NHL Free Agents 2014: Highlighting Best Deals of Market's Early Rush

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

New York Rangers' Brad Richards shoots the puck during the second period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Philadelphia. The Flyers won 2-1. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

There are franchises in the NHL that just crippled themselves for years to come on Day 1 of free agency.

"To be honest with you, July 1 is one of those days where we all get carried away...Sometimes this day you make some of the poorest decisions," said Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, per Randy Miller of NJ.com.

No kidding. In the neighborhood of the $500 million that was dished out in contracts on the first day of free agency, only a handful of those deals deserve to be praised. While Hextall remained relatively inactive (a smart move in its own right), there were front offices around the league that did not overreact in the chaotic period.

Let's take a look at some of the best deals the first 24 hours provided, because they were truly few and far between.


Chicago Blackhawks Gamble on Brad Richards

JIm Mone/Associated Press

Coming off a 46-21-15 campaign, there was still plenty of work to be done by the brass in the Chicago Blackhawks front office.

At first appearing content to follow Hextall's lead, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman shocked the league by reeling in a No. 2 center in Brad Richards.

Well, in reality it was Richards who reeled in the strapped-for-cash Blackhawks, but such is the life of a surefire contender. The 34-year-old star was quick to lay out why he was so willing to sacrifice financial gain to join the team, as captured by Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago:

To get an opportunity to play with these type of wingers, the four in their top six, I don’t know where you’re finding that type of talent in the league. I feel I can take advantage of that and it’s up to me to do that. What they’ve accomplished, it’s not just about points put up; they seem to find a way to win all the time and they’re always relevant. So it was an exciting opportunity.

Richards brings a wealth of experience to a team that already includes names such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. His numbers in recent years speak volumes:


Not only does Richards keep the team in contender territory, but he makes the eventual transition for Teuvo Teravainen even easier. All things considered, Chicago got the best deal of all to start things off.


Tampa Bay Lightning Steal Anton Stralman

Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

A move that will be met with some naysayers considering his breakout season came just one year ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning were content to dish out a five-year contract to defenseman Anton Stralman, as noted by the team's Twitter account:

Per CBS Sports' Chris Peters, the deal is worth a total of $22.5 million.

Not bad for the No. 216 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

Stralman really came on in New York last year with about an average of 20 minutes in ice time per game, which resulted in 12 assists and 104 shots on goal. Over the course of his up-and-down seven-year career, the defensive stalwart has produced 18 goals and 112 total points. 

Peters put it best in regard to the performance by the front office in Tampa Bay:

This is another great move for Steve Yzerman to not overspend on the top available and make a reasonable offer to a defenseman that is going to help, but not change the face of the franchise. If one thing was proved last season, the Lightning needed to get better on defense. They did incredibly well to land one of the more sought-after defensive defensemen while keeping the club well clear of the cap. Yzerman continues to impress in his role as a progressive-thinking general manager.

Stralman is a great addition, all things considered, and given the current state of the market, the contract likely could have been worse. Instead, the Lightning are only tied to the 27-year-old defenseman for five years.


Edmonton Oilers Take Shot in the Dark with Benoit Pouliot

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 09:  Benoit Pouliot #67 of the New York Rangers plays against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period of Game Three of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden on June 9, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Dave Sandford
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

This one is sure to cause a ruckus.

There was bound to be controversy no matter where Benoit Pouliot wound up, so the Edmonton Oilers' decision to make a five-year investment worth $20 million has lit the NHL realm on fire. 

Just take these notes from NHL.com's Dan Rosen, for example:

All valid points, but let's not pretend this was impossible to see coming. A 27-year-old winger coming off a career year while providing a key spark in the postseason is bound to get paid, especially when a bidding war starts up because his former team wants him back.

A report from Larry Brooks of The New York Post before free agency opened foreshadowed the eventual chaos well:

Two days into the league’s free-agent interview period, it is believed that Pouliot...will receive multiple offers for at least $9 million over three years — if not more.

It is unclear whether the Rangers will be willing to meet that price for the erratic but ultimately productive 6-foot-4, 205-pound winger who became an integral part of the club’s run the second half of the year and through the playoffs.

General manager Craig MacTavish was quick to break down why his staff felt Pouliot was a key addition to the budding franchise, via Terry Jones of The Edmonton Sun:

We’ve done a fair bit of homework on Benoit as you might expect when our level of interest is as high as it is. We feel he’s a guy who has really grown and developed through his experiences in the league. And he provides a very necessary skill set to our hockey club. We need people who are competitive and get to the puck swiftly. Guys who close a gap quickly. And he’s a guy who has really gone from a bit of an enigma early on in his professional career to a guy whose calling card is really work ethic.

It's about culture change and upside for the Oilers—a franchise that has not won more than 32 games in each of the past five seasons—and they get a ton of both with their controversial addition. Pouliot may very well become a 60-point player next season in addition to his impact on the rest of the roster via his effort.


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