Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News. He's been part of the THN team since 2011, but he's been married to hockey since he got beat up for collecting NHL sticker books in the mid-1980s. If you like strong opinions on the game itself, fantasy hockey tips and a hefty dose of pop culture in your readings, he's your man. And yes, the eyebrows are real.
Unrestricted free agent goalie James Reimer’s starting options dried up in a hurry. The Carolina Hurricanes re-upped Cam Ward, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Frederik Andersen and the Calgary Flames dealt for Brian Elliott. No other NHL team had an obvious need for an unquestioned No. 1.
But the deal Reimer signed with the Florida Panthers July 1 is the type that makes you say “Ohhh, I get it.” Is a five-year, $17-million contract with a $3.4-million hit starter money? No, but it sure as heck ain’t backup money, either. The Cats have set themselves up with an ideal fallback for – and perhaps successor to – Roberto Luongo. His contract actually ends after Reimer’s, but Luongo is 37. The odds of him playing out that deal through 2021-22 are slim. Luongo appeared in 62 games this past season. Before the all-star break he posted at 2.08 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Afterward: 2.82 and .907. He understandably wilted down the stretch and admitted to feeling exhausted during Florida’s first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
Reimer, for starters, can spell Luongo for 25 or even 30 games in 2016-17. Reimer has had longer looks as a starter than the departed Al Montoya, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Reimer play a 1B role instead of taking on strict backup duty. The $3.4-million annual investment suggests as much. Reimer is 28, with many good years left, so he could take over the No. 1 job in a couple years depending on when Luongo retires or suffers a significant age-related decline.
Did left winger Loui Eriksson have an excellent bounce-back year in Boston? Absolutely. Is he worth $6 million a year? Probably. Might he fit beautifully shifting to the right wing on a line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin? Sure. But does it make any sense for the current incarnation of the Vancouver Canucks to sign Eriksson, who turns 31 July 17, to a six-year deal?
One again, the Jim Benning regime shows its personality is multiple personalities, a blend of buy and sell, of rebuild and playoff push, of acceptance and denial. To try and break down what this team has done over the past few seasons, here’s a rough sketch…
We’ve seen oodles of controversial trades and some surprising money handed out this week, so it’s refreshing to see a sensible contract handed out to a good, young, star player. The Florida Panthers have agreed with defenseman Aaron Ekblad on an eight-year, $60-million extension that kicks in for 2017-18. The contract may not be made official Friday with all the free agent hoopla happening but is all but completed.
Ekblad, 20 and a restricted free agent next summer, rocketed past any thought of a short-term, financially modest bridge deal pretty much the moment he took the ice as a rookie in 2014-15. His 39 points were the third most in NHL history by a defenseman in his age-18 season, trailing only Phil Housley’s 66 in 1982-83 and Bobby Orr’s 41 in 1966-67. Ekblad’s numbers were all the more impressive considering the low-scoring era in which he plays. He took home the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
Shea Weber for P.K. Subban. Oh, baby. What a trade. Even if most of us agree the Nashville Predators won the deal by acquiring the younger, currently better Subban, this was a legit hockey trade. Weber still finished 10th in Norris Trophy voting this past season. We witnessed a swap of two players still close to the top of their class at their position.
Was Weber for Subban the most significant 1-for-1 trade in NHL history? We can make that case given both players are in their primes. The Hartford Whalers dealt Chris Pronger to the St. Louis Blues for Brendan Shanahan in 1995. That was a helluva straight-up deal, involving two future Hall of Famers (and player safety execs), but Pronger was a kid at the time. He hadn’t yet blossomed into his Hart Trophy form. It may seem bigger than Weber for Subban in hindsight but, if we factor in each player’s status when the trade happened…Weber for Subban wins.
We’ve probably seen bigger blockbusters than Weber for Subban, but it’s awfully tough to find those in which a single player went for a single player. Pierre Turgeon for Pat LaFontaine? That deal involved six players and a pick. Eric Lindros for Peter Forsberg? The Nordiques got half a team in that trade along with Foppa. Luc Robitaille to the Penguins for Rick Tocchet? A Second-rounder went to L.A. along with Tocchet. Dany Heatley for Marian Hossa? Nope, the Atlanta Thrashers got Greg de Vries, too. Even Martin St-Louis for Ryan Callahan included the Tampa Bay Lightning acquiring draft picks.
It’s extremely rare to find a pure 1-for-1 matching the magnitude of Weber for Subban or, heck, Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, which happened in the same friggin’ hour. Scott Stevens went to the New Jersey Devils in 1990 for Shanahan, but that wasn’t a trade. Stevens was awarded as compensation for the Blues inking Shanahan.
So Weber for Subban thus may have the title belt. We could keep going and dig through every trade in NHL history, but there are only so many hours in the day – which happens to be the eve of July 1, free agency day. So I’ll let you toss out more candidates in the comment section. And I’ll present the 10 biggest 1-for-1s of the salary cap era, factoring in players’ status at the time of the deal. Brian Elliott for Craig Anderson may sound like a major move today, but it wasn’t when it happened in 2011. This list factors in which 1-for-1s blew us away in the moment.
For a fleeting moment, before P.K. Subban, Shea Weber and Steven Stamkos stole the spotlight, Wednesday’s blockbuster trade between the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils was the off-season’s biggest story. Left winger Taylor Hall for defenseman Adam Larsson. One player for the other. No salary retained.
The transaction was…poorly received by the Edmonton Oilers fanbase judging by the social media response. “Worst trade in NHL history” isn’t a term tossed about lightly, but it popped up repeatedly. Taylor Hall is among the best left wingers in the game, blessed with major speed and scoring ability. He was the first overall pick of the 2010 draft. His 0.86 points per game since arriving in the NHL in 2010-11 ranks 26th, ahead of Joe Pavelski, Vladimir Tarasenko and Tyler Seguin over that stretch. Hall even made a concerted effort to improve his defensive ability under new coach Todd McLellan this season. Hall had the second best 5-on-5 relative Corsi on the Oilers after Brandon Davidson among regulars with 400 or more minutes played, per puckalytics.com. Better yet, Hall has four years left on his contract at a $6-million cap hit. That’s quite reasonable.
But now Hall is a New Jersey Devil. Only one man, Larsson, heads the other way. Losing Larsson, who had begun to mature into a big-minutes NHL defenseman, leaves a gaping hole on New Jersey’s blueline, but it was clearly a “who cares” trade for GM Ray Shero. You don’t pass up Hall for Larsson. You fix your D-corps later.
A clear sign we’re scaling the peak of NHL off-season activity? A star player signs a contract, and all we want to talk about is the context, the ripple effect, how it plays into other transactions.
The Columbus Blue Jackets announced Wednesday they’d locked up their franchise defenseman, Seth Jones, on a six-year, $32.4-million contract. It carries a $5.4-million cap hit. Jones was a restricted free agent and hasn’t yet maxed out the mammoth upside that made the Nashville Predators choose him fourth overall in 2013, but it was no surprise to see him bypass a short-term bridge contract. Columbus dealt its top-line center, Ryan Johansen, for Jones in January. Jones is clearly part of the Jackets’ long-term plans. He has tremendous size at 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds. He’s a graceful skater and puck mover. He uses his big reach impeccably on defense, and he can wire a mean slapshot, too. There’s an excellent chance his $5.4-million cap hit looks like a bargain within a season or two. He and Zach Werenski forge a formidable blueline tandem to build around for years to come.
“He’s a guy who’s come in and solidified what our team is going to be about going forward,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno Friday on a phone call with THN. “He’s a great skater, he moves the puck extremely well, and that’s what we want to see out of our back end.
“For how young he is, it’s pretty incredible the way he can command on the ice. That’s the first thing I noticed, his demeanor. His presence on the ice when he’s playing his game is felt. When he brings it, we’re a way better team. It’s exciting to know he’s going to be here for a while, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he can do now as he grows and becomes more mature and takes on bigger responsibilities. It’s been nothing but plusses having Seth on our team.”
A few prominent unrestricted free agents have come off the board over the past week, most notably Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski, but plenty of big names remain in a rich 2016 class. My top 30 UFAs:
1. STEVEN STAMKOS, C
2015-16 cap hit: $7.5 million
Never has a talent of his caliber hit the open market so young. Could flirt with a record deal unless the blood clot scare drops his price. SIGNED: Eight years, $68 million with Lightning
2. KYLE OKPOSO, RW
2015-16 cap hit: $2.8 million
More productive than Andrew Ladd or Milan Lucic in recent years. Okposo less of a name brand and lacks Cup ring, so might come cheaper. SIGNED: Seven years, $42 million with Sabres
3. DAVID BACKES, C
2015-16 cap hit: $4.5 million
More mileage than most at his age. He’ll still strike it rich as a big, mean center with excellent two-way skills. SIGNED: Five years, $30 million with Bruins
Restricted free agent Filip Forsberg’s six-year, $36-million contract extension with the Nashville Predators, announced Monday, was a slam-dunk deal.
In 2015-16 left winger Forsberg, 21, became the franchise’s first player in six years to crack 30 goals, equalling Jason Arnott’s team record of 33. Forsberg has averaged 29.5 goals and 63.5 points over his first two full NHL seasons, playing all 164 games. He’s safe, he’s young, and he’s already the best young scorer in Preds history. Six years at $6 million per? Fair deal for both sides. General manager David Poile has about $7.1 million in remaining cap space to play with for 2016-17. Some will go to re-signing RFA Calle Jarnkrok but, assuming Poile lets unrestricted free agents Paul Gaustad and Carter Hutton walk, he may have enough cash left for a medium-impact free agent signing.
Nashville can feel good about Forsberg’s deal. It’s an open-and-shut case. Forsberg got about exactly what we figured he’d get. What’s more interesting is pondering how it’ll affect negotiations involving a player with a comparable resume: Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov.