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NHL Free Agency: Winners and Losers

by Michael Stewart on Jul. 6, 2019

Introduction: With the buzz of the 2019 NHL Free Agency passing, we saw a flurry of being named free agents signed this past week. Many of the RFA free agents who signed offer sheets with another team will need to wait and see what their current teams decide to do. As for the UFA, there was plenty of signings that were expected and some that came as a big surprise. I’ve assembled my top 4 winners and losers in the free agent market; which could turn their teams around in 2019.

Winners

  1. New York Rangers: The centerpiece in the free agent market was forward Artemi Panarin and the Rangers wasted no time in signing the gifted winger to a 7 year/$81.5M contract; which was actually a lower offer than the Columbus Blue Jackets were willing to offer (8 year/$96M). So you might say that Panarin gave the Rangers a hometown discount and if he can continue to produce over the length of his contract and possibly bring a Cup back to New York; then this contract looks pretty good. GRADE: A+.
  2. Dallas Stars: Dallas came very close of being in the Stanley Cup finals, but managed to lose games six and seven to eventual Champs the St. Louis Blues. The signings of forwards Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry along with defenseman Andrej Sekera may not jump out at you initially, however; these three signings could really catapult the Stars into a serious contender in 2019. Perry could be the key here as he battled injuries in 2018 and if he could find some magic in 2019, it would give the Stars two solid scoring lines. Sekera adds depth and leadership skills to the Stars blue-line. GRADE B.
  3. Florida Panthers: The Florida Panthers were ready to spend big in free agency and reports before free agency had them being big players in signing both Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Well, luckily for the Rangers, the Panthers missed out on Panarin and were able to sign the best goalie on the market in Bobrovsky. The Panthers also signed two solid players in defenseman Anton Stralman and forward Brett Connolly; who will both provide production and leadership in the locker room and on the ice. GRADE A.
  4. Nashville Predators: The Predators were very active and signed Matt Duchene to a very reasonable contract for a productive center (7 years/$8M). This team has depth on both the forward and the blue-line (despite trading P.K Subban to New Jersey). The Predators expect to make an impact moving forward and be an elite team again. GRADE B+.

Losers

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets: Got to feel for the Blue Jackets who lost three quality players in Panarin, Bobrovsky and Duchene all in one day. They did sign forward Gustav Nyquist who is a nice player, but he can’t make up for the scoring of Panarin and Duchene alone. Let’s not forget the departure of GM John Davidson going to the Rangers and playing a huge part in signing Panarin. The Blue Jackets could take the biggest fall than any other team in 2019. GRADE F.
  2. Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have arguably one the best young players in the NHL in Connor McDavid and it’s unclear their doing with the signings of forwards Markus Granlund and Tomas Jurco. Both are serviceable players, but this team needed to be more aggressive in free agency and failed to do so. Another missed opportunity was not going after goalie Lehner (Islanders) who was a vezina finialist and signed a one year deal at $5M to play in Chicago. Instead the team will rely on 37 year Mike Smith in goal. GRADE D-
  3. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have a few NHL executives scratching their heads with their recent free agent moves. Brandon Tanev was their big free agent signing (6 years/$21M) and although he is a serviceable forward who can help on the penalty kill, he is more or less a bottom six forward at this point in his career. When you consider other players already on the Penguins roster with bad contracts (Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson), the Penguins could be digging themselves a deep hole that could take years to climb out of. GRADE D+.
  4. Minnesota Wild: The Wild seem to be a team with no direction, based on their free agents of 31 year old Mats Zuccarello (5 year/$31M) and forward Ryan Hartman. In Zuccarello, that seems like a big commitment to a player who possibly is on the downside of his career or least will not be as productive near the end of this deal. Hartman is a bottom six forward who should not make an impact at all. Also their inability to find a taker for winger Jason Zucker has put their plans on hold for now as Zucker will have his 10 team NTC list kick in. GRADE C.

Final Thoughts: In regards to the RFA players the juries is still out and once teams either make counter offers or decide to take the compensation; I’ll put together the winners and losers during that phase.