For hockey lovers and analysts, NHL free agency season can be just as exciting — if not more exciting — than the Stanley Cup Final itself. The anticipation, hope and tension is ripe through the league as big name free agents get bounced around from team to team. Photoshop enthusiasts go mad placing hypothetical jerseys on John Tavares while fans wait and wonder what depth their team will add to their squads for the upcoming season.
The 2018 free agency opened on July 1st and although some big names are still to land and others remain on the verge of new contracts, we take a look at how the dust has settled so far and what your team has done in the off-season to boost their chances to hoist the cup in 2018-19.
The big names of the Pacific Division free agency trade period would have to be Golden Knights’ forward William Karlsson and returning veteran Ilya Kovalchuk, who is back in the NHL for the first time since 2013 after signing with the Los Angeles Kings.
In Sin City, Karlsson still remains in limbo with a potential arbitration hearing a possibility if the Golden Knights cannot offer what he is seeking. Whatever the case, the pay day is going to be a generous one for “Wild Bill.” Staying in Vegas, center Paul Stastny signed with the Golden Knights on a three-year, $19.5M contract. The Knights held onto several of their aces but gave up David Perron, who returned to the St. Louis Blues.
Joe Thornton and his legendary beard remains in San Jose on a one-year $5M contract with the Sharks not making too many waves this free agency. With their 25th anniversary season coming up, the Anaheim Ducks made a splash bringing back their retro jerseys, but remained relatively quiet in free agency. The biggest name remaining unsigned for the Ducks is Brandon Montour who could also be moving for arbitration if a contract is not made soon.
Up in Calgary, the Flames locked up former Golden Knights winger James “The Real Deal” Neal for five years at $28.75M. The Kings’ biggest move this off-season is a blast from the past, as they welcomed back NHL legend Ilya Kovalchuk from the KHL for a three-year, $18.75M contract.
Winner: Vegas Golden Knights
Some big names and some big moves but if the Knights can hold firm on Karlsson they will be the big winners in the Pacific.
In the Central, Winnipeg made the most movement when it comes to the big names. The Jets kept a hold on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck who played 17 games during their deep 2017-18 playoff run, securing his services for another six years at $37M bringing stability and strength between the pipes for the first time in years.
The Blues have also been busy this trade period, again focusing on depth. St Louis may have flown under the radar, picking up Tyler Bozak for three years, $15M from the Toronto Maple Leafs while welcoming back Perron, but the Blues also added hometown boy Patrick Maroon on a one-year contract. Some good moves here.
The Minnesota Wild picked up J.T Brown from Anaheim and secured Matt Dumba for five more years at $6M per season. Former Stanley Cup champion Ian Cole landed in the Rocky Mountains, signing on for three years with the Colorado Avalanche who also inked goaltender Anton Khudobin to a two-year commitment.
Winner: Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues (tie)
The winners here in my eyes are the Jets and the Blues. Not only have they locked down some key forwards, they have also focused on depth on defense, and in the Jets case, strong goaltending.
Across the continent in the Atlantic, there are only two letters on everyone’s lips: J.T.
In what was undoubtedly the biggest and most anticipated off-season acquisition, former New York Islanders All-Star John Tavares agreed to terms with the Toronto Maple Leafs, heralding a return home for the Mississauga native. Tavares will be in the blue and white for at least the next seven years with a whopping $77M contract.
Despite the losses both Tyler Bozak (St. Louis Blues) and James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia Flyers) and uncertainty surrounding William Nylander, Leafs fans will now dream of opening night with a lineup featuring the likes of Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri.
The division also boasts a significant amount of goaltender activity, which can often make or break a season. The Buffalo Sabres let Robine Lehner leave but picked up Carter Hutton from the Blues for three years at $8.5M. Jonathan Bernier departed the Avalanche to join the Detroit Red Wings for $9M over three years as well.
Tampa Bay and Montreal made several moves but nothing compared to the noise in the rest of the division. As of this writing, Ottawa Senators’ winger Mark Stone remains a free agent with no signature on the dotted line as of yet.
Winners: Toronto Maple Leafs
In the Atlantic, the Leafs landed the biggest catch of the day and are ones to watch in the division.
Finally, a look at free agency in the division that has delivered each of the last three Stanley Cup championships.
The championship-winning Washington Capitals didn’t waste any time locking up star John Carlson on a monster eight-year, $64M deal but were forced to deal Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer to Colorado and also lost versatile center Jay Beagle to the Vancouver Canucks (three years, $7.5M). Tom Wilson also currently remains unsigned.
Elsewhere in the division, the aforementioned van Riemsdyk, who has scored 27 or more goals in four of the last five seasons, brings some much-needed scoring back to Philadelphia, the team that drafted him in 2007. It will be a homecoming of sorts for JVR who hails from Middletown, New Jersey, which is less than an hour from “The City of Brotherly Love.”
Former Sabre Lehner didn’t move far, signing on downstate with the Islanders on a one-year, $1.5M contract. After facing over 3,000 shots over the past two seasons in between the pipes, Lehner could arguably be in more even more rubber on the rebuilding Islanders whom added Valtteri Filppula for some reason.
Over on the other side of the river, the New York Rangers held onto Vladislav Namestnikov for another two years at $4M per season and also resigned youngster Jimmy Vesey (two years, 7.55M).
Elsewhere in the Metro, defenseman Calvin de Haan landed at Carolina with the Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins picked up solid defenseman Jack Johnson from the rival Columbus Blue Jackets.
Winner: Philadelphia Flyers
The Capitals did everything in their power to retain their cup-winning core but the Flyers signing van Riemsdyk is also a good move. Some good pick ups in this division.
With the free agency period still in motion, several players remain in limbo. Some may move for arbitration, find themselves consolidated in their current team colors or winging their way to new teams. Forget Christmas in July, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Written by Chris McRae / @ChrisMcRae04
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: A new John Tavares #91 jersey hangs in the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room. Toronto signed Tavares for seven years, $77 million on July 1, 2018. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
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