Free agency opens on Friday, as teams will be officially allowed to sign players on the open market, and fans around the league should be excited.
No, wait, excited isn’t the right word. What’s the one I’m looking for? Terrified. That’s the one. You should all be terrified.
That’s because, despite the occasional success story, NHL teams tend to be terrible at signing free agents. They can’t help themselves. And it rarely takes long for the initial excitement of a big signing to give way to the realization that a team has just handed out too much money for way too many years.
As we count down to Friday’s deadline, let’s take some time to look back at some cautionary examples of how quickly a big deal can go bad. Here are my picks for the five worst unrestricted free agency signings of the past two decades.
The excitement over the Steven Stamkos Sweepstakes has gotten Jim Benning in trouble with the NHL.
The Vancouver Canucks GM was fined $50,000 by the league on Tuesday for tampering. The charges stem from comments Benning made on the radio last week about Stamkos, and Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.
After trying for months to find a trade partner willing take on left winger Chris Higgins, the Vancouver Canucks will instead buy out the final year of his contract.
Higgins, 33, was put on waivers on Monday. When he goes unclaimed the Canucks will buy him out, and save $1.67 million in 2016-17, and have $833,333 count against the cap in 2017-18.
BUFFALO – Weird. Vincent Lecavalier retired. You’d swear it was him, or a magical teenage version of him, sitting on a podium overlooking Lake Erie. That’s what it felt like talking to elite 2016 NHL draft prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Dubois, a friendly, rosy-cheeked tank of a youngster at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, carries himself like a young Vinny. It’s a strange coincidence, as the last time the draft went down in Buffalo was 1998, when Lecavalier went first overall. Dubois was calm yet confident, exuding the poise of a man many years older, seemingly enjoying the questions as he sat outside on a windy Thursday. The novelty hadn’t yet worn off.
He was endearingly wide-eyed about the draft experience. He said his old QMJHL teammate, Red Wings 2015 first-rounder Evgeny Svechknikov, told him to have fun and not waste the experience. Dubois was gracious about his off-season workouts, in which he encountered the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Alex Killorn and Andrej Sustr and eventually worked up the courage to approach them for advice. Dubois can’t wait to face his childhood idol, Henrik Zetterberg, and couldn’t believe his eyes when, while he attended the Stanley Cup final in San Jose, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby approached and said, “Maybe I’ll see you soon.”
Sven Baertschi could never find his fit with the Flames, and after three trying campaigns, the 2011 13th-overall selection was shipped out of Calgary to the division-rival Canucks. The move didn’t look like much at the time, but the 23-year-old winger made his mark in Vancouver this past season.
In 69 games in 2015-16, Baertschi potted 15 goals and 28 points, both miles ahead of his previous career-highs of three goals and 11 points. He skated in a third-line role, played minutes on the power play and was a nice, young depth piece for the Canucks throughout the past campaign. And getting his career back on track has paid off for Baertschi, who Thursday inked a two-year, $3.7-million deal to remain in Vancouver. The contract will pay Baertschi $1.7 million in 2016-17 and $2 million the following season.
The deal isn’t just a reward for his play last season, though. What the Canucks are really hoping is that it’s a sweetheart deal for a player who can score 20-plus goals for them both this coming campaign and in 2017-18. Read more
Nothing says the off-season quite like the threat of buyouts, and we’re inching ever-closer to the NHL’s buyout window opening and several players could see their time with their current teams come to a close.
For some of the candidates, massive contracts are at fault, while other will fall victim to underperforming or simply not fitting within a team’s structure any longer. Unfortunately, some are a combination of all three.
With the salary cap remaining relatively flat according to all reports, several teams are going to be in tough financial situations. Even a rise of $2 million in the salary cap, which is a rough estimate of the maximum amount the upper limit will rise, would still see several teams in tough cap positions. That’s not to say all players on this list will be bought out, but there’s at least a fair chance several from this list will be sent packing by way of a buyout. Read more
The Pittsburgh Penguins have another chance to win their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, and first since 2009, when they face the San Jose Sharks on the road in Game 6.
Trying to win a championship on the road late in a series doesn’t sound like the easiest of feats, but recent history may suggest otherwise.
Could the 2016 Stanley Cup final be the last time we see Evgeni Malkin in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform? That’s the opinion of Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, who believes the Penguins could trade the 29-year-old center in the off-season.
Kypreos and colleague Doug MacLean cite Malkin’s lack of speed in the 2016 playoffs, especially in five-on-five situations. “He (Malkin) wants to play a slower game than they (the Penguins) want to play,” MacLean said. Kypreos thinks this summer couldn’t be a better time for the Penguins to move Malkin, suggesting it makes no sense for them to move forward with he and Sidney Crosby both on the payroll.
MacLean wonders how good Malkin would look in Montreal if the Canadiens don’t get Tampa Bay Lightning captain (and pending free agent) Steven Stamkos this summer. He also suggests the Vancouver Canucks as a destination.