We are now over 24 hours into the NHL’s free agency period, and we have a fair bit of surprises to go along with many expected signings. Let’s explore some of the big storylines just over one day into the signing season.
Gaudreau in Columbus
It’s the question almost everyone is asking; why did Johnny Gaudreau choose the Columbus Blue Jackets?
It’s unfortunate for Flames fans, but it was clear he didn’t want to remain in Calgary. He and his wife are expecting their first child soon, and a move to the East Coast had been rumoured for a long time. Still, we know that the Devils were another team that showed massive interest, and from a pure hockey standpoint, they looked like a much better fit.
Imagine Gaudreau playing alongside Jack Hughes for the next seven season! At Centre, the Blue Jackets currently have captain Boone Jenner and Jack Roslovic, neither of which have the same type of offensive upside as Hughes or Nico Hischier.
As a lifestyle choice, Gaudreau seems thrilled to be in Columbus, and that’s what he deemed to be the most important. However, from a pure hockey standpoint, we will see if Columbus was the right choice.
Ottawa Making Moves
Ask anyone who the biggest winners of the past week have been, and their answer is likely the Ottawa Senators. In the past week, they have upgraded their top six with Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux. They were even able to move Matt Murray’s contract with only 25% retained, and brought in Cam Talbot to create a tandem with Anton Forsberg.
The Senators are ready to take the next step in their process, and could see themselves compete for a Wild Card spot next season. However, the team has yet to make any significant upgrades to their defence, which was their biggest weakness last season.
Thomas Chabot can only do so much, and it is a lot to expect Jake Sanderson to excel in a top-four role right out of the gate to start the season. It’s a team that has gotten significantly better, but until they make a serious upgrade to their defence, they will struggle to keep up with the top teams in the Atlantic Division for an 82-game season.
Cap Teams Being Patient
After the rush of signings on Wednesday started to slow down, we woke up on Thursday with still a ton of quality NHL talent available. Many teams who don’t have the cap space to be factors in the biggest fish could find themselves in a fantastic position, with some players accepting significantly less than expected in the coming weeks.
There simply isn’t a lot of money to go around in the salary cap world. Take a player like Danton Heinen, who is coming off a solid season where he scored 18 goals and added 15 assists at a $1,100,000 million cap hit. He’s someone who would likely be hoping for a nice pay raise after flirting with 20 goals and only playing 12:28 a night.
He could get that pay raise with a team with a ton of cap space, but those teams likely won’t be competitive next season. If he’s looking to join a contending team, he might have to settle for what he made last year, or in a crazy world, maybe even less. Don’t be shocked to see lots of players who had 30-40 points last season have to take cheap, one-year deals. Until the cap goes up significantly, teams tight up against the cap will continue to take advantage of players not getting the offers they had expected.
GM’s love throwing money at questionable players
Every summer, or the fall if it’s 2020, General Managers amaze us by signing players to ridiculous contracts that we all sit and look at, saying, “thats going to look terrible in a year or two.”
Erik Gudbranson, four years, $16,000,000, Columbus Blue Jackets: Congrats on Johnny Hockey Columbus, because this contract won’t receive the same type of praise. That’s far too much money for a slow skating defenceman who blocks shots and can move guys from in front of the net. He a useful player, but certainly not the type of player you want to be giving $4,000,000 million a year to for the next four seasons.
Ben Chiarot, four years, $19,000,000, Detroit Red Wings: similar to what we just talked about, Chiarot is not a defenceman you give that much money to with term. He’s not a great skater, doesn’t move the puck extremely well, and takes a lot of penalties (and probably deserves more). He was great in the playoffs for Montreal, when you could basically get away with any infraction, but overall he’s a big body defenceman who has often been valued way too high.
Ilya Mikheyev, four years, $19,000,000, Vancouver Canucks: Mikheyev finally found a bit of a scoring touch last season with 21 in 53 games and is rewarded with a lucrative contract by the Canucks. Good for him, but they are essentially paying $4,750,000 million a season for a fast skater who is strong on the penalty kill. His shooting percentage sky-rocketed to 14.3% after two seasons below 8.5%. He could flirt with 20 goals again in the right situation, but if the Canucks are hoping for a possible 30-goal scorer, they might have guessed wrong.
Overall, who in the world knows how each signing will pan out? Some players will thrive in their new surroundings, while others won’t. We won’t know until the season gets underway. Until then, enjoy whatever the rest of the offseason brings, and hopefully September gets here quickly.