NHL Free-Agent Signings 2014: Smartest Early Offseason Contracts

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2014

New York Rangers center Brad Richards (19) takes a shot on goal during a practice for the Stanley Cup Finals at the team's training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., Sunday, June 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Remember the moment the pinata broke open at birthday parties during your childhood and screaming kids went running for all the free candy from every direction? 

That is kind of what the first few days of NHL free agency are like with so many names hitting the open market.

NHL.com has an active list of 2014 free agents who have agreed to terms with new teams, and it is very clear that there was little wasted time jumping on the available players. In the early rush, some contracts were simply smarter than others from a talent and financial standpoint.

With that in mind, here is a look at some of the smartest ones.


Christian Ehrhoff: One year, $4 million with Pittsburgh Penguins 

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Penguins looked far from dominant during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, and that was with Matt Niskanen on the roster. With Niskanen out the door as a free agent, all Pittsburgh did was land a more dangerous offensive weapon for less money.

Enter Christian Ehrhoff.

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

Ehrhoff can anchor Pittsburgh’s power play and will see formidable time trying to contain some of the best forwards in the league. He will also contribute in the points department on the offensive side and give the Penguins another potential goal scorer next to Sidney Crosby.

There is also plenty of playoff experience on Ehrhoff’s resume, which will help Pittsburgh avoid a disappointing showing again this postseason.

Not bad for a low-risk, high-reward one-year deal.


Brad Richards: One year, $2 million with Chicago Blackhawks

Uncredited/Associated Press

Speaking of potential impact and experienced players on a cheap, one-year deal, the Chicago Blackhawks landed Brad Richards.

Richards, who has won a Stanley Cup himself, should help the Blackhawks bounce back from their gut-wrenching loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the conference final. The lack of depth at the center position hindered Patrick Kane at times this year, so landing Richards could go a long way toward improving the offense.

Richards scored 20 goals and totaled 51 points for the New York Rangers last year, and there is no reason to think he cannot replicate or even improve on those numbers on the loaded Blackhawks.

Perhaps the best news for Chicago’s long-term future is the fact that this gives Teuvo Teravainen some more time to find his footing as a potential NHL star down the road.

General manager Stan Bowman certainly seemed pleased, via Chris Kuc of The Chicago Tribune

It's a big moment for us to be able to add someone of (Richards') caliber as a hockey player and as an individual. He brings so many things to the table for us. There are a lot of options for our coaching staff now. We've certainly been searching for someone that is an experienced center in the NHL. He's played a lot of years and done a lot of incredible things.


Thomas Vanek: Three years, $19.5 million with Minnesota Wild

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Thomas Vanek was one of the marquee names in this free-agency class, and the Minnesota Wild didn’t exactly have to break the bank to lure him to town.

Vanek will likely slide right into the first line as a potentially elite goal scorer, which is something Minnesota has missed in past seasons. What’s more, a Vanek and Zach Parise pairing works beautifully, given Parise’s overall playmaking abilities and Vanek’s tendency to find the back of the net.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The talent and overall offensive impact is obvious, and the fact that Vanek played at the University of Minnesota is a nice complementary tidbit. Still, Jordan Heath-Rawlings of Sportsnet.ca highlighted just why this was such an appealing deal from Minnesota’s perspective:

The terms are reasonable and, considering the likes of Dave Bolland and Brooks Orpik are commanding north of $5 million per season, $6.5 million is not expensive at all for a 30-goal (or more) scorer. The Wild needed a more dynamic offence, and Vanek offers exactly that. 

More goals will equal more wins in Minnesota, which is something the fans can get behind regardless of the cost.


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