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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Tuesday Tidbits: Free Agency, Shock Collars and More

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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • BM

    Trying to come up with the ideal lines combos to start the season, I’d like to see Todd and Co start with something like this and leave it alone and let some chemistry develop.

    Nuge-McD-Rattie
    Lucic-Drai-Puljujarvi
    Khaira-Strome-Rieder
    Aberg-Brodziak-Kass

    Leave Jesse with Drai so they can develop chem, if after a few weeks that line isn’t humming swap Lucic and Reider to bring some more speed onto the 2nd line.

    Anyways my .02.

    CHeers oil country

    • BM

      Caggiula as an extra F who can battle his way into the bottom six , I see Marody and Yamamoto as able bodies as well when the injury bug bites but I’d love Yami to get at least half a season down there in Bake hopefully more if we stay healthy. Let him dominate the A

    • Gravis82

      Caggiula, Strome, Reider, Aberg, Kassian. <— Bottom 6 forward who are bad a defense. Look at their hero charts and you will see. By comparison, successful teams don't have players that bleed shots against in their bottom 6. Sorry folks, its going to be another long year.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Play Reider/Dria/Pulijujarvi then we will have 2 skilled top lines that can skate well.
      Bonus (both Nuge and Reider are very defensively responsible).

    • Opi

      Ohhhhhh, what could have been, yes …

      Maroon … Hart Trophy winner … German Dude
      Hart Trophy winner … Hyphen … Tkachuk
      Cammy … Calder Trophy winner … Ebs14
      Khaira … Letestu … Caggs

      Klef/Benning
      Sekera/Nurse
      Davidson/Gryba

      Talbot/Koskinen

    • drivefastfinishlast

      Thats a great line for McD to get points but Rieder is a C that shots Lw and Aberg is RW.
      JP belongs in the AHL and what about Defence.
      This line up is more balanced.
      Nuge-Leon-Yamamoto
      Rieder-MCD-Strome
      Lucic-Brodzaik-Adberg
      JJ-Marody-Kassain. .

        • Still no edit button?

          Basketball players bruise there foot and need to be carried off court. Hockey players play with broken bones. Some even have heart attacks and want to get right back on the ice. Basketball is allot closer to soccer on the toughness level

        • btrain

          No doubt there is some physicality in bball but c’mon man, it’s not even a contest. Don’t get me wrong it sucks getting a stinky pit and/or elbow in the face, but besides some bruising it’s rare to see any serious injury come out of what amounts to the only real consistently risky contact in the game. I would say taking a stick or puck to the face is at minimal on par with the worst elbow you get and then gets far worse from there (i.e. many of us who have played long enough missing teeth). Not to mention players are going up to 30km/hr, many who exceed 225lbs, and it’s a contact sport where hitting is encouraged.
          As for running and jumping, are you kidding me? Hockey players are notable for their athleticism and this translates off the ice as well. If they spent enough time picking up bball, they would hold their own against any amateur bball player.
          I am sure there are many apects of bball, fans of the sport can argue are greater than hockey, such as the extraordinary talent of growing tall. However, physicality, not a chance!

          • cfour

            I’m not arguing hockey players aren’t tough I’m arguing the age old Canadian tradition that other sports are for wusses, like the orginal comment stated, typical close mind bs, I used to play in the back of commonwealth with a bunch of the Eskimos and I’ll tell you those games would have put Joe hockey player on his ass

          • Still no edit button?

            All other sports aren’t for wusses. Just basketball and soccer. I would say rugby is the toughest sport. Then football and lacrosse are both right up there in football.

            The odd elbow here and there is nothing like a stick to the face or a slapshot to the face. Which they just get stitched up and go right back out to play. In hockey they aree also moving at high speeds with big boys. Allot different then the light bumping in basketball while jogging. I think players get hurt more in basketball when they throw themselves to the ground from a light bump rather then any of the contact itself.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    TM last year was constantly putting lines in a blender, too much IMHO. One of the biggest problems I saw last year was that no lines really had time to gel. If there wasnt some instant success, they went into the blender and other lines TM seemed to stick together no matter how bad they were. The Oil need to find some line combos and stick to them to see if they can gel, but TM seems to have no patience to leave them together for more than a handful of games. There were lines last year that seemed to work well and were potting goals and for some explainable reason TM threw them in the blender which I found baffling It was the same with the oilers PP and PK TM seemed to only want certain players on them even when they were atrocious and seem to stick with them 3/4 of the way through the season even though it was killing us. I am hoping there is a better year coming coaching wise as well, because last year it sure seemed like one person was making all the decision on how everything was going to be getting done

    • Im hoping that Gully and Yawney keep Todd in check this year. McLellan is a good coach but his stubbornness can really hold him back(eg.waited 3/4 of the season to combine McNuge). Alot of people credited Reirden with convincing Trotz to make some key adjustments to get over the Pittsburgh hump, hopefully the same can happen here.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    How long would the window be before Big Rig signs somewhere? I am not on the “ship Lucic out whatever the cost” but if there was a salary dump/trade available brining in Maroon on a reasonable 3x contract would be great in many ways. We would retain size in the front 6 and lose the last 5 years of Lucic’s deal.

  • ubermiguel

    Rieder’s health scare (Crohn’s) probably knocked a few bucks and some term off his contract. It’s under control but that’s the sort of thing that can flare up.

  • Simba99

    How much scrutiny will mcdavid and Leon have when they don’t produce after the astronomical money they received these contracts will kill the nhl just you wait and see

    • The duck hunter

      Something tells me the back to back art ross winner will continue to produce. And after the JT and doughty signings at 11mill per makes Mcdavids “astronomical” money look like even more of a bargain. Leon at 8.5 isn’t looking too bad of a number either if he keeps trending the way he is. I agree tons of money being paid out but if you compare to the other major sports leagues NHL guys make almost diddly squat. If the cap keeps rising I dont see it killing the nhl anytime soon

      • camdog

        With escalating salary cap, which is sure to continue with Tavares in Toronto and a new team coming in Seattle, Leon’s contract is an overpay for 1-2 seasons at max and then it’s market value for 3-4 and then in 4-5 years it’ll be a deal. The Leafs Leafs alone are going to drive the cap up a couple million next season.

        The only thing that can prevent Leon’s contract from being value is a North American recession brought on my regressive economic policies, that lead to people not going to games.

  • Bond

    Jesse P is going to be a gamer so show the kid a little patience. Kid moves to a country where he doesn’t speak the language or know anybody but comes anyway to play in the toughest league in the world. He has ALL the tools, and just needs to adapt to the north American game. If you all wanna rag on someone might I suggest Chirelli, TM or Mr. Big Boy Lucy? All far more deserving of scorn than a super talented KID, lighten up already Sheeesh!!!