Kevin Shattenkirk to the New York Rangers, Karl Alzner to the Montreal Canadiens, Dmitry Kulikov to the Winnipeg Jets, Alexander Radulov to the Dallas Stars…
The first weekend of NHL free agency is now behind us, and after a few days of signings and trades there is a new landscape to discover. The constant flow of signings has reached a trickle so now is a good time to see where everyone has ended up. Trying to sort through each and every signing can give the best of us a splitting headache so allow me to take you through the league and give you the new homes for some of the NHL’s top talent. I will go through each division and fill you in on the big names moving in or out of the division and which teams I think have done the most to improve their roster for 2017-18.
Pacific Winner: Vancouver Canucks
Let’s start out West with the Pacific Division where the Vegas Golden Knights will begin play in October and where the Vancouver Canucks are actively trying to climb out of the cellar. The Canucks signed defenseman Michael Del Zotto for two years at $3M per year, forward Sam Gagner for $3.15M over three years and netminder Anders Nilsson for two years at $2.5M per season. While it will still take a huge effort to be a playoff team in a loaded West, Vancouver definitely became more competitive. In what was probably the quietest division this year, I really like what Vancouver did. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have been mostly quiet as they focus on re-signing players like Leon Draisaitl and Sam Bennett, respectively. Vegas has done their work through the draft and trades, so let’s finish the Pacific by checking in on California. The Los Angeles Kings signed veteran forward Mike Cammalleri to a one-year deal to add offensive experience and then made a nice move for a backup goalie inking former Minnesota Wild netminder Darcy Kuemper for just $650K/year. Kuemper has a career .910 save percentage and 2.60 goals-against average. The Kings cross-town rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, also picked up a goalie as they signed longtime goalie Ryan Miller to a two year $4M deal. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks re-signed Joe Thornton but the big news by the bay was the departure of fan favorite and team legend Patrick Marleau who elected to head East to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Central Winners: Dallas Stars & Winnipeg Jets (tie)
We move to the Central now, and what promises to be an incredibly close division race this season. The defending conference champion Nashville Predators had a great run this spring, and may arguably be even better with a key addition to a strong returning core. Nick Bonino, who excelled in the postseason for the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, has signed a four-year deal worth $16.4M. He will fit in well in the Music City as he plays a hard-nosed, hard-working game that has become familiar to the good people of Tennessee. The Predators will have some major competition, however, as the Central is shaping up like a tough division race once again with the most improved teams by far being the Winnipeg Jets and the Dallas Stars. Let’s start in the Peg with a Jets team ready to win now surrounding young phenom Patrik Laine. To that end they have signed goalie Steve Mason to a two-year $4.1M deal, and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year $4.3M deal. Mason will at worst split time in net and Kulikov adds depth on D and could potentially have a bounce-back year from an injury-tainted 2016-17. The Jets are ready to be a top-three team in the Central, but the team that looks like favorites to me, though, are the Dallas Stars. General Manager Jim Nill had already had a very productive off-season, acquiring Ben Bishop and Marc Methot while potentially securing the top defense and goalie prospect at the draft. Now in free agency, Nill has addressed offense, signing Martin Hanzal to a three-year $14.25M deal and Alexander Radulov to a five-year $31M deal. These moves replace recent pieces lost in Cody Eakin and Patrick Sharp putting the Stars in position to win now. “Its huge because you always want to play for a team with a chance to win,” Radulov said. “I really saw that in Dallas.” With all the moves Nill has made I think Dallas has put themselves in position to chase the cup. They have to be one of the preseason favorites in the West. In other free agent frenzy action, the Chicago Blackhawks get Patrick Sharp back from Dallas, and the Colorado Avalanche add some goalie insurance in the ever-reliable Jonathan Bernier, but the Stars, Preds, and Jets seem a step ahead of the rest.
Atlantic Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Atlantic was an active division as well, and much like the Central had a few teams make some big moves. The Florida Panthers lost both both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to Vegas through the expansion draft and a trade, so it was essential they needed to make a big splash in free agency. They were able to make some noise, bringing in KHL star Evgeny Dadonov three year $12M deal, and veteran forward Radim Vrbata to a one year $2.5M deal. While these are good signings, it remains to be seen if they will be able to keep up with the Canadian teams in the division. When Dion Phaneuf refused to waive his no-trade clause, the Ottawa Senators lost Marc Methot in the expansion draft. This will probably drop them behind the Leafs and Habs, but they should still be a playoff team. Montreal lost Radulov to Dallas, but they had a big splash signing Karl Alzner for five years at $4.6M/year. “I want to win… it was frustrating to keep getting stumped in the second round,” Alzner said. He will definitely get his chance as the Habs should finish at or near the top in the Atlantic. They will get a big push from Toronto, though, my free agency winner in the Atlantic. The Leafs made sure to add a veteran presence with postseason experience to a young and up and coming locker room led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. It started with Cup Champ Ron Hainsey from Pittsburgh for two years at $3M/year, but the talk now is about getting Patrick Marleau. While many don’t like the price — $18.75M over three years for a player with a lot of mileage on him at age 37 — I think he brings experience as a winner. Marleau played his entire career for perennial playoff Sharks, guiding San Jose to the Cup Finals in 2016. This signals the Leafs are all-in to win and that attitude with those kids puts Toronto over the top for me.
Metro Winner: New York Rangers
The Rangers win this division for a couple reasons. First, the rest of the division lost more than it gained (Pittsburgh Penguins lost Bonino, Hainsey, Chris Kunitz to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Trevor Daley to the Detroit Red Wings; Washington lost Shattenkirk, Alzner and Justin Williams to the Carolina Hurricanes). And second, it was New York who got a hometown discount stealing the Connecticut-born Shattenkirk for $26.6M over four years. The Rangers were already a pretty good team and now adding Shattenkirk to the equation while Pittsburgh and Washington lose valuable role players, and you have the division and possibly conference favorites in the Big Apple. This division produced some of the best teams in the league in 2016-17 and they will still be toward the top in ’17-18. Overall, the departure of talent easily outweighs what came in.
So when looking at the league as a whole who did the best? To me there are a few contenders. Toronto adds experience to complement the kids but will still have a fight on its hands with Montreal and Ottawa. New York seems to be the early favorite in the East, while Dallas did the most to improve out West.
Written by Cameron D. Turner / @OSUcam
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Main Image: Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with Alex Ovechkin #8 after the duo scored at 7:47 of the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on May 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. The Capitals defeated the Penguins 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)