Ryan Dadoun

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UFA Winners and Losers

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The 2018 UFA period has lived up to the hype with some massive signings and big surprises.  There are still some potential big trades on the horizon and there are plenty of noteworthy restricted free agents that need contracts, but in terms of unrestricted free agents, we’re starting to see the situation calm.  As a result, this seems like a good time to take stock of what’s happened and highlight some of this summer’s winners and losers thus far.


Let’s start with the losers so we can get the negativity out of the way early and we’ll begin by tackling the most obvious team on the list…


Offseason Losers


New York Islanders


The fans have a right to be upset at John Tavares, but the blame lies more with the team than the player.  For one thing, Tavares gave the Islanders a lot of years of excellent service at a discounted price (his old cap hit was $5.5 million dating back to 2012-13) and the Islanders never even came close to building a serious Cup contender around him.  Additionally, star players that aren’t interested in negotiating a contract extension in their final season before becoming a UFA need to be traded.  You can look to what happened with Steven Stamkos and hope for the best, but losing your star player for nothing in the salary cap era is a huge blow to a franchise and one that the Islanders are now reeling from.  This is the nightmare scenario for teams and hopefully others will learn from the Islanders’ poor handling of the Tavares situation.


There are some positives to take away from this summer for the Islanders.  Most notable among them is getting Lou Lamoriello as the new general manager and Barry Trotz as the head coach.  Combine that with Mathew Barzal winning the Calder Trophy and there is some reason to be hopeful for the future.  Tavares’ departure casts a dark cloud over this summer, but it is still something that the Islanders can and will bounce back from in the long run.


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Ottawa Senators


I don’t even know what to say here.  They’ve been beaten up so much in the press and even by their own fans that at this point any criticism just feels mean spirited, like kicking someone when they’re down.  I think Marc Dumont put it best when he presented the laundry list of big issues/setbacks this franchise has been subject to over the last year.


It’s a franchise that has big philosophical questions that needs answering.  I’ll say that if they aren’t going to re-sign Erik Karlsson either due to them not being willing to pay him market value or because he doesn’t want to be in Ottawa anymore, then they must trade him rather than go through what the Islanders just endured with Tavares.  Obviously, if the Senators can sign Karlsson that would be the preferable option, but if the trade reports are to be believed then it seems more likely that he’ll be gone at some point this summer.


After that they need to figure out what to do with Matt Duchene, who also has a year left on his contract.  He came to Ottawa hoping to be joining a competitive team.  Is he willing to sign an extension to be part of a rebuild?  If not, then the Senators might want to trade him too, even if they can’t get back as much as they gave to Colorado.


Starting goaltender Craig Anderson also reportedly wants out.  We haven’t heard anything about that in a few weeks, but I guess we’ll see where that leads.


It’s a little awkward making all those potential trades when the Colorado Avalanche control their 2019 first round pick, but it might ultimately be for the best if they can get the pieces necessary to push their rebuild forward.


Edmonton Oilers


This one is a little bit different because the Oilers haven’t really lost much this summer – but they haven’t added anything either.  Edmonton is coming off a disappointing 36-40-6 season and it looks like they’ll be going forward with largely the same group despite that.  It is true that the Oilers have salary cap restraints right now, but GM Peter Chiarelli has also made some questionable signings in the past that have led to this point, the most notable of which is Milan Lucic’s seven-year, $42 million contract.


Then again, three years ago, Chiarelli traded the 2015 15th overall pick (aka Matthew Barzal) and a second rounder for Griffin Reinhart, two years ago he traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, and last summer he traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome.  Maybe a quiet summer is better than the alternative.


Montreal Canadiens


I’m not a big fan of the Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk trade from the Canadiens perspective, but Domi certainly has potential so we’ll see where that will lead.


Beyond that, like Edmonton, the Montreal Canadiens are coming off a disappointing season and didn’t add much during the UFA period.  Unlike Edmonton, that arguably wasn’t driven by cap restraints.  Montreal still has nearly $13 million in projected cap space and none of their remaining RFAs figure to be particularly expensive signings.


An argument could be made that they’re better off just leaving potential openings for younger players given their situation.  It’s also worth noting that the Canadiens had hoped to pursue John Tavares, but Montreal wasn’t on his shortlist.


Calgary Flames


I came very close to not including the Flames in this section, but when I looked through what they’ve done, there just isn’t much I agree with.  I felt trading away Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin was a mistake.  I feel Hamilton was the best player in that trade, Ferland was perhaps a bit undervalued, and Fox is a solid prospect.  On the other end, Lindholm still has a lot to prove and while Hanifin is more established, he’s still meaningfully below Hamilton.  If Hamilton was older then I could view this as more of a future-for-present styled trade, but Hamilton is just 25-years-old and the inclusion of Fox makes that way of looking at it not terribly great for Calgary either.


I also wasn’t a big fan of giving James Neal a five-year, $28.75 million contract.  He’s a scoring threat, but he had 23 goals and 41 points in 2016-17 and then 25 goals and 44 points last season.  Those just aren’t great numbers for a $5.75 million annual cap hit, especially given that Neal is going to celebrate his 31st birthday on Sept. 3, so he might begin to decline before the contract is up.


I also think the juries out on Bill Peters as the replacement head coach for Glen Gulutzan, but we’ll see how that works out.


Offseason Winners


Toronto Maple Leafs


Let’s get the easy one out of the way.  The Maple Leafs got the best player on the UFA market – one of the best players to ever go on the UFA market since the beginning of the salary cap era – in John Tavares.  He signed to a seven-year, $77 million contract, which is hefty, but he reportedly was offered $13 million annually by other teams.  Either way, an $11 million cap hit seems fair for an elite forward in this market.


It does raise some long-term cap questions for the Maple Leafs as William Nylander is a RFA this summer while Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner will be RFAs next summer, but it helps that the Maple Leafs were able to shed $2.5 million annually by moving Matt Martin to the Islanders.


Toronto certainly has its holes still, but the squad does look like a real contender for the Stanley Cup after adding Tavares.


Los Angeles Kings


Signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year, $18.75 million contract was a risk, but a solid one to take.  He was once one of the league’s top goal scorers and he’s continued to dominate in the KHL during his absence.  Combine him with a healthy Jeff Carter – who was limited to 27 games last season – and the Kings could end up being one of the league’s better offenses this season after finishing 17th in goals for in 2017-18.


What’s even bigger is that the Kings managed to lock up Drew Doughty to an eight-year, $88 million contract that will begin in 2019-20.  With Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick also tied to long-term deals, the Los Angeles Kings are one team that doesn’t have to worry about a star player leaving as a UFA anytime soon.


 Washington Capitals


Coming off a Stanley Cup championship, the Washington Capitals were able to largely keep their team intact.  Watching head coach Barry Trotz leave was unfortunate and trading away backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer does put more pressure on Braden Holtby, but other champions have had to endure far more significant turnover.


Like Los Angeles, the Capitals were able to lock up their star defenseman, signing John Carlson to an eight-year, $64 million contract.  That contract might look less than ideal towards its end, but Washington is in win now mode anyways, so the more important thing was to keep him on board as they gear up to defend their championship.


Arizona Coyotes


Snagging Alex Galchenyuk from Montreal in a trade was a nice pickup and the Coyotes were then able to ink speedster Michael Grabner to a three-year, $10.5 million contract to further bolster their offense.  The biggest thing for the Coyotes though was to re-sign Oliver Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year, $66 million contract.


Arizona finished in the Western Conference basement last season, but there is a lot of talent there and they look like a team that could take a big step forward this season.  As others have noted, free agents are also now taking a more serious look at playing with the Coyotes and that wasn’t always the case.


Buffalo Sabres


For Buffalo, the big thing was winning the draft lottery and thus getting Rasmus Dahlin.  Having Dahlin and Jack Eichel as the cornerstones of the team is a strong position to be in – or at least it will be in the long run.


I also like the Ryan O’Reilly trade.  Getting Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, prospect Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick, and a 2021 second-rounder from St. Louis was a really nice haul.  The Sabres also managed to sign former Blues goaltender Carter Hutton to a three-year, $8.25 million contract.  Hutton had a 2.39 GAA and .913 save percentage in 2016-17 and followed it with a 2.09 GAA and .931 save percentage last season.  He was used as a backup goaltender in St. Louis, but the Sabres are hoping that they got an affordable starter out of the signing.

Ryan Dadoun is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.
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