Some of these moves were easy to predict long in advance. Others went down to the wire.
There could be some big risers in the NHL next season after the wave of signings made Monday, particularly in the Eastern Conference, where the Rangers and Panthers made big statements during the opening hours of free agency.
John Davidson left Columbus for Broadway and brought Artemi Panarin with him, the Rangers throwing a seven-year, $81.5 million deal at the top free agent on the market. And with Davidson’s exit, the Blue Jackets’ window for realistically competing for a Stanley Cup could be gone. They couldn’t convince Panarin to stay despite a reported last-ditch offer, and their star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky completed his long-rumored move to Florida.
Out West, Nashville and Dallas are playoff teams that bolstered their Stanley Cup chances. The Predators landed the top center on the market, Matt Duchene, while the Stars inked three veterans in longtime Shark Joe Pavelski, former MVP Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera. Colorado also made noise by acquiring Nazem Kadri and adding quality to its bottom-six.
Of course, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs being wide open every year, these moves guarantee very little. But at least on paper, some teams are better than they were two days ago and others are worse. Here’s a look at which teams fared the best and worst in free agency:
New York Rangers
They’re no longer rebuilding. The Panarin signing means the Blueshirts are ready to get back into the playoffs even while some of their kids develop. The Bread Man cost a lot of dough, but he should be worth it after averaging 80 points a season over his first four years in the NHL with Chicago and Columbus. Panarin, who turns 28 in October, recorded a career-high 87 points last season and gives the Rangers the high-end, top-line threat they’ve needed on the wing.
The price for top goalies these days is steep, but Bobrovsky gives Florida the stability they need in nets. He’s a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who turns 31 in September. The end of his seven-year, $70 million contract could be dicey, but he’s worth it in the short-term. After years of questionable playoff performances, Bobrovsky had a 2.41 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 10 games this postseason. Florida also added former Ranger Anton Stralman to strengthen their defense corp and added Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari up front.
After dealing P.K. Subban to the Devils to create cap room for a top forward, believing it still has enough on the blue line, Nashville was able to get Duchene at a relatively reasonable $8 million cap hit over seven years (there’s no state income tax in Tennessee). Nashville has had one of the better teams in the NHL in recent years. It lost in the second round in 2015-16 before reaching the Stanley Cup Final the following season, falling to Pittsburgh in six games. The Predators have won the Central Division each of the last two seasons but haven’t gotten back to the conference finals. GM David Poile hopes Duchene is the missing piece.
Dallas was bounced in the second round in seven games by the eventual champion Blues. GM Jim Nill is banking on this trio of veterans, particularly Pavelski, to help the Stars make a Stanley Cup run. Pavelski, who signed for $21 million over three years, has 100 points in 134 career postseason games and has been a consistent producer throughout his career. Perry’s best days are behind him, but he has plenty of playoff experience and was a low risk on a one-year, $1.5 million deal after Anaheim bought him out. Sekera adds depth to the back end.
New York Islanders
They wanted Panarin but couldn’t get him, and while keeping captain Anders Lee was important, you wonder how the end of his seven-year, $49 million contract is going to look. It was also odd to see the Isles throw a four-year, $20 million contract at goalie Semyon Varlamov and not Robin Lehner, who was a Vezina finalist last season after overcoming substance-abuse issues. The 31-year-old had a rough season with Colorado but has performed well in the past. Lehner, who turns 28 this month, settled for a one-year, $5 million deal with Chicago.
Columbus Blue Jackets
There’s still talent in Columbus, but after losing Panarin and Bobrovsky, John Tortorella and Co. are facing an uphill battle in the East. Signing Gustav Nyquist is fine, but it doesn’t come close to making up for the exodus. They couldn’t convince Duchene to stay either after acquiring him ahead of the trade deadline. The Blue Jackets’ momentum just came to a grinding halt.
They’re going to have to do a better job of building around Connor McDavid if they want to take the next step. Markus Granlund and Tomas Jurco aren’t going to move the needle up front, and 37-year-old Mike Smith isn’t the answer in goal. They should’ve presented a better contract than the one Lehner received from the Blackhawks.
After trading Phil Kessel in the deal that netted them Alex Galchenyuk, who’s a year away from being a UFA, Pittsburgh gave Brandon Tanev a six-year, $21 million deal. It’s hard to comprehend why Jim Rutherford decided to make that sort of commitment to a forward with little-to-no offensive upside.