There were 68 contracts signed by NHL teams on July 1st. John Tavares was the biggest name and he earned the longest deal with seven years with an $11 million cap hit. I give Tavares credit for deciding on going to Toronto, where he will face significantly more scrutiny than he would have with the other five teams he met with, but he wanted to play in his hometown for the team he grew up cheering for.
He is a very good player, and the Maple Leafs have some good pieces so they should be competitive during his time in Toronto. There is no guarantee any team will win the Stanley Cup, and Tavares could have made the same money playing elsewhere, but he wanted to go home. Good for him, and I hope if he doesn’t win, because the odds aren’t in his favour, Leafs fans remember how excited they were when he signed.
Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli didn’t have a lot of cap space to work with, based on overpaying previous UFAs, and the lack of cap space actually helped the Oilers make some smart decisions.
Most summers we see examples of where GMs should have been wearing a shock collar, and the minute they mention a four or five year deal they get a shock. Very few long-term deals pay off in free agency. This year there were only nine contracts of four+ years, so most fanbases should be happy their team avoided one. Here are my thoughts on free agency.
1. Most fanbases just want a competitive team. The Maple Leafs should be competitive with Tavares, but until they fix their defence I don’t see them being a true Stanley Cup contender. The good news is they have some forwards they could move to acquire a defender. Keep in mind they haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. If signing Tavares means they win a round or two each of the next few seasons it will be looked at favourably. Tavares’ footspeed could become an issue in the future, but this signing shouldn’t be looked as a positive only if the Leafs win the Cup. To me that is a ridiculous stance. If it helps them become a contender every year then it is a good signing. I applaud Tavares for going home, knowing how crazy that market will be. They haven’t won a Stanley Cup in 51 years and, whether it is fair or not, there will be a lot of pressure on him. He didn’t shy away from it. Good on him.
2. Of the 68 contracts signed on July 1st, 30 of them were for one year, 16 signed two year deals and 13 signed for three years. There were nine contracts of four years or more. Leo Komorov and Thomas Hickey signed for four years with the Islanders. Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle got four years from the Canucks and David Perron returned to St.Louis for four years. The Blues signed him as a UFA in 2016 for two years at $3.75 AAV, then lost him in the expansion draft to Vegas, and re-signed him on Sunday for $4milion/year. They clearly love Perron, but we will see if he can keep up in the final year of his deal. Of those five I like Hickey’s deal the best. We did see five more UFA deals on July 2nd and James Neal signed for five years at $5.75 million. The final two years when he is 34 and 35 years of age could be a concern.
3. The Penguins signed Jack Johnson for five years ($3.25 million AAV). Penguins GM Jim Rutherford drafted Johnson way back in 2005 when he was with Carolina so clearly he still likes him. Johnson is 31 and his cap his isn’t that high. The Penguins really value his passing ability. Mike Kelly of the NHL Network tracked outlet passing from the defensive zone to the neutral zone last year, and among D-men who played at least 1000 minutes Johnson was 6th best completing 73.5% of his passes. The Penguins try a lot of long outlet passes, and I suspect this was a main reason they signed Johnson.
4. The Bruins signed John Moore for five years at $2.75 million. I don’t get why you would sign him for five years? He is reliable, but is he more than a third pairing guy with the Bruins? Why lock him in for five years?
5. I liked the Philly signing of James van Riemsdyk for five years. Yes he makes big money at $7 million, but it is only for five years. He likely drops off in the final few seasons, but I’d rather pay more on a shorter deal than give him seven years at $6 million. In 2016 Milan Lucic and Kyle Okposo signed seven years deals worth $6 million, while Andrew Ladd got $5.5 million for seven years. Those final few years didn’t look good then and they look worse now. JVR is a consistent scorer and he will have enough skill around him in Philly that he should be able to produce decent numbers for the majority of his contract. Shorter term is always better.
6. The fact Tobias Rieder only signed a one-year deal shows you how teams look at him right now. Teams will overrate players due to a great playoff, hello Jay Beagle, and conversely, a bad playoff like Rieder had, will limit a player’s options. A one-year deal at $2 million is very good for the Oilers, and it allows Rieder an opportunity to play well and earn a longer term deal next summer. The Oilers should not be a big player in free agency in the near future. It is rare a UFA becomes a major impact player on a Cup winning team, unless he is a final piece and their core is intact. Marian Hossa was excellent for the Blackhawks, but they had a great core with Kane, Keith, Toews, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Sharp when they signed Hossa. Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were signed in 2014 with the Capitals, and it took until 2018 for them to win. Orpik was a 3rd pairing guy by then.
7. The Oilers need to ensure they draft and develop well in the coming years and provide solid players around Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the rest of their main core. The good news is the Oilers don’t have much cap space in 2019, and unless they move Andrej Sekera, Kris Russell or Milan Lucic, they won’t have any in 2020 to go big-game hunting. It will force the organization to make smart signings, and the lure of playing with McDavid could entice some solid, but not elite, veterans to sign short-term deals with the Oilers.
8. The Mikko Koskinen signing will be discussed often throughout the season. The other UFA goalie signings looked like this.
Jonathon Bernier: Three years at $3 million AAV
Carter Hutton: Three years at $2.75 million AAV.
Jaroslav Halak: Two years at $2.75 million AAV.
Anton Khudobin: Two years at $2.5 million AAV.
Cam Ward: One year at $3 million.
Mikko Koskinen: One year at $2.5 million.
Chad Johnson: One year at $1.5 million.
Petr Mrazek: One year at $1.5 million.
**Update This just in. Robin Lehner: One year at $1.5 million.
Koskinen’s salary still looks high when you compare his NHL experience to the other seven goalies. If Koskinen plays well the Oilers will look great, but if not there will be many wondering why they felt they needed to pay him so much. It is still perplexing.
9. People need to relax on comparing Jesse Puljujarvi to Nail Yakupov. Other than being high draft picks by the Oilers I don’t see any other comparisons between the two. Yakupov was playing in the OHL for two years before he was drafted. Puljujarvi was playing in Finland. Yakupov is small while Puljujarvi has an extremely large frame. It shouldn’t surprise anyone he will take longer to develop when you consider his frame and him adjusting to Canada, both on and off the ice. He still hasn’t grown into his body. He works very hard in the off-season, but he will some more time before he has the strength to use his frame to his advantage. Puljujarvi is very aware defensively. He wasn’t just an offensive player like Yakupov.
10. The Oilers would be foolish if they get impatient with Puljujarvi. I suspect we won’t see him truly comfortable in the NHL until he is 22. Here is a reminder of other top European draft picks who took time to develop. Patience will be the key to Puljujarvi’s development.
11. The Oilers have eight million to sign Ryan Strome, Darnell Nurse and another veteran depth forward. Maybe they plan to use Brad Malone as their 14th forward and save cap space, but I don’t expect them to sign a right winger who can play in the top six. So I suspect one of Tobias Rieder or Drake Caggiula will audition on the right side. I don’t have Kailer Yamamoto in my opening night lineup. Maybe he will be ready, but right now I have him starting in the AHL. With a tough start to the season; In Sweden and then road games v. the Bruins, Rangers and Jets I think Todd McLellan will want someone with more experience in his top-six to start the season.
NON HOCKEY THOUGHTS…
—What is Chris Jones doing in Saskatchewan? Duron Carter is a great receiver, but he is average at best as a defensive back. The Montreal Alouettes torched him, and the Alouettes aren’t even that good. Jones is a defensive genius, but his lack of respect for offence is becoming clearer by the day. He is making his offence less effective by removing Carter, and he pulled quarterback Brandon Bridge at the half because he wasn’t playing well. Why do that, but keep playing Carter when he is either getting burnt on deep balls or taking stupid penalties. Jones’ ego is creating a circus in Saskatchewan.
—Many NBA fans are freaking out about Marcus Cousins signing with Golden State — the two-time defending champs. But, remember the former All-star tore his Achilles in January. He likely won’t be ready until January, maybe later, and when he does return who knows how good he will be. The Warriors took a gamble and signed him for one-year, at an NBA bargain $5.3 million. I give GM Bob Myers a lot of credit. Cousins reached out to him and he got a deal signed.
— Myers was hired as assistant GM of the Warriors in 2011 and they drafted Klay Thompson 11th. Myers wasn’t making the final decision, so we can’t give him credit for that pick per se, but he was promoted to GM in 2012. He oversaw the 2012 draft where they got Harrison Barnes in the first round and Draymond Green in the second. The next summer he traded two first picks (2014 and 2017), two second-round picks (2016, 2017), Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson and Andris Bierdins as part of a three-way trade that landed him Andre Iguodola. He helped build the foundation through the draft and a great trade. He also hired head coach Steve Kerr in May of 2014. Kerr had never been a head coach, but had been a GM. He liked Kerr’s strategy of wanting to encourage offensive shooting and play to the strengths of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Kerr has been an excellent coach for the Warriors and I believe he is a big reason Kevin Durant elected to sign there. Myers and Kerr have created a winning culture, but also one where there are no egos. The Warriors players; Curry, Thompson, Green and Durant have, to this point, taken a bit less money for the chance to win. Myers deserves a lot of credit for building and maintaining the Warriors as the top team in the league.