tobias Rieder among others. Back to Hall, he was one of the biggest talents on the entire market and he chose the Sabres to try and prove he was a good first overall pick and replace the talent lost in Wayne Simmonds, who went up north to the Maple Leafs. Hall will look to work alongside Skinner and Eichel to build a young core on the first two lines that will scare opposing defensemen and goalies. Again, if the Sabres can improve at just one position, they will be highly considered as a wild card team if not a top three finisher this year. Extending Hall would look even better as long as it does not turn into a Jeff Skinner kind of contract. Buffalo is coming back to relevance once again and I am quite excited.
Loser: Boston Bruins
Boston has just had some bad luck recently. The Bruins might have won the President’s Trophy but instead they earned the lowest seed for said winner ever thanks to the round robin. Then they lost in the Second Round to the Tampa Bay Lightning. From there, they managed to lose a big part of their defense as Torey Krug signed with the team that beat Boston in the Stanley Cup last year while Zdeno Chara remains unsigned. Already, that is two huge losses to the defense of the defending President’s Trophy Champions. But it gets worse, the Bruins are expected to not have Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak when the season begins on Jan. 1 as they are both recovering after having undergone surgeries. Boston is going to have to rely on Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to score in their absence, but those two are not getting any younger. Craig Smith was a nice addition, but he does not produce at the levels that Pastrnak does. In a year where Tom Brady has left the Patriots, Mookie Betts was shipped away to the Dodgers and the Celtics were oh so close, this is another huge loss in the New England City of Champions.
So these are just defined by their free agency moves during the offseason, but that does not mean that the team is going to improve or decline. A lot has changed in 2020, and the transactions that have taken place will clearly shake up next season’s projections and possibly bring about a new era of hockey in many big cities. I am looking forward to seeing what each big player and their talents bring to each team.