The dust of NHL Free Agency has begun to settle and some teams got their guy while others were left empty-handed. Teams performed their best juggling act between signings, buyouts, and adding those game-changing new pieces to their clubs that could make them contenders. Who made the most of their opportunity and who watched it pour between their fingers? Let’s take a look.
Top Two Winners
The New York Rangers:
The Rangers went Harry Houdini on July 1st and only made their team better. They landed the number one defenseman on the market, but also rid themselves of Dan Girardi’s daunting contract with a buyout. Their magic trick didn’t stop there as after trading backup goaltender Antti Raanta, they found a replacement in previous Winnipeg Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec.
The most significant upgrades New York made was to their defense. With Girardi gone, they now have Kevin Shattenkirk for four years at a price tag of $26.6 million dollars. That’s a tad steep for Shattenkirk, but the Rangers were able to alleviate some of that with the trading of Derek Stepan. While they might be lacking a little bit of forward depth, their new defense along with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will be quite a task for opposing teams.
The Nashville Predators:
The Western Conference Champions’ thirst for another Stanley Cup run must be unbearable as they added another element to an already contending team. They bolstered their forward depth with the additions of Nick Bonino for four years, a reunion with Scott Hartnell for one, and a defensive addition in the name of Alexei Emelin.
Taking a magnifying glass a little closer to these acquisitions, the signing of Bonino at four years for $16.4 million is a stroke of genius. Bonino, a key piece in the Pittsburgh’s Penguins’ Stanley Cup Championship run last season will not only bring more talent to the Nashville offense, but his excellent work ethic. Every team needs that high-motor guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, and in the free agency market, the Predators found theirs.
Top Two Losers
The Washington Capitals:
The Capitals emerged from this free agency storm with the most damage, as they are now without defensemen Karl Alzner and Shattenkirk. Not only that, but they watched as the Vegas Golden Knights snatched Nate Schmidt away and forward Justin Williams take his services to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The once contending team is now looking a little like Swiss cheese. In a ray of sunlight from the clouds, they were able to retain forward T.J. Oshie plus re-sign Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov, but the holes left by the departure of a handful of their key players makes the team feel a little desolate.
The Tampa Bay Lightning:
The Lightning’s cannon ball into free agency made a minimal splash with the signings of Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz. Girardi, a veteran right-handed defenseman, will bring leadership and experience to the Tampa Bay backend, but I believe the Rangers bought him out of his contract for a reason. On a team with a new defensive prospect in Mikhail Sergachev, I see Girardi playing a smaller role on the last defensive pair. Why pay a guy $3 million over the next two years when you have a few prospects that have earned the right to stay up?
Having lost the dynamic that is Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay opted to replace him with another veteran in Kunitz. Being a constant for the Pittsburgh Penguins the last few years, I believe Kunitz to be a good acquisition for the Lightning. He’s a hard-fought player that has the ability to put the puck in the net. His only negative impact for me is his age. However, in a world where Jaromir Jagr is still skating around at 45, I suppose 38 is the new 25.