Fiscal sanity is boring. Favorable geography is boring. These are among the lessons learned on NHL Free Agent Day 2017, which saw more hometown discounts than home run contracts.
Part of this was a lackluster field of difference makers, with a few exceptions. Part of this is the harsh education some teams have gotten, learning that unrestricted free agency is the devil’s tool. (Heck, even the Devils didn’t dabble too deep into it, and they’re terrible.) Part of this is due to the fact that veteran players can now sign low-dollar contracts because they’re flush with buyout money.
Anyway, here are …
The five best contracts from July 1
(As of 6:30 p.m. ET.)
5 – Benoit Pouliot, Buffalo Sabres
One of the best under the radar signings of the day.
Look, he didn’t sign himself to a 5-year, $20 million deal with the Edmonton Oilers. They inked him, it didn’t work out, they ate the last two years of his contract and life goes on.
So with that cash in pocket, he signs with the Sabres for $1.15 million for one season, which is an incredible bargain for a player who could slide in as a second line left wing and help on the power play. This is a guy that can get you around 0.60 points per game on average. As a replacement for someone like Marcus Foligno? That’s a stellar, short-term add.
Another example of a player with buyout money taking a low salary – though not the best example of it, as you’ll see – is Hartnell, who goes back to the Nashville Predators on a one-year, $1 million deal.
We discussed the particulars of this reunion earlier, but it boils down to having played for Peter Laviolette, having played with Ryan Johansen and played down the lineup in other roles, and giving the Predators a 100 PIMs guy if they need him to do the dirty work. He’s two years removed from 10 power-play goals as well.
3 – Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers
Just to clarify: Yes, this is still the “best signings” list.
I have no bloody idea why people are so down on this contract. OK, I do: There’s a bias against Shattenkirk for having the nerve not to be better than Alex Pietrangelo, and hence skating second-pairing minutes with the Blues; and he was noticeably bad in the playoffs for the Washington Capitals who, at last check, are a noticeably bad playoff team. Oh, and he’s an offensive defenseman not named Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, so he’s automatically loathed.
What Shattenkirk is: an elite puck-moving defenseman who is anything but a defensive liability. He doesn’t put up incredible 5-on-5 numbers, which is rightfully a criticism; but that’s conflated with not being good at 5-on-5, and he is: plus-368 in shot attempts over his last 208 games at 5-on-5.
But enough about the player. Let’s talk about the contract.
The Rangers essentially deleted Dan Girardi and added Kevin Shattenkirk to their blue line, and they did so by essentially trading Derek Stepan at $6.5 million against the cap through 2021 for Kevin Shattenkirk at $6.65 million through 2021.
And again: Four years! For the prize of free agency, because he wanted to play for his childhood team. Or because no one gave him seven. But regardless, four years!
Look, maybe in three years we’re calling him a bust. Who knows? You can only judge a deal based on its merits, based on the marketplace and on context. And this is a winner today.
2 – Mike Cammalleri, Los Angeles Kings
The Kings needed two things entering July 1: more offense and cheap labor. They’ll get both from Cammalleri, who still has something to offer as a scorer. Plus, he’s played with Anze Kopitar before, as well as with Dustin Brown. He fits.
But again: This is another “Brad Richards”-esque one-year, $1 million incentivized deal. GM Rob Blake said it himself: Cammalleri wasn’t even on their radar until the buyout from the New Jersey Devils. And then it was a slam dunk. Great move by the Kings.
But not the best move of the day…
1 – Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes
Two years and $9 million for a guy who went over 20 goals in each of the last two seasons.
Yes, he’s turning 36, but that’s why the ancillary benefits of having Williams on this team are so key: He’s played for Stanley Cup champions and has proven to be clutch in the playoffs, on a young team that needs that kind of sage in the room. Plus his name is on the Stanley Cup as a member of the Hurricanes.
He was coveted by a few teams, including the Lightning, and this was a significant win for Ron Francis. Guess it helps when you’ve played with the guy.
And now, sadly …
The five worst contracts of July 1
5 – Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks
Not a UFA, but a contract signed on July 1 that kicks in for 2018-19.
The Anaheim Ducks literally just went through a situation where long-term contracts given to their defensemen caused a near cap crisis and then they hand out an eight-year contract to Fowler with a $6.5 million cap hit. There was no need to do a max deal here. None.
4 – Nate Thompson, Ottawa Senators
This isn’t an egregiously bad contract. It’s just a nonsensical one given how the rest of the day went.
No need for two years. No need to a give a 32-year-old depth forward $1.65 million a year on that term. Just silly is all.
3 – Karl Alzner, Montreal Canadiens
I hesitate to put there here, because I kind of like this move for the player and the team if Alzner needed a year to get over that sports hernia surgery and returns to basic competence as a defensive defenseman. But while you needed that fifth year to get to that $4.625 million hit in theory, this is still a player with some question marks getting a contract one year longer than Shattenkirk’s.
2 – Dan Girardi, Tampa Bay Lightning
It was bizarre how this two-year, $6 million deal was being praised by some, considering that nearly every other player who took a buyout signed a contract around $1 million in value.
Girardi is 33 and a liability whose competence is entirely defined by his partner’s prowess. But Steve Yzerman says the Lightning have “their own analytics” on Girardi that will no doubt explain how he drags on possession like the anchor of an aircraft carrier.
1 – Dmitry Kulikov, Winnipeg Jets
That hearty laugh you heard during the afternoon of July 1 where Buffalo Sabres fans and media hearing about Kulikov getting a three-year deal worth $4.33 million annually from the Jets.
Maybe this is a change-in-scenery type deal. Kulikov seems to believe so. The Jets better hope so, because he’s been abjectly terrible over the last few seasons. In what should have been a “show us” contract, the Jets went three years with him. So Happy Canada Day, or something.
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