NHL Free Agency – My thoughts

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It’s very likely that negotiations on contracts began quite a while before free agency officially opened on Friday as the deals came thick and fast with close to $300 million worth of contracts signed within 30 minutes.

Within minutes it was announced that Andrew Ladd had signed a big deal with the New York Islanders, with Milan Lucic to the Oilers and James Reimer to the Panthers announced shortly after.

There was too much action to go through each signing so instead I’m going to highlight deals I liked and deals I didn’t necessarily dislike, just have an issue with.

First up let’s get positive.

Kyle Okposo to the Buffalo Sabres

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Kyle Okposo got paid today by the Buffalo Sabres by signing a seven-year deal worth $42 million, earning $6 mil per-year.

Okposo (after Stamkos ruined free agency by not becoming a free agent) became one of the most sought after players and for good reason. He’s 28-years old so it’s unlikely he’s going to decline much for a couple of seasons and he brings leadership with him after serving as an Islanders alternate captain since 2009.

He’s a big body forward at 6’0” and 216 lbs, he’s hard to knock off the puck and equally hard to beat in corner battles. Last season he neared his career high in points of 69, finishing the year with 64 points in 79 games, matching his career high of 42 assists. While statistics can give you an indication of the type of player the Sabres are getting it doesn’t tell the whole story. Okposo has been a consistent performer since breaking into the NHL in a full time role back in 2009. You could see him as a 20-goal scorer but it’s his playmaking that makes him a big asset to the Sabres. The Sabres were one of the worst teams in terms of goals scored last season, so adding a guy who can score and help others score is a step in the right direction for a franchise that’s looking likely to emerge from the basement of the east in the next few years.

Eric Staal to the Minnesota Wild

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I am fully expecting to have every man and his dog disagree with me on this, but Eric Staal to the Wild is a good move. He’s been declining steadily so maybe a completely fresh start in a system that has a brand new coach would be good for him and also the Wild.

The term is what makes this a good move for me, I was watching Sportsnet’s coverage and they reported apparently Staal was looking for four-years and six million per, so for the Wild to get him at three-years and $3.25 million per year is a solid deal for a 31-year old who could come in as potentially the teams second line centre. If he does come into a second line role, $3.5 mil is actually a bargain for that position. When you look at second line centres around the league they’re all earning between that and anything up to around $6 mil. The only exceptions are really Tyler Seguin and John Tavares who are elite first line guys earning less than $6 mil (for now)

Minnesota have a good mixture of young exciting guys and veterans on their team and Staal is a good guy to join the mix. The only issue is the Wild don’t actually have a lead top line guy, Mikko Koivu has been utilised in that position and though he’s good, he’s not a top line guy, but Staal now gives them the option to rotate two veterans to give them a different look on different nights. I’m not expecting this deal to revive Staal’s career, he’s peaked, but what this deal does is give him a chance at seeing out his aging years on a team that he can be solid for and a team that I think is on the rise.

Now for deals I’m not convinced on.

Loui Eriksson to the Vancouver Canucks

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Hear me out on this because this one is weird. I like this move but I don’t like it. I think Eriksson is going to be a good fit for the Canucks but on a short-term basis. Can you really say that Loui Eriksson is going to be a good player for the Canucks for six-years straight? Because that’s what he’s signed for.

This is an example that you have to reach to win a bidding war on free agents, it happens every year and this isn’t a horrible deal, we’ve seen worse (ahem, David Clarkson) but a 36-year old Loui Eriksson earning $6 million is hardly what I’d call value for money. So I guess for me this is a deal I don’t like in the future but I understand it for the time being. He is coming off a 63 point season which included 30 goals, so I can see why a team would be willing to give him that much money, just expect to see Eriksson bought out in a few seasons time.

David Backes to the Boston Bruins

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This might be because for some reasons I’m not completely convinced I like the Boston Bruins and they just got a good player, but it might also be because I really like the St. Louis Blues and they just lost their captain so I feel a little bad for them. Either way I can’t pin point exactly why I’m not sold on this deal but There is something about Backes going to Boston that I can’t get on board with.

He’s a great leader and you could say that once Zdeno Chara retires Backes will be a guy they turn to to be the next Bruins captain, but for me Backes has left a team that’s really coming into it’s prime with young guys like Tarasenko, and he’s gone to a team that I don’t see doing anything for a couple more years. So I guess you could say I don’t like this deal for David Backes more than anything.

Alexander Radulov to the Montreal Canadiens

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This deal looks worse because of the P.K. Subban trade but it would’ve looked bad even if they kept Subban. First of all, if the Canadiens DID trade their star defenseman because of his attitude then signing Radulov is a dumb move. Get rid of an attitude and replace him with another, it makes no sense.

BUT, that’s not my issue with this deal, this is obviously a deal to see if Radulov is able to  survive in the NHL on his third attempt. He was good in his first stint, he put up 37-points in his rookie year and followed that up with a 58-point season in 2007-08, then he went back to Russia for a bit before he came back to Nashville for the remaining games of the 2011-2012 season and the playoffs. It didn’t take long for him to anger his coaches there because before Game 2 of their second round series against the then Phoenix Coyotes he was spotted at a bar at 5 AM with teammate Andrei Kostitsyn. They were both suspended and neither have played in the NHL since.

Radulov is a good player, but the attitude is a series issue and you can’t deny that, yes he’s been dominating the KHL since he went back (again) but the only thing I like about this deal is that it is for a single season, but at $5.75 mil, they probably could’ve spent their money better elsewhere.

Contract extensions

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While all the focus is obviously on who’s going where, there were a few contract extensions today, Victor Hedman and Aaron Ekblad cashed in with eight-year extensions for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, Jake Allen re-upped in St. Louis, Tampa extended young goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Red Wings signed Darren Helm on a five-year extension.

The natural response would be to go into detail about Hedman and Ekblad, but I love what St. Louis are doing so I’m going to pretend I know anything about goaltending for a few paragraphs and talk about them.

Just last week the Blues traded away goalie Brian Elliot and that left a whole in their defense. Elliot has been the teams number one goaltender for a few years but last year Allen showed he’s ready to take over the starting job, posting a .920 save percentage in 47 games, now they’ve handed the reigns over to him by dealing Elliot to the Calgary Flames.

Joining Allen in the Blues goaltending tandem is Carter Hutton who signed a two-year deal with the team.

The Blues last year were one of the best defensive teams in the league, and while not all of that is attributed to the play of the guys in the crease, going with a younger goalie who’s ready to make the step to start and putting him in a defensive unit with the likes of Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk (who is apparently not likely to be traded now) just sets the team up for an exciting year and I think Allen will have an exceptional year and help lead the Blues on a deep cup run.

Five Biggest deals of the day

Milan Lucic – Edmonton Oilers – 7-years/$42M

Kyle Okposo – Buffalo Sabres – 7-years/$42M

Loui Erikkson – Vancouver Canucks – 6-years/$36M

Frans Nielsen – Detroit Red Wings – 6-years/$31.5M

David Backes – Boston Bruins – 5-years/$30M



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