Dougie Hamilton, Brayden Point, Tony DeAngelo: Analyzing NHL Free Agency Day 1

Abbey MastraccoContributor IIJuly 29, 2021

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (19) celebrates after scoring a goal against Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) during the third period in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Thursday, May 27, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

New faces in (mostly) new places was the name of the game Wednesday as the NHL's annual free-agent frenzy provided a wild afternoon of big-money signings, second-guessing and intrigue.

Let's take a look at some of the biggest stories from Day 1 of free agency.


Devils Land the Biggest Prize...But Are They Ready to Contend?

The New Jersey Devils are no longer content with rebuilding. 

Which is convenient, because their fans have been fed up with it for a long time. A once-storied franchise has gone back into Mickey Mouse mode in recent years, and there hadn't been this much anger in northern New Jersey since Bobby Bacala was killed off from The Sopranos.

Wednesday marked the start of NHL free agency, and the Devils wasted no time in attempting a home run swing on their offseason, signing defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year, $63 million contract. 

This is not how the team has operated in recent years. Since this rebuild began in 2015, the plan was to create a sustainable winner, doing so by drafting and developing talent and filling in the gaps with veteran leaders on short-term deals.

Former general manager Ray Shero was fired suddenly in January 2020, and his longtime assistant, Tom Fitzgerald, took over. Fitzgerald reiterated this plan shortly after taking over last winter, saying he wanted to build around centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the top picks in the 2017 and 2019 drafts, and goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. 

"My plan, if I am to continue at this position, is to grow around Jack and Nico and that age frame, and have a group of kids around that same type of age group to grow together," Fitzgerald said after the 2020 trade deadline. "That's simple."

Adam Hunger/Associated Press

The philosophy has always been to avoid signing free agents to long-term deals that could possibly leave the club hamstrung in the later years of the contract. But they deviated from that plan with Hamilton.

Hamilton may not be around the same age as Hischier or Hughes. At 28, he's six years older than Hischier and eight older than Hughes. Before Hischier inked his seven-year extension in October 2019, the Devils hadn't handed out a contract of seven or more years since the disastrous Ilya Kovalchuk deal 11 years ago.

Their most notable free-agent acquisitions over the last five years were all veteran players on short-term contracts: Corey Crawford (two years) Wayne Simmonds (one year), Brian Boyle (two years), John Moore (three years) and Ben Lovejoy (two years). 

But the Devils deviated for good reason. Hamilton is a top-five defenseman in the NHL, and the team's biggest weakness has long been a lack of depth on the blue line. 

The Devils can now bury the largely ineffective P.K. Subban after Fitzgerald has remade the defense. In the last two weeks, the Devils have added two top-four defensemen in Ryan Graves and Hamilton, locked up Jonas Siegenthaler as a depth piece and added to that depth with Christian Jaros.

They cut ties with Will Butcher, trading him to the Buffalo Sabres. This was surprising given the club has invested time and resources into the 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner, but he wasn't working out in Lindy Ruff's system and the club appears to have prioritized salary-cap space in the future. 

The Devils still have a ton of salary-cap space to work with this season. They'll need to give raises to forwards Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich, both restricted free agents, but with CapFriendly projecting $22 million available, they have a lot to play with. 

The goaltending has been shored up with the signing of Jonathan Bernier to back up Blackwood, so now the question turns to the forwards because it's still unclear where New Jersey's offense is going to come from. Hamilton, an offensive defenseman, will create plenty of chances for the forwards, but the Devils don't have a single 20-goal scorer on the roster. 

Which brings me to my next question: Are the Devils skipping steps in this rebuild?

They tried to accelerate the rebuild in 2019-20 with Hughes, Subban, Nikita Gusev and a healthy Taylor Hall. The Devils ended up firing their head coach, John Hynes, trading Hall and parting ways with Shero before we even made it to the trade deadline. Gusev was waived in April.

Fitzgerald said he had hoped the Devils could become a playoff team in 2021, but between the divisional realignment, COVID-19 and Crawford's retirement, the team tumbled to the basement of the standings once again. 

This could be a good building year for some emerging young talent, but there will no doubt be pressure on the young forwards to score and win. 

But the Devils got a lot tougher with these recent moves, and Fitzgerald has done an excellent job of addressing the club's biggest needs. So temper your expectations when talking about the end of the rebuild. It might seem never-ending, but going from building to built takes time, money, draft picks and some bad seasons. 

Two years ago, fans wanted to say it was over. Don't get ahead of yourselves this year. 


Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Tony DeAngelo Wants Another Chance…Again

The Montreal Canadiens seemingly want to give players second chances. The Carolina Hurricanes are now giving mercurial defenseman Tony DeAngelo his fifth or sixth chance. 

DeAngelo, a talented 25-year-old who was suspended three times in major-junior hockey, twice for yelling at officials and once for a slur directed at a teammate. 

He had "attitude issues" with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was suspended for physically assaulting a referee with the Arizona Coyotes. He was disciplined by the New York Rangers for his social media posts, which included tweets about COVID-19 being a hoax and the 2020 presidential election being rigged, and he was benched after the first game of the season for yelling at the officials and slamming the door of the penalty box shut, which incurred an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Two weeks later the Rangers placed DeAngelo on waivers after a fight with a teammate. The Rangers bought out the remaining years of his contract last weekend. 

Now, he has a one-year deal for $1 million with the Hurricanes. He says he's learned from his mistakes. He says hockey is for everyone and will prove he's worth another chance. 

"We did our research on who this person is, beyond the perception of him," Carolina general manager Don Waddell said in his Zoom press conference. "There's no doubt that he has made mistakes. We acknowledged that and, more importantly, he recognizes that he's made mistakes and he knows he's got to continue to work and grow as a person."

That sounded familiar, so I looked it up: Former Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said nearly the same thing about DeAngelo after he cut him. 

"We did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people about Tony prior to acquiring him," Gorton said in a press conference with former team president John Davidson after cutting DeAngelo. "Everything went into it when we did that. We did our homework. We felt comfortable."

The Hurricanes can bury him if it doesn't work out. And maybe it will, but the optics are bad with fans already trying to cancel season tickets. 


Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Tampa Bay Extends Point

The Tampa Bay Lightning extending top-line center Brayden Point, signing him to an eight-year, $76 million deal. The contract kicks in during the 2022-23 season. 

The 25-year-old has been a prolific center during his five years in the league with scored 139 goals and 310 points. He led all postseason scorers with 14 goals en route to the Lightning's second straight Stanley Cup.

Tampa Bay had to dismantle much of the Cup-winning core because of cap issues. The team was $18 million over the cap during the postseason. The breakup started last week with Barclay Goodrow going to the Rangers in a trade and Yanni Gourde acquired by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Wednesday, free agents Blake Coleman joined the Calgary Flames and David Savard went to the team the Lightning beat in the Final, the Canadiens. 


Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

King Phillip

The Los Angeles Kings won two Stanley Cups in three years between 2012 and 2014 with significant depth up the middle, and they appear to be going in that direction again with the signing of Phillip Danault. The former Hab is one of the better two-way centers in the league who may not always put up a ton of points, but he's an adept playmaker and a strong defender. This move should take some defensive responsibility off Anze Kopitar. 

Danault signed a six-year contract with a $5.5 million average annual value. The Kings also added veteran defenseman Alexander Edler to a one-year deal. These moves signal Los Angeles' intent to ramp up their rebuild and take a big step forward in the coming season. 


Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

What's Next?

Jack Eichel is still a Buffalo Sabre. General manager Kevyn Adams has been unable to find a trade partner for the injured center, despite some rumors that he might join the Rangers. The Kings no longer need him after signing Danault. The Rangers appear to be loading up on gritty depth players. 

For now, nothing seems to be cooking with Eichel.