NHL Free Agency 2015: Winners and Losers from Day 1
For as little hype as Wednesday's start of NHL free agency received, it turned out to be a pretty exciting day. If hockey is a chessboard, this was supposed to be a day where a few pawns changed places, maybe a knight or bishop thrown in.
Instead, WE…HAVE…A…TRADE! And it overshadowed everything else on the day, with apologies to Cal O'Reilly being close to signing for two years in Buffalo to play with his brother, Ryan, according to WGR 550.
Phil Kessel, on the 3,352,245th trade rumor involving him, was finally, actually traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, as announced on NHL.com. The Penguins will now contemplate possibly the scariest forward line in NHL history, with Kessel-Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin.
Travis Hughes of SB Nation cued up the funny on Twitter with a future Penguins depth chart after the deal:
"Kessel-Crosby-Malkin" and then "Guy-Guy-Guy" all the way through.
Look, the Penguins might still be a thin team depth-wise. To call them "top heavy" might just be accurate. But it says here that the Penguins won the blockbuster deal that brought Kessel to Pittsburgh. For the reasons why, and why the other teams mentioned in this slideshow were labeled either a winner or a loser, click ahead.
Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
To quote the late, great Sam Pollock, who knew a thing or two about winning and making great trades in his long run as coach and general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, "Whoever gets the best player wins the trade."
So by that criteria, the Penguins won the complicated blockbuster deal that gave them Kessel from Toronto for a passel of other players and picks.
Credit Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos for being the first to get serious wind of the trade.
The trade is a win for the Penguins because they get a 27-year-old player who is a proven, bona fide scorer. Everyone else mentioned in the deal—Nick Spaling, Tim Erixon, Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington—they're all just "guys" at this stage.
Fact is, Kessel is a star and will make the Consol Center an even more exciting place to watch hockey this season. Of course, he's faced criticism for his dour demeanor and lack of clutch play at times. He'll still score 40 goals on a team with Crosby and Malkin. Easy.
Toronto also is picking up 15 percent ($1.2 million) of Kessel's salary moving forward, per the Globe and Mail's James Mirtle. How long you ask? Until 2022. So they're still paying him while he plays elsewhere. That's always a losing situation.
Loser: Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto is the L.A. of hockey. Translation: It needs stars. By trading away their biggest star, Phil Kessel, on Wednesday, Maple Leafs fans could rightly have expected a star in return. Instead, the Leafs made one of those "Star for a Grab Bag of Maybes" deals, the kind that may receive more favorable reviews as the years go by.
But for now, Leafs fans were left asking, "This is it? This is what we got for Phil Kessel?" Toronto is just not a rebuilding type of market. The franchise is far and away the richest in the league, and they expect the roster to be filled with expensive stars.
Instead, Toronto's first move on free-agent Wednesday was signing…defenseman Matt Hunwick, per NHL.com? The former frequent healthy scratch with Colorado and the Rangers the last few years was given a two-year deal.
Back to the Kessel trade. Not everyone thought the Leafs lost it, including TSN's Jonas Siegel:
The organization landed 2014 first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen, 22-year-old defender Scott Harrington, 26-year-old depth forward Nick Spaling and first- and third-round selections in the trade.
It's a substantive strike at reshaping the roster and precisely the reason why Toronto was right, at this stage in the game, to explore trading the player who led them in scoring in each of the past six seasons.
Substantive strike? Well, considering Kapanen is only 18 and never played in the NHL, Harrington was a minus-10 in his first and only 10 NHL games with Pittsburgh last year and Spaling is, at best, a spare part, then OK, go ahead and call it substantive.
Pittsburgh also got prospects Tim Erixon and Tyler Biggs in the deal. Both have underachieved since being drafted, but at one time, they received verbal laurels from Leafs management, especially Biggs.
You would expect Toronto to come away with more than this. Even if Toronto gets a first-round pick from Pittsburgh, it figures to be a late one, because it's contingent on whether the Penguins make the playoffs or not.
The Leafs have not made the playoffs lately with some big-name players. So, fair enough, making deals was expected. But Leafs management seems to have forgotten this is Toronto, not some rebuild job in Florida or Phoenix.
Winner: Edmonton Oilers
Andrej Sekera is one of the better defensemen you're never heard of. He toiled in obscurity for most of the first 10 seasons of his NHL career, in Buffalo and Carolina, before going to the Cup champion Kings at the last trade deadline. However, Sekera didn't exactly light Los Angeles on fire with his play (one goal, four points in 16 games for a team that failed to make the playoffs).
And there is room for argument that the Edmonton Oilers wildly overpaid for his services (a six-year, $33 million contract, per Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy). But in today's NHL world, if you can get a guy who can be steady in his own end, add a little something offensively and be a left-handed shot on the point during a power play, you have to overpay a little.
So the Oilers did in landing Sekera. His combined statistics from 2014-15 really aren't much to look at: three goals, 23 points, minus-3 in 73 games. Why did he become so valuable then?
Partly, it's about timing. If you are a "rare commodity" on free-agent day (lefty shot, power-play QB skills, minutes-muncher), you can do very, very well. In other free-agent classes, Sekera probably would have been an afterthought for many teams.
But to the defense-starved Oilers, Sekera is a bargain at most any price. Somebody has to try to keep pucks out of the net on that team, with Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, etc. Sekera figures to get a ton of ice time under Todd McLellan, and his veteran past shows he should be up for it.
Loser: St. Louis Blues
St. Louis made the biggest splash of free-agent day last year when it signed Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million deal. After his first year, the Blues probably regret that a little.
On the first day this year, the Blues lost reliable veteran D-man Barret Jackman to Nashville, and there were rumors, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford, that they were looking to move young, USA Olympic defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
What is general manager Doug Armstrong doing? Or is new assistant GM Martin Brodeur to blame? No offense, but Martin Brodeur, assistant GM one year after being a player? Really?
Getting rid of Shattenkirk for anything less than a bona fide top-six winger and/or quality D-man would be a fool's errand by Armstrong. St. Louis was largely silent on the day, despite nearly $14 million in cap space, according to GeneralFanager.com. Maybe half of that, however, will be taken up by Vladimir Tarasenko, who reportedly was moving close to a new deal with the Blues, according to Rutherford.
The bottom line: The Blues were a first-round-and-out team again last season, and they haven't significantly added to the roster at all. Losing a smart D-man like Jackman for nothing was a blow. The window on this team winning a Cup was already closing. After Wednesday, it's gotten even smaller.
But, hey, Stastny has another three years on his deal at least.
Winner: Calgary Flames
Wednesday was another fine day in the life of Flames general manager Brad Treliving. A few days after swindling Dougie Hamilton out of Boston, Treliving signed very underrated forward Michael Frolik from Winnipeg, per NHL.com.
Frolik is exactly the kind of forward the Flames needed: a player still in his prime, but with some winning pedigree. He helped Chicago win a Cup in 2013, and he helped the Jets to the playoffs for the first time in eons this past spring.
Calgary was also able to keep goalie Kari Ramo on a one-year, $3.8 million deal, according to Josh Dubow of the Associate Press (via the Washington Post). Without losing anyone off their roster of significance, the Flames have added a top free-agent forward and one of the best young defensemen in the league.
And they still have more than $7 million in cap space, per GeneralFanager.com. Another deal for a free agent could still happen.
Loser: Vancouver Canucks
On the night before free agency, the Vancouver Canucks parted with solid, longtime defenseman Kevin Bieksa for a second-round pick from Anaheim—which figures to be a pick at No. 50 or beyond at best. They were also poised to lose forward Shawn Matthias for nothing.
The next day, they went out and did…not much. Well, they did add Brandon Prust from Montreal for Zack Kassian, who was supposed to be the Next Big Thing after coming over from Buffalo for Cody Hodgson in 2012. Essentially, Vancouver gave up on what was supposed to be a cornerstone of the future for an aging grinder who scored four goals in 82 games last season.
Vancouver got lucky in last year's free-agent, ahem, frenzy, getting a fine year out of Radim Vrbata and a serviceable one from Ryan Miller before he got hurt. Now, it seems as if Vancouver has regressed again. The playoffs seem much further away after Wednesday.
Winner: Don Sweeney
OK, so this award is going to Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins because, "Hey, he didn't burn down the rest of the franchise Wednesday."
After the disaster in Florida at the draft, in which Bruins fans nearly shut down Twitter with verbally raised pitchforks, first-year GM Sweeney badly needed a comeback or at least something that didn't look like an utter catastrophe. Wednesday qualified as such.
So as much as signing Matt Beleskey at five years for $19 million, per TSN's Darren Dreger (via Chris Peters of CBSSports.com) of Jeremy Jacobs' hard-earned money may have looked utterly foolish in other years, for Sweeney and the beleaguered B's front office, this is a win.
Beleskey is a guy who never did all that much before getting significant ice time with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf this past season with the Ducks. He put up 22 goals, which is good, and played pretty well in the playoffs (eight goals in 16 games). If timing is everything in life, then put Beleskey to the latest head of the class in that department.
But look, Beleskey could be considered the third-best free-agent forward available in this year's crop. "Look, the Bruins got the third-best forward available in the weak free-agent class of 2015."
That can still be a point of told-you-so pride for Mr. Sweeney. Or it might go down as Boston's biggest free-agent fiasco since Martin Lapointe. Boston also managed to hold on to Adam McQuaid through the last week of turmoil. That will help make up for the loss of the young, talented Dougie Hamilton.
Loser: Carolina Hurricanes
The big doings in Raleigh Wednesday were re-signing forward Riley Nash, defenseman Rasmus Rissanen and placing overpaid stiff Alex Semin on waivers, according to Cory Lavalette of SB Nation's Cane Country. Gonna need some decaf to come down off that, hey 'Caneiacs?
The Carolina Hurricanes never seem to manage their money right, which is still a legacy left by former GM Jim Rutherford. He's the guy who signed Semin to a five-year, $35 million contract extension in 2013, which the franchise will now buy out at a multiyear cap hit of $2.3 million per year, according to GeneralFanager.com.
Carolina still has a lot of bloated salary around, including John-Michael Liles for one more year at $3.9 million, Ron Hainsey for two more years at nearly $2.9 million per and goalie Cam Ward—who hasn't been very good in a few years—at $6.3 million per.
Getting Eddie Lack out of Vancouver was a decent future alternative to Ward, but otherwise, it was a very ho-hum time for a franchise badly needing some buzz.
Winner: Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche came into Wednesday with nearly $17 million to spend under the cap, although with the reminder that Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson will all see their contracts expire after this coming season.
More than $7 million of that space was taken up by two new players, defenseman Francois Beauchemin from Anaheim, according to TSN, and Blake Comeau from Pittsburgh, according to Sportsnet (via NHL.com's Rick Sadowski).
The Avs arguably overpaid for the 35-year-old Beauchemin, who will make $4.5 million the next three years. He is the fourth 34-and-over guy the team has acquired since last summer (Jarome Iginla, Brad Stuart and the newly departed Daniel Briere the others). Colorado keeps looking for that right veteran D-man to not only add value on the ice but mentor their youngsters in the dressing room.
Stuart was a major failure at that last season, so the hope is Beauchemin can assume more of that role now. Beauchemin's advanced statistics take some heat, but the normal ones seem pretty OK: 11 goals, plus-17 in 64 games for a conference-winning regular-season team in Anaheim.
Beauchemin still played minutes often into the mid-20s last season, although he might have tired out some by the Western Conference Final, in which he was a minus-two the last two games.
Comeau, signed to a $2.4 million per-year deal, scored 16 goals for the Penguins. He should make a nice replacement for Jamie McGinn at left wing on the third line.
Loser: Christian Ehrhoff
Anyone want a guy who has consistently underachieved since signing a huge contract in Buffalo in 2011, who is hoping to fool another team one more time before he's through?
The last seven years of Christian Ehrhoff's 10-year, $40 million contract were bought out by Buffalo last summer, but he then immediately signed a one-year, $4 million contract with Pittsburgh. Now, he's free again, and despite rumors to the contrary, per ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, his day was full of crickets.
You never blame the player for taking the money. But good on the NHL's general managers for standing down on the first day with a guy like this. It's time for Ehrhoff to really prove again that he's worth anything near the money he's been stealing the last few years. The Sabres have had to blow everything up and start all over because of guys like this who were never worth the money.
That's not his fault. But it's about time teams smartened up more.
Winner: Detroit Red Wings
Say what you want about Mike Green (soft defensively, soft overall), but he puts points on the board. And in Detroit, that has always mattered. The Red Wings signed him to a three-year, $18 million deal, per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.
Green has twice put up better than 70 points in a season from the blue line, which is rare territory. Maybe Green can have a Larry Murphy-like renaissance in Detroit—a veteran D-man supposedly having seen his best days who does great things with the Winged Wheel.
And as far as adding Brad Richards, well, he did a nice job with his previous mercenary job in Chicago, helping the Hawks win a Stanley Cup. A one-year, $3 million deal for a guy who can still put up 40-50 points might prove a smart bargain.
Yes, there is also the chance Green and Richards might look like two older, overpaid guys at some point. But until then, let's call this a good day in Detroit.
Loser: Dallas Stars
Antti Niemi was not a bad pickup as a goalie at three years and $13.5 million and…wait, the Stars are already paying a goalie, Kari Lehtonen, $5.9 million still for the next three years. Why did Dallas GM Jim Nill do this?
“In the NHL, there are a lot of games,” Niemi told the Dallas Morning News' Mike Heika. “I believe there is room for two guys to play a lot.”
Uh, OK. I've never met a goalie still in their prime who enjoys being in a platoon situation, but OK. This just seemed like a waste of the Stars' resources. Lehtonen is a fine goalie who didn't need this kind of pressure and the same with Niemi.
“I talked to Kari Lehtonen, and he’s pretty excited about it,” Nill told Heika.
Uh, right. No doubt he's just thrilled at some new guy who has been used to playing 60-plus games a year in San Jose now next to him in the dressing room.
Dallas' other big move on Day 1 was signing one of their own guys, Patrick Eaves, to a one-year deal, according to Channel3000.com. Yawn.
The Stars spent a lot of money on the part of their game that wasn't broken. Niemi's signing was probably the strangest of all in the free-agent period.