Contrary to popular belief, the NHL’s signing season didn’t end the moment John Tavares signed on the dotted line with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It wasn’t over when James van Riemsdyk inked a five-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, either, nor did it come to a close when Paul Stastny’s three-year pact with the Vegas Golden Knights became official.
The reality is, though, that the big-name signings — and there were quite a few despite a relatively thin free agent class — stole the headlines and pulled the attention away from a fair number of moves that were made and could pay some dividends for a number of clubs next season. You won’t find any of the most notable deals below, but these are the deals that may have been lost or glossed over in the craziness of Sunday and the flurry of signing action that came with the opening of free agency.
HOLDEN SIGNS TWO-YEAR DEAL WITH GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Far from a headline-stealing signing, but Vegas GM George McPhee makes a nice addition in Holden. The departures of Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa and Clayton Stoner necessitated at least one addition on the blueline, and the Golden Knights could have done much worse than Nick Holden, 31, who will come in at a $2.2 million AAV. Holden won’t wow anybody, but he’s good for a few goals and could flirt with 20 points in Vegas’ up-tempo offense. He averaged 19 minutes per game last season between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, who acquired him at the deadline.
ISLANDERS FILL HOLE AT CENTER WITH FILPPULA ON ONE-YEAR PACT
No signing New York could have possibly made Sunday would have filled the void left by the departure of Tavares, but life has to go on for the Islanders and they made a move late in the day to bolster their depth at center by bringing in Valtteri Filppula on a one-year, $2.75-million deal. True as it may be that he’s far from being the consistent 15-goal, 50-point player he was during his prime, Filppula, 34, is strong both ways and can offer a serviceable second-line option for the Islanders. Mathew Barzal is going to need support, and Filppula provides that.
CULLEN STICKING AROUND FOR ONE MORE YEAR WITH PENGUINS
Matt Cullen headed to Minnesota last season for nostalgic reasons, wanting to play in his home state one last time before he called it a career. But the 41-year-old pivot, who scored 11 goals and 22 points last season, appears to be chasing one last shot at glory before he hangs up his skates. Cullen inked a one-year, $650,000 deal with Pittsburgh over the weekend and will return to the scene of two of his three Stanley Cup victories with his sights set on a fourth-line role and yet another championship run. He is the oldest player to sign a deal in this free-agency period.
WILD INK PATERYN TO THREE-YEAR CONTRACT, ROUND OUT BLUELINE
Greg Pateryn, 28, has former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock to thank for his payday on Sunday. That’s not to say Pateryn didn’t put the work in to earn his raise, which comes on a three-year, $6.75-million deal with the Wild, but it was Hitchcock who really gave Pateryn a shot at playing a bigger role. During his time with the Montreal Canadiens, he averaged 15 minutes per game in 82 appearances. Last season, in 73 games under Hitchcock, Pateryn’s ice time soared to nearly 20 minutes per outing. He’s a physical, heart-and-soul defender. Not flashy, but he’ll get the job done as part of the bottom two pairings.
RIEDER GETS SHOT WITH OILERS ON ONE-YEAR DEAL
Tobias Rieder reportedly drew significant interest after the Kings passed on giving him a qualifying offer, and not without reason. There’s significant upside here for the Oilers, who bring the 25-year-old into the fold on a one-year, $2-million contract. Rieder is coming off of a disappointing 12-goal, 25-point campaign, but his career rates peg him as a 15-goal, 30-point winger. With an opportunity at middle-six minutes in Edmonton, Rieder could have himself a career year. And even if he’s not finding the scoresheet, coach Todd McLellan should be able to make use of Rieder’s speed and responsible two-way play.
BLACKHAWKS ADD SCORING WITH KUNITZ, MANNING BEEFS UP BACK END
Chicago’s not all that far removed from their last Stanley Cup victory — only three seasons, to be exact — but the Blackhawks entered the summer with a number of holes to fill following an incredibly disappointing end to their run of playoff appearances. And while Chicago failed to land any of the big, or even medium-sized, fish in free agency, the Blackhawks did make a few noteworthy additions.
The first, veteran Chris Kunitz, gives Chicago a veteran presence in the bottom-six who brings with him 15-goal, 30-point potential. The 38-year-old, who will turn 39 before the start of the 2018-19 campaign, is defensively responsible, too, which is going to help the depth. The Blackhawks also bolstered their blueline with the addition of Brandon Manning, who is fresh off of a career-best seven-goal, 19-point season in Philadelphia. He’s likely a bottom-pairing rearguard in Chicago, though one with some upside.
HUTCHINSON GETS ONE-WAY DEAL WITH PANTHERS
Last season was a trying one for Michael Hutchinson, who lost his shot at backing up Connor Hellebuyck after Winnipeg inked the now-departed Steve Mason. Mason’s addition meant Hutchinson was relegated to third on the depth chart, shuffled to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and that’s where he remained for much of the past campaign. He did see three games with the big club as an injury replacement for Mason — he posted a .907 save percentage and 3.26 goals-against average — but he did his best work in the minors. Hutchinson was one of the AHL’s best keepers, posting a stunning .935 SP to go along with a 2.08 GAA. Worth noting about his deal with the Panthers, though, is the one-year, $1.3-million pact is a one-way contract. He might end up on waivers, and then end up elsewhere, before the season begins.
BROSSOIT SIGNS ON FOR BACKUP ROLE WITH JETS
With Hutchinson off to Florida and Winnipeg sending Steve Mason to Montreal — where he was subsequently bought out by the Canadiens — the Jets were in need of a second-string netminder and seem to have found one in Laurent Brossoit. The 25-year-old netminder comes to Winnipeg on a one-year, $650,000 deal, but he hardly provides the kind of top-tier backup ability that will leave Jets fans feeling confident should Hellebuyck fall injured. Last season, Brossoit saw 14 games with the Edmonton Oilers and posted a .883 SP and 3.24 GAA. He has a sub-.900 SP and 2.97 GAA for his career.
STARS FILL DEPTH SPOT ON DEFENSE, INK POLAK TO ONE-YEAR DEAL
With Dallas projected to have one of the younger bluelines in the league this coming season — four of the top-six defenders are 26 or under — the Stars entered the free agency period wanting to add some veteran experience on the back end. And while there were plenty of options available, the one GM Jim Nill landed on was Roman Polak, who signed a one-year, $1.3-million deal with Dallas. Polak will likely earn and stick in six-spot on the Stars’ blueline, where he’ll be asked to bring a bit of physicality and some guidance to the younger defensemen on the roster. Don’t expect much else, though.
SCHALLER GETS TWO-YEAR PACT WITH CANUCKS
Vancouver’s early moves in free agency, the signings of Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel to contracts that combine to count against the cap for $6 million annually, were somewhat puzzling given that bottom-six role players shouldn’t be the main concern for the Canucks right now. But Vancouver’s free-agency decisions got all the more confusing when it was announced that Tim Schaller, who scored 12 goals and 22 points playing on the Boston Bruins’ fourth line last season, has signed a two-year, $3.8-million deal. The $1.9 million AAV means Vancouver now has $8 million tied up in a trio of Beagle, Roussel and Schaller for the next two seasons.
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