It was a wild day, to say the least. As is customary in the era of the five-day negotiation window preceding it, free agency started with a deluge of signings as previously struck deals were made official. Per capfriendly.com, 131 players signed for $651,249,125 in total contract dollars.
But plenty of impact players remain unsigned as Day 1 winds down. The 10 best still out there:
1. JIRI HUDLER, RW
2015-16 cap hit: $4 million
Career year in 2014-15, then tanked in contract year. Still a handy playmaking forward for someone’s top six.
2. RADIM VRBATA, RW
2015-16 cap hit: $5 million
One season removed from arguably being the Canucks’ best player. Will attract teams starved for secondary scorers.
3. KRIS RUSSELL, D
2015-16 cap hit: $2.6 million
A trap signing? Lauded for shot blocking but possession numbers suggest he was a below-average defender in 2015-16. Reports July 1 suggest he’s in for a payday north of $5 million per season.
Contractual obligations force your trusty correspondent to declare the definitive list of winners and losers from the first day of free agency at a time before the ink is dry on all of the contracts. Who knows who won the day? After all, Thomas Vanek hasn’t even been a healthy scratch as a Detroit Red Wing yet.
With that in mind, we present our Winners and Losers from Canada Day, better known as the Start of Silly Season. If you subscribe to the theory that is held by a number of GMs that more mistakes are made on July 1 than any other day of the year, then perhaps the biggest winners are the teams that did nothing. Maybe it was the Colorado Avalanche, who picked up two players who were not extended qualifying offers and another who was bought out for a total cap hit of $5.3 million.
But that’s no fun. You, dear readers, demand Winners and Losers. Please keep in mind that everyone overpays. So here goes:
Mikkel Boedker had plenty of suitors as he hit unrestricted free agency. At 26, he was among the youngest top-six forwards available. He’s one of the faster players in the game. And, while his career highs of 19 goals and 51 points are modest, he never played with top-end talent before the Arizona Coyotes traded him to the Colorado Avalanche at this year’s deadline.
Still, of all the teams seeking help on the wings…the San Jose Sharks? They already have one of the deepest forward corps in the league. The first line of Joe Thornton between Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski is dominant. Logan Couture, the second-line center, led the 2016 playoffs in scoring. Joel Ward brings thunder and clutch scoring from the third line. Patrick Marleau serves as a swingman who can play in the top six or center the third unit. Youngsters Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson have shown flashes. First-round picks Nikolay Goldobin and Timo Meier should get their chances eventually.
For Red Wings fans who find themselves wincing right now, let’s put the Thomas Vanek signing in perspective: it’s only one year and it’s only $2.6 million.
Let’s agree on one thing: Alexander Radulov in hockey-mad Montreal should be interesting.
Will inking Radulov to a one-year, $5.75-million contract go down as a stroke of genius for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin? Or will it be another ill-fated tire kick, as we saw with enigmatic Alexander Semin last year?
It’s very difficult to say. Radulov, who turns 30 next week, has been one of the KHL’s best players in the eight seasons he’s spent there. He hums along at well north of a point per game, year in and year out. He’s a Gagarin Cup champion.
We can’t classify him alongside recent KHL import busts like Roman Cervenka or Sergei Plotnikov because, of course, Radulov isn’t a traditional import. He cut his teeth in major junior, scoring like crazy with the Quebec Remparts under coach Patrick Roy. The Nashville Predators chose Radulov 15th overall in 2004. He scored 18 goals as a rookie with the Preds in 2006-07 and, in his last full NHL year, posted an impressive 26 goals and 58 points in 2007-08. He was just 21 then. The guy can play. He returned after a completed KHL season to finish out his entry-level NHL deal in 2011-12 and, in 17 games split between the regular season and playoffs, had four goals and 13 points. We know Radulov can handle the North American game.
The Flames need a rebound after cratering out of the playoff picture this past season and they’re well on their way. After trading for goalie Brian Elliott, Calgary has now signed burly right winger Troy Brouwer – so the Flames have two of the Blues’ best players from the 2016 post-season.
Chicago Blackhawks fans can breathe easy right now. Their team addressed a dire need Friday and did so with minimal risk, signing Brian Campbell to a one-year deal carrying a $1.5-million cap hit and $750,000 in performance bonuses. As for the future? Well, GM Stan Bowman just has to take this one year by year.
Last summer the Hawks, squeezed up against the salary cap for the umpteenth year in a row, had to let blueliner Johnny Oduya walk as an unrestricted free agent. Oduya would never have been mistaken for a Norris Trophy candidate but was a highly capable and experienced second-pair blueliner. He and Niklas Hjalmarsson formed such a strong tandem that coach Joel Quenneville could almost roll with just four defensemen, the other two being Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, in the playoffs. Oduya won Cups with Chicago in 2013 and 2015 and averaged 24:45 of ice time during the 2015 run.
The Dallas Stars rode an offensive wave to the top slot in the Western Conference this past season and nearly got to the conference final, despite star center Tyler Seguin being on the shelf. Sure, goaltending was an issue, but otherwise things looked good.
Now, with the signing of veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis, the Stars appear to be one step closer to contending for a Stanley Cup.