NHL Free Agents 2016: Players Whose Situation Has Improved the Most

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJuly 9, 2016

NHL Free Agents 2016: Players Whose Situation Has Improved the Most

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    The 2016 NHL free-agent season was over in 90 minutes—at least, the expensive part. The window of opportunity for teams to speak to free agents before July 1 meant extra time for players, agents and general managers to find the best available fits.

    The salary cap for the coming year restricted many of the strong contenders, allowing middling teams and lower echelon clubs to step in and pitch their opportunities. In some cases, free agents took the road less obvious and may benefit from the experience.

    Still other teams were forced to aim lower in free agency, thus giving a less obvious free agent a bona fide opportunity on a bigger stage. Some of these players will no doubt wash out, but it is worth it for a once in a lifetime chance.

    Here are the 2016 free agents who will benefit the most from a change of address in the season to come.

8. Alexander Radulov, RW, Montreal Canadiens

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    Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

    Previous Situation: Alexander Radulov played the last four seasons in the KHL with CSKA Moscow. The winger delivered consistent offense and posted two strong playoff runs in a row before returning to the NHL.

    New Situation: Radulov signed a one-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens, for $5.75 million. Chris Johnston of Sportsnet broke down the contract on twitter.

    Why He's Now in a Better Place: No one has ever questioned Radulov's ability, but maturity has been an issue in his previous NHL incarnations with the Nashville Predators. At age 30, on a one-year deal, there is very little risk for player or team—and the potential payoff is outstanding. In his last 99 KHL regular-season games, Radulov has posted 136 points, an exceptional total that should translate well to NHL play.

7. Thomas Vanek, RW, Detroit Red Wings

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    Don Heupel/Associated Press

    Previous Situation: Thomas Vanek signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on July 1, 2014. As this story from Dan Myers of NHL.com details, it was a dream come true for the player and a major addition for the team. After two years of the three-year deal, Minnesota bought Vanek out this summer.

    New Situation: He landed with a veteran team in the Detroit Red Wings. Gord Miller of TSN reported via twitter Vanek signed a one-year deal. 

    Why He's Now in a Better Place: Vanek scored 39 goals in his two seasons with the Wild, and at 32 should have some miles left in the NHL. He was a disappointment in Minnesota, but on a one-year deal—where he is expected to contribute rather than dominate—he should be able to cover the bet. 

6. Teddy Purcell, RW, Los Angeles Kings

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Previous Situation: Teddy Purcell was signed to a three-year extension in 2012 by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He would be traded twice—first to the Edmonton Oilers and then the Florida Panthers—during the life of the contract. Original details of the deal were reported by the Canadian Press via The Globe and Mail in 2012.

    New Situation: Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada reported Purcell was headed back to his first NHL team—the Los Angeles Kings—in the early hours of free agency.

    Why He's Now in a Better Place: Purcell arrives back in Los Angeles at a time when there is a cap crunch for the Kings and a real need for skill wingers. Tyler Toffoli will certainly grab a major role on right wing, but veterans Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik have not been earning their cap hit offensively. Purcell has a golden opportunity to move up the depth chart and play a substantial offensive role in Los Angeles this winter. 

5. P.A. Parenteau, RW, New York Islanders

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Previous Situation: P.A. Parenteau signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2015. He was coming off a poor season with the Montreal Canadiens and doubled his offense with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16.

    New Situation: Parenteau actually took a small cut in pay, as Arthur Staple from Newsday reported via twitter. He will make $1.25 million on a one-year deal in 2016-17.

    Why He's Now in a Better Place: He arrives in New York with an opportunity to fill a major role on a substantial scoring line. The Islanders did not sign Kyle Okposo this summer, and John Tavares will be looking for a scoring winger on his right side. Parenteau will have competition—Dylan Strome may win the job—but the scoring skills displayed in Toronto last season could find a home on Tavares' line this winter in Brooklyn.

4. David Schlemko, D, San Jose Sharks

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Previous Situation: David Schlemko signed a late one-way contract with the New Jersey Devils in September 2015. Fire and Ice at NorthJersey.com had the news on a contract that must have been a long time coming for the defender.

    New Situation: Schlemko improved his stock in a big way, grabbing a four-year deal with the San Jose Sharks in the early hours of free agency. Pierre Lebrun of ESPN tweeted out the details.

    Why He's Now in a Better Place: Schlemko signed a long-term deal for good dollars and appears to have found a home with the Sharks. His numbers reflect an effective defender who has surprising offense—and could fill multiple roles for San Jose. It will be interesting to see how he is deployed on a strong team like the Sharks in the coming seasons.

3. Jamie McGinn, LW, Arizona Coyotes

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Previous Situation: Jamie McGinn signed a two-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche in the summer of 2014—details from the Associated Press via CBC.ca. McGinn began the contract in Denver, but was traded to Buffalo and Anaheim during the duration of the deal. 

    New Situation: The new deal is for three years and totals $10 million dollars—as reported by Bob McKenzie of TSN. 

    Why He's Now in a Better Place: McGinn is a very productive player—his even-strength offense and performance via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com shows as much—but has earned the reputation of a journeyman complementary player. Three years as a feature winger with the Arizona Coyotes could elevate his status as a player, while also helping his next contract number.

2. Kyle Okposo, RW, Buffalo Sabres

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Previous Situation: Kyle Okposo completed a five-year deal with the New York Islanders at the end of the 2015-16 season. He scored more than 20 goals in three of those seasons and the contract gave extreme value to New York—his cap hit in those seasons was $2.8 million per year.

    New Situation: The new deal is complicated—first reported by Darren Dreger of TSN—and will pay him $6 million a year over seven seasons. The Buffalo Sabres won the free-agent battle, and Okposo will be a key piece for them.

    Why He's Now in a Better Place: Okposo and the Islanders should have been able to get a contract done, but the Sabres are a better fit because the franchise in on an upswing. He is a talented offensive winger, and had success with the Islanders. Last year, his main linemates were Frans Nielsen and John Tavares—two top flight NHL players. In Buffalo, Okposo will find another group of outstanding forwards—Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane. 

1. Milan Lucic, LW, Edmonton Oilers

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Previous Situation: Milan Lucic completed a three-year deal in 2015-16, originally signed with the Boston Bruins—and Peter Chiarelli. John Kreiser from NHL.com had the details in September 2012.

    New Situation: Reaching free agency while in his 20s allowed Lucic to sign a long contract with the team of his choice. The new deal—seven years at $42 million total—means Lucic is heading to the Edmonton Oilers for the next several years. Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet broke the story, with the numbers.

    Why He's Now in a Better Place: A player as unique as Lucic gets to choose his spot in free agency, and the opportunities were likely attractive and plentiful. The opportunity to play with the emerging talent that is Connor McDavid turned out to be the best fit—and that tandem will hit the ice this fall in Edmonton. How long they stay together depends on success and chemistry, but the fit appears to be very good for all involved.

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