Friday, 1 July 2016

You Spent How Much?

Free agency day is always an interesting examination of how much each NHL team is willing to kill themselves to keep up with the Joneses. There are always a handful of stars that go to unrestricted free agency on July 1, and the interview process in the week before generates all sorts of rumours about who is signing whom for how much. However, until you see the final product on the ice, the value of those contracts make the Gross Domestic Products of some countries look like chump change. Someone always overpays, someone always overvalues a player, and some contract will be an albatross for the next four to seven years.

The first thing to remember is that the NHL is trending towards being a young man's game. Generally speaking, a player who is 30 or older is now considered to be in the twilight of his career, especially when you consider that GMs are saddled with a player's contract value if he signs a deal past the age of 35 and decides that the rigors of hockey aren't for him any longer. When you consider names like David Backes, Andrew Ladd, and Frans Nielsen, shorter deals usually result in better returns because of their ages. Boston, the New York Islanders, and Detroit, however, went five years, seven years, and six years on these players which will all push them past 35 when their deals expire.

The second thing to remember is that not all teams are created equal, and production on a previous team does not always guarantee future results. This is especially important to remember when looking at power forwards and one-dimensional scoring forwards. Buffalo went all-in on Kyle Okposo, Edmonton went all-in on Milan Lucic, and Vancouver went all-in on Loui Eriksson. There's no guarantee that any of these players will develop a chemistry with new centermen when they had good chemistry with previous teammates. Is Jack Eichel on the same level as John Tavares? Can Connor McDavid turn Lucic into a 30-goal scorer? Will Eriksson find any magic with the Sedin twins? Big questions hang like anchors off the price tags for these players, so they'll need to find some immediate chemistry.

The third thing to remember is that less is often more with NHL contracts. Brian Campbell signed with the Blackhawks for less term and less money than he could have gotten elsewhere, but his production and impact will most likely be better than Ben Lovejoy in New Jersey. Yannick Weber's deal in Nashville will certainly have better return per dollar than David Schlemko in San Jose. Not every team's situation is the same - Chicago and New Jersey, for example - but if you have to overpay for a defenceman whose impact won't bring you four to six additional regulation wins, you're simply spending for the sake of spending.

Having said the above, there were some GMs who did well on free agency day. Here are my top-three teams for next season based on what they did on free spending day.
  1. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: GM Steve Yzerman already signed Steven Stamkos to an eight-year deal prior to July 1, and he locked up another massive piece in his team's success this season when he inked defenceman Victor Hedman to an eight-year, $63 million extension. He also brought back goaltender Andrei Vaskilevskiy on a three-year contract extension worth $3.5 million per season. Sure, he still has work to do in re-upping with Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, and Jonathan Drouin plus factor in deals next season for Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, but the two biggest pieces of the Lightning are going to call Tampa home for the next eight years. Sure, there were no UFAs added, but Yzerman locked up his assets before anyone else could. If he can move Ben Bishop for a decent defenceman, you can pencil the Lightning into the Eastern Conference Final once again.
  2. LOS ANGELES KINGS: GM Dean Lombardi needed to find a few gems with his club being tight against the salary cap, and he did just that. First, he inked defenceman Tom Gilbert to a one-year, $1.4 million deal that will shore up his depleted blue line in a nice way. Secondly, he added goaltender Jeff Zatkoff on a two-year deal worth $1.8 million which will give the Kings a very capable backup netminder behind Jonathan Quick. Lombardi then inked promising forward Michael Latta to a one-year, $600,000 deal that will give Latta an opportunity to crack a lineup. While he still needs to add a few more minor pieces, the Los Angeles Kings should make a run at the Pacific Division crown once again.
  3. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Think you can add a top-four defenceman in the NHL for $2 million? Well, it turns out that you can if you appeal to the right player. Brian Campbell admittedly wanted to go back to Chicago, and he and GM Stan Bowman came to an agreement on a one-year, $2 million that the NHLPA can't be too excited about with Campbell leaving more money on the table elsewhere in the NHL. However, Campbell proves that one can go home and do it for a reasonable price. He makes the Blackhawks defence much better and the salary cap hit that Bowman faces annually won't cripple him this year.
I'm sure fans of each and every team will want to climb aboard and say, "Yeah, but my team got Player X!" Congratulations on your success, but the three teams above did the right thing in not overspending while adding the minor tweaks that could put them over the edge.

Of course, I might be entirely wrong and these teams could burn like raging tire fires over the next season while they miss the playoffs. If so, you're all welcome to the 100% money-back guarantee offered on this article. Just be thankful you didn't drop $6.5 million per season for the next six seasons on these deals!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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