July 1st of the NHL calendar has been dubbed “Free Agent Frenzy” in honor of the frantic number of signings that are made on the first day of the new league year. As for what happened on June 29, well, there’s isn’t really a name or a precedent for it. What I’m dubbing “Wild Wednesday” may have shifted the odds for the upcoming season more than any unrestricted free agent signing could have ever done.
Within about half-an-hour of each other, Steven Stamkos resigned in Tampa Bay, the Edmonton Oilers traded sniper Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson, and the Montreal Canadiens swapped defenseman P.K. Subban for Nashville Predator blueliner Shea Weber.
It’s pretty uncommon to see a one-for-one player trade in the NHL where no salary is retained. For those deals to involve three All-Stars is purely bananas. Making the online reaction even more rampant was the fact that the two Canadian franchises got the perceived worse end of both deals. Throw in the fact that Maple Leaf fans had convinced themselves Steven Stamkos was “coming home,” and it was not a banner day for the usually Great White North.
Last week’s deals reinforced the Lightning’s position as a Stanley Cup favorite, made the Devils a playoff darkhorse, and put the Predators in contention for most fun team to watch next season. But that was just the beginning, as the floodgates for talent opened on Friday.
Let’s examine some of the biggest effects of the Free Agent Frenzy by revisiting our Stanley Cup futures from June.
Pittsburgh Penguins: 20/3
Washington Capitals: 15/2
Chicago Blackhawks: 8/1
Tampa Bay Lightning: 9/1
San Jose Sharks: 10/1
Los Angeles Kings: 12/1
The reigning champion Pens didn’t play in the free agency pool, instead losing a few depth pieces to the open market. However, they still have an interesting trade piece in Marc-Andre Fleury that could heat up their offseason. The rest of the favorites also avoided making major deals to shake up their chemistry, but there were a few small ones of note.
The Blackhawks lost a ton of depth forwards, like Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen, but did bring back defenseman Brian Campbell. After spending all last season searching for that fourth D-man they trust to play big minutes in the playoffs, Chicago should be good on that front now.
The Kings let their resident sasquatch, Milan Lucic, walk in free agency, adding Teddy Purcell in the hopes of recouping some of that production. This could mark an addition by subtraction, though, as L.A. transitions to a quicker style of play than Lucic, or an aging Vincent Lecavalier, were capable of.
Dallas Stars: 14/1
Florida Panthers: 15/1
Anaheim Ducks: 16/1
Nashville Predators: 16/1
St. Louis Blues: 18/1
Some may want to see the Stars in the “favorites” category, but this is still far from a complete team. Adding Dan Hamhuis doesn’t solve all their blueline woes, and the goaltending situation remains a nightmare. At least they didn’t get worse this offseason.
The same can’t be said for the St. Louis Blues, who traded away the goalie who took them to the Western Conference Finals for cap space that wasn’t used to re-sign Troy Brouwer or David Backes. Led by a head coach who is retiring after this season, it’s going to be a weird year for St. Louis.
Still, a lame-duck head coach has to be better than a retread, right? That’s the cynical questioning of Anaheim fans, who’s saw their “lame Ducks” make just one notable move: bringing back Randy Carlyle to coach the perennial chokers.
The biggest riser has to be the upstart Panthers, who have been throwing money around like people actually attend their games. On top of paying all their restricted free agents, they also added Keith Yandle and James Reimer. Something’s brewing in Sunrise: will anybody notice?
New York Islanders: 22/1
Montreal Canadiens: 24/1
Boston Bruins: 26/1
Minnesota Wild: 26/1
Philadelphia Flyers: 26/1
New Jersey Devils: 32/1
Calgary Flames: 35/1
Detroit Red Wings: 45/1
Edmonton Oilers: 45/1
New York Rangers: 45/1
Winnipeg Jets: 45/1
Colorado Avalanche: 50/1
Buffalo Sabres: 50/1
This group represents the teams in contention for a playoff spot, but a far cry from anything more. It’s also home to the teams that made the silliest moves this offseason.
For starters: if Montreal dealing their fan-favorite, Norris Trophy-winning, should’ve-been-captain for an older model with a decade left on his contract wasn’t already excruciatingly unnecessary, bringing in a prima donna booze-hound who has twice bailed on the NHL may have been too much for Habs faithful to take. If the Canadiens’ plan to improve their average offense was signing Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal, they’ll probably need another huge season from Carey Price to go anywhere.
Edmonton followed up their bad trade with some questionable signings of their own, adding the aforementioned Lucic for $42 million over seven years. While his toughness and grit are things the Oilers desperately need now, that term is certain to come back and bite them. Of course, if he helps “next year’s team” get in the postseason now, Edmonton fans may just tolerate a buyout in five years.
The Detroit Red Wings were looking to replace Pavel Datsyuk’s retired production, and after whiffing on Stamkos, they opened up the purse strings for Frans Nielsen. The 32-year-old has a lot of Datsyuk’s defensive talent, but certainly can’t match his scoring touch. Perhaps that’s why the Wings added a washed up Thomas Vanek as well. Looks like that 25-year playoff streak may have finally met its match.
The one team in this category that actually made some impressive moves was the Calgary Flames. Their Achilles heel in 2015 was a lack of capable goaltenders; trading for Brian Elliott would figure to solve that problem. The Flames also added Chad Johnson, who appeared to be a capable backup last season. Oh, and the veteran addition of Troy Brouwer at forward can’t possibly hurt this young group.
Buffalo also jumps into this group after their impressive addition of Kyle Okposo and the unheralded move for Dmitry Kulikov. They still don’t have a great goaltending situation, but they’ll be a fun one to watch.
Columbus Blue Jackets: 70/1
Ottawa Senators: 70/1
Carolina Hurricanes: 80/1
Vancouver Canucks: 90/1
Toronto Maple Leafs: 100/1
Arizona Coyotes: 100/1
There may be varying levels of acceptance with their position down here, but trust me fans, your teams’ residency is well deserved. Ottawa missed the playoffs by eight points last season, and the only change they made was hiring James Bond villain Guy Boucher as head coach.
Vancouver needs to hit the reset button, but with so much money tied up in the Sedins and Ryan Miller (all un-movable assets), Jim Benning kept trying to retool an untalented roster by signing Loui Eriksson and trading for Erik Gudbranson. At least Carolina, Arizona, and Toronto were trying to tank for Auston Matthews: the Canucks ended up there by accident.
(Photo Credit: Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA (IMG_8267) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
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