NHL Free Agent Frenzy: The Best and Worst Deals of Day One

Posted: July 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Every year, NHL General Managers open their boss’ checkbooks on July 1st only to be let down by their investments months richardslater. In 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the colossal mistake of spending $5.25 million per season for 7-years on grinding forward Dave Clarkson. The former New Jersey Devil rewarded them with a putrid 11 points in 60 games. The Philadelphia Flyers were also victims of a similar crime, spending $4.5 million for 5-years on Vincent Lecavalier. The veteran did tally 20 goals in his first season in orange-and-black. But, injuries, inconsistency, and a lack of fit in Craig Berube’s system will likely doom Paul Holmgren’s final major contract with the club.

But, some of today’s deals made Lecavalier’s look like chump change. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If this is true, then commissioner Gary Bettman is running an asylum. Below is a list of the top-5 best and bottom-5 worst deals from the opening hours of NHL free agency. All salaries listed are per-year:

The Best

1. Chicago Blackhawks sign C Brad Richards (1 year, $2 million)

Richards is no longer the player that he once was. Nor is he the player that the Rangers believed him to be when they signed him to a 9-year, $60 million contract three years ago. But, the 34-year old is still a productive, top-six center. After being bought out by New York following their Stanley Cup defeat, Richards moved swiftly to sign a team friendly, short-term deal with the Blackhawks. Chicago will likely place Richards on their second line. He’ll instantly add leadership and playmaking ability at a bargain price for a team that was already a contender for the 2014 Stanley Cup.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins sign D Christian Ehrhoff (1 year, $4 million)

Another buyout victim, Ehrhoff was sent packing by the Buffalo Sabres last month after three-years of relatively average play under a 10-year, $40 million deal signed during the same frenzy as Richards’ mammoth contract. The 31-year old is still a millerproductive offensive-defenseman, scoring 6 goals and adding 27 assists for the worst team in hockey a year ago. Pittsburgh needed to find a replacement for the departing Matt Niskanen (more on him later), and they did so without sacrificing future cap space.

3. Vancouver Canucks sign G Ryan Miller (3 years, $6 million)

No, Ryan Miller didn’t boost his stock with a porous performance in St. Louis last spring. But, the former Olympic goalie is still among the top-ten netminders in the NHL. After their brutal debacle a year ago, in which the Canucks traded both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, Vancouver needed to find a franchise goalie in the worst of ways. Enter Miller, who still has a few good years left. The difference between Miller and Luongo at this point is minute. But, the disparity in their contracts is large. For a team that many believed to be heading for a dark ages of sorts, the Canucks had a very solid opening day of free agency.

4. New York Rangers sign D Dan Boyle (2 years, $4.5 million)

No one will confuse this iteration of Dan Boyle with the one that was an All-Star for a decade with Tampa Bay and San Jose. But, the Rangers should enjoy a phenomenal power play quarterback and leader in the locker room. The 2004 Stanley Cup champion can still put up points from the blue line, even if his speed and agility have taken a hit with age. At just 2-years and $4.5 million per season, New York could afford to risk signing the 37-year old.

5. Minnesota Wild sign F Thomas Vanek (3 years, $6.5 million)

One of the few impact forwards available on the open market, Vanek had his sights set on Minnesota since the season began. Despite stops in Long Island and Montreal, the 30-year old will best be remembered for his many years anchoring the Buffalo Sabres’ scoring line. Vanek can still score with the best of them, and he’ll make for the perfect compliment on the Wild’s first line across from Zach Parise. Getting him at just 3-years was a real coup for a Wild team that is a goalie away from being a true Stanley Cup contender.

The Worst

1. Washington Capitals sign D Matt Niskanen (7 years, $5.75 million)

Are you kidding me? I think we all knew that Niskanen would be overpaid this offseason. I also think we all now know who will be the first player bought out from this crop of free agent talent. Niskanen enjoyed a career year in Pittsburgh last season, tallying 10 goals and 46 points on an offensively loaded roster. New GM Brian MacLellan is picking up where his predecessor left off, providing fodder for the bloggers by giving out not one, but two (more on that in a moment) brutal contracts to veteran defensemen. Niskanen is only 27, so the length of the deal isn’t that atrocious. But, at $5.75 million per season, this deal promises to turn sour quicker than a Jay-Z concert at a CPAC convention.

2. Washington Capitals sign D Brooks Orpik (5 years, $5.5 million)

Washington had money coming into this offseason. They decided to spend it on two veteran blue liners whose best days are likely behind them. The 33-year old Orpik isn’t exactly a bad player. But, his numbers were quite pedestrian (2 goals, 11 assists) even for a defensive specialist on a loaded Penguins team. The financial terms are about right for today’s age. But, a 5-year deal for a 33-year old entering his 13th NHL season will likely ruin the Capitals in a few seasons. What else is new for one of the worst run franchises in the NHL?

3. Calgary Flames sign D Derek Engelland (3 years, $2.9 million)

Deryk+Engelland+Toronto+Maple+Leafs+v+Pittsburgh+b2pwzfq5vZjlWhat’s with these GM’s signing former Penguins defenders to absurd deals this afternoon? The Flames had tons of money, a product of not being competitive for over half-a-decade. But, signing a borderline 6th defenseman to a long term deal isn’t the right way to spend their riches. It would be one thing if Engelland brought anything to the table besides an ability to knock someone’s teeth out. But, this 32-year old middling blue liner just won the lottery, even if he’ll have to live in Calgary for the next few years to earn the payout.

4. Edmonton Oilers sign F Benoit Pouliot (5 years, $4 million)

It wasn’t too long ago that Pouliot was considered one of the league’s biggest draft busts. Now, he’ll soon be a massive free agent bust as well. Edmonton had a need for gritty forwards, as the majority of their top-9 is comprised of young, talented yet raw projects. Still, giving a player who tallied a mere 36 points in 80 games for New York a 5-year contract is the height of stupidity. I give it two years before Pouliot is right back on the market, a victim of Edmonton’s volatile buyout option in 2016.

5. Florida Panthers sign C Dave Bolland (5 years, $5.5 million)

Bolland is a nice player. The 2010 Stanley Cup champion will routinely tally 40+ points and play a solid, refined two-way game. But, that doesn’t mean he’s worth nearly $30 million on the open market. Florida’s made it a routine to sign former Blackhawks stars to bloated contracts since Dale Tallon left Chicago to become the Panthers’ GM. Whether or not this contract is as bad as it seems remains to be seen. But, it’s pretty darn clear that the Panthers spent this money merely because they had to, as hitting the salary cap floor is as difficult for some teams as staying under the ceiling is for contenders.

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