The money will roll right in: NHL free agency kicks off with flurry of activity

July 1 means different things to different people. North of the border, it’s Canada Day, a national holiday that celebrates the day in 1867 when the country was formed. Here in the U.S., it’s three days before our big holiday, Independence Day. And in the NHL, it’s the beginning of the annual free agency period, which finds GMs spending money like drunken sailors. Today was no exception, with a dizzying amount of signings that made varying amounts of sense.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger signings today:

  • Edmonton signs Milan Lucic, 7 years, $42 million. Two days after his colossally boneheaded trade of Taylor Hall to NJ for Adam Larsson, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli ratchets up the stupid with this deal reuniting him with Lucic, a power forward he had with the Bruins when they won the Cup in 2011. The 28-year-old power forward should help the young Oilers in the next few years, but the real puzzler is the no-movement clause in all years of the contract (with a modified no-trade clause in the last two years where Lucic can give the team a list of teams he’s willing to be dealt to). All of which goes to show Chiarelli, who saddled the Bruins with plenty of similar albatross contracts before he was let go, hasn’t learned a thing.
  • Buffalo signs Kyle Okposo, 7 years, $42 million. Sabres owner Terry Pegula was willing to open the bank vault to lure Steven Stamkos to Buffalo, and when that failed, it didn’t keep him from writing checks. Okposo is a good player, but again with the 7-year deal (with NMC in the first two years and modified NTC in the remainder). Have 7-year contracts ever been a good idea for unrestricted free agents?
  • Boston signs David Backes, 5 years, $30 million. This one was a surprise. The former St. Louis captain has been a tough and effective player for the Blues, but now we’re talking about a 32-year-old who has a lot of wear and tear on his body. How effective will he be in his mid-30s? Backes is the kind of player you pick up when you’re one or two players away from Cup contention, but the Bruins are certainly nowhere near that level.
  • Islanders sign Andrew Ladd, 7 years, $38.5 million. The Isles took a big hit this offseason, losing major contributors like Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin (okay, not major, but still…). Ladd’s 30 and has been a solid offensive performer and good leader for several years, but seven years? Damn.
  • Calgary signs Troy Brouwer, 4 years, $18 million. Brouwer, a consistent 18- to 20-goal scorer, parlayed a clutch playoff performance for the Blues (8-5-13 in 20 games) into a decent payday. This isn’t an awful contract for Flames president Brian Burke, who has signed his share of terrible ones over the years. The 30-year-old Brouwer should be a stabilizing force for talented young Flames like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund, and he should be effective for most of the four-year deal.
  • Detroit signs Frans Nielsen, 6 years, $31.25 million. One thing many pundits are saying is how Nielsen is such an underrated player, and I suppose he is. But he’s scored 20 more or goals exactly twice in his career, and he’s 32. Six years? Yikes.
  • Florida signs James Reimer, 5 years, $17 million. This is a smart, cost-effective contract for the Panthers, which is a good thing, because they just dropped a ton of coin signing 20-year-old stud d-man Aaron Ekblad (8 years, $60 million) and free agent Keith Yandle (7 years, $44 million). It’s especially smart because number one keeper Roberto Luongo is expected to be out until November after offseason hip surgery. Reimer, who joins recently acquired Reto Berra in the Florida goaltending tandem, finished the season as Martin Jones’ backup in San Jose, but is better known for his travails in Toronto the last several seasons. He should do fine with a decent defense in front of him.
  • Minnesota signs Eric Staal, 3 years, $10.5 million. For a team that has spent a boatload of money the last few years, this actually isn’t a horrendous deal financially. But for 31-year-old Staal, who was a consistent 70-point player but has seen a serious dropoff the last four seasons (13-26-39 in 83 games for the Canes and Rangers this season). Is there anything left in the tank?
  • Vancouver signs Loui Eriksson, 6 years, $36 million. Eriksson is a solid player who’s been saddled with the “guy traded for Tyler Seguin” label the last few years. He was fairly quiet in his first two seasons for the Bruins but put up nice 30-33-63 stats this past year. Still, one has to wonder what he’ll be like in the last three years of that deal. The Canucks are hoping he can click with the Sedin twins, but as with most of these long-term deals, it doesn’t look like a winner in the end.
  • Philadelphia signs Dale Wiese, 4 years, $9.4 million. Wiese is an agitator who can put the puck in the net on occasion, but this falls into the category of deals that the Flyers love to sign. Throwing money at third- and fourth-liners. How’s that goalie situation looking?
  • Toronto signs Matt Martin, 4 years, $10 million. Martin led the league in hits this season, but he’s a bottom-six guy. The Leafs were looking for a gritty guy to mix in with young offensive types like William Nylander, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. He should be a decent addition, but one wonders if there was a cheaper alternative.
  • Detroit signs Thomas Vanek, 1 year, $2.6 million. Vanek was once one of the NHL’s premier goal scorers with the Sabres, but that was many moons ago. Now he’s considered an underachiever who was bought out of his contract by the Wild last week. He’s still a 20-goal scorer and the Wings are hoping he’s out for redemption. At the very least, they’re not spending a whole lot on him.
  • San Jose signs Mikkel Boedker, 4 years, $16 million. The Sharks might have paid a little high for Boedker, a speedy forward who potted 17 goals and 51 points this year for the Coyotes and Avs. Still, he bolsters the depth of a team that’s already deep. One thing the Sharks found out when they faced Pittsburgh in the Cup final was that they could use more speed, and they’ve addressed that here.
  • Tampa Bay re-signs Victor Hedman (8 years, $63 million) and Andrei Vasilevsky (3 years, $10.5 million). After locking up Steven Stamkos earlier in the week, the Lightning did the same with their 25-year-old monster d-man Hedman and their backup goalie Vasilevsky, who played well subbing for injured Ben Bishop in the playoffs. GM Steve Yzerman knows that his team is already a Cup contender, having made the finals two years and just falling short of beating the eventual Cup champs Pittsburgh this year. Smart moves.
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Insane in the membrane: NHL offseason trade action hits hard and fast

Editor’s note: Cold As Ice contributor Phil Stacey (@philstacey_sn) recaps a crazy afternoon of offseason NHL action this week, days before the scheduled free agent frenzy was to begin.

“Honestly, why anyone follows/watches the NBA over NHL is mind boggling.”

Your faithful puck scribe tweeted that out around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, when in less than a half hour three mega stories from out of the National Hockey League hit the faithful like a tsunami in the Pacific Ocean.

Former No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall, traded by the Edmonton Oilers for—wait, are you sure??—New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson.

Whoa.

Then, an atomic bomb: P.K. Subban is dealt from Montreal to Nashville, straight up, for Shea Weber in a man-for-man deal of elite blueliners.

Double whoa.

Then came the news that crushed the dreams of many who had hoped and prayed and maybe even written a note to Santa Claus in a please-please-please-can-we-get-him type fantasy (looking at you, Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit, et. al. ): Steven Stamkos decides to stay in Tampa Bay after all, signing an eight-year, $68 million pact to take what would’ve been the biggest ever free agent acquisition off the market.

As Chachi Arcola used to say: Wa wa wa.

It was an amazing day (hour?) in league history, especially coming on the eve of free agency. Three major shakeups in one day that saw hundreds of millions of dollars switch hands, teams try to strengthen their present (and future) core, and leaving us puckheads giddily wondering what lies ahead in 2016-17.

Let’s take a quick look at the winners and losers in these deals, beginning with the obvious:

WINNER: Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts keep the face of their franchise and best player despite rampant rumors for more than a year that he’d be heading for a “hockey market” or an Original 6 team. Turns out the 26-year-old center is more than happy to ply his trade for the next eight seasons in sunny FLA, which also happens to have the best corps of young, skilled players around him to chase the Stanley Cup.

LOSER: Edmonton Oilers. Peter Chiarelli has made plenty of good trades in his tenure as an NHL general manager. He robbed the Maple Leafs blind by sending Andrew Raycroft north for Tuukka Rask. He pilfered Johnny Boychuk from the Avalanche for Matt Hendricks. He managed to land a still-useful Mark Recchi (and a second round pick!) from Tampa Bay for Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums. Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski from Florida for Byron Bitz and Craig Weller? Huge win. In the short term, dealing Phil Kessel to Toronto for what turned out to be Dougie Hamilton, Tyler Seguin and Jared Knight made sense.  Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell from the Panthers for Dennis Wideman, a first and third rounder? Great steal. BUT … the deal he’ll be most remembered for is shipping Seguin off to Dallas for Loui Eriksson as the centerpieces of a 7-player deal, and that … has … not … worked … out. The Hall for Larsson swap may turn out equally as badly; a plenty-spry, 24-year-old wing who has put up 80 points in a season already for a defenseman who may only turn out to be, at best, a second pairing guy? Oh Peter; Harvard is really going to start to distance itself from you with these recent rash decisions.

WINNER: New Jersey Devils. Team Soprano got younger, faster and, most importantly, the shot of offensive adrenaline it desperately needs to claw their way up the Metropolitan Division standings and push the Rangers, Islanders and Flyers for a playoff spot. Somehow, they hoodwinked Chiarelli into taking only Larsson back in return. A win of epic proportions.

LOSER: Montreal Canadiens. (And yes, I absolutely LOVE typing those words). Marc Bergevin was a marginal defenseman as a player, more known as a clown prince who was among the NHL’s best jokesters. Well, fans throughout Quebec aren’t exactly guffawing after he dealt the 27-year-old Subban for the 31-year-old Weber. While still a No. 1 defenseman (with an absolute cannon of a shot to boot), Weber is not only on the books for another eight years of huge money—his contract runs until he’s 41 years old—but metrics show that he’s actually in decline in several key areas (puck possession, ability to carry the puck out of the zone, 5-on-5 effectiveness) while Subban is at an elite level in the same categories. (And can he even flop properly—a Canadien prerequisite?) The notoriously fickle Montreal boo birds will be out in full force at the slightest mistake caused by Weber, a seemingly good guy and terrific player who will be castigated for who he isn’t, not who he is.

WINNER: Nashville Predators. P.K. Subban isn’t only one of the best defensemen in the NHL—one with a Norris Trophy on his resume, a knack for delivering in the clutch and who is just now entering his prime as a professional—but equally important, he could “make” hockey in Smashville. An organization with a steady fanbase over the years, Subban’s infectious enthusiasm and larger-than-life personality (not to mention his humanitarian spirit and selfless off-ice ways) could invigorate hockey in the honky tonk to levels never previously seen. Nashvillians cared for and supported Shea Weber; they’ll love P.K. Subban both for his on-ice play and mark he leaves off of it.

With any luck, we’ll have more craziness when the NHL’s free agent period opens at noon tomorrow.