But June is also a perfect time for a retrospective of the past unrestricted free agent group. Even if 2o18 didn’t boast the same high-quality stars – how do guys like Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Erik Karlsson sound? – there was an emphasis on scoring depth and goaltenders looking for a second chance.
Not every signing went as planned, however.
Calgary Flames winger James Neal was once one of the best power forwards in the league, but Neal scored just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games with Calgary, which made for the worst season of his career. That came on the heels of him inking a five-year deal at $5.75-million per campaign. On a lesser scale, blueliner Jack Johnson managed just one goal and 13 points for Pittsburgh and his play steadily declined. Surely, the Penguins regret signing him for five years, even if he makes just $3.25-million per season.
But what about the guys who did succeed? Here are how some of last summer’s top free agents fared this season, with a few set to hit the market again in just a few weeks:
John Tavares, C (Toronto Maple Leafs, $11 million/7 years)
The Leafs made one of the biggest free agent splashes ever, signing Tavares, a native of nearby Oakville, Ont., who had spent his entire career with the New York Islanders, to a massive seven-year deal. Did it pay off? Toronto didn’t make it out of the first round, but after a career-high 47-goal, 88-point season, GM Kyle Dubas has to be ecstatic about his signing. It was a no-brainer of a deal that instantly makes Toronto a championship contender for years to come, even if it put a big dent in the salary cap. Now the challenging part is trying to sign Mitch Marner while keeping this group intact.
Robin Lehner, G (New York Islanders, $1.5 million/1 year)
Is Lehner one of the best bargain signings in the salary cap era? No question after reviving his career on a one-year deal. The signing was an opportunity for him to get another chance to prove himself after some turmoil in 2017-18 with Buffalo. Lehner was vital in the Islanders’ first-round sweep of the Penguins, and had he been healthy the whole year, he could have have registered somewhere in the 35-win range. A Vezina Trophy candidate, it will be a mistake if the the Islanders don’t bring the pending UFA back next season.
Petr Mrazek, G (Carolina Hurricanes, $1.5 million/1 year)
Playing a deal identical to Lehner’s, Mrazek was instrumental in Carolina’s rebirth this season. But it didn’t start that way. After years of playing second fiddle with the Detroit Red Wings – and a brief run as a second-stringer with the Philadelphia Flyers – Mrazek took over the starting spot after Scott Darling struggled and was sent to the AHL. Mrazek didn’t immediately steal the show, but he went on to finish with a 23-14-3 record, including a 13-4-0 record in his final 17 starts as the Hurricanes snuck into the post-season. Expect the Hurricanes to bring him back before he officially hits the free agent market this summer.
Paul Stastny, C (Vegas Golden Knights, $6.5 million/3 years)
Had Stastny not suffered an injury during the regular season, he would have finished near the top of Vegas’ scoring charts after leaving the Winnipeg Jets last summer. Stastny managed 42 points in 50 games, good for 0.84 points per game average, his best total since his 0.85 in 2013-14. The Golden Knights have him for another two years at $6.5 million, a very nice deal if he continues to show success with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Just imagine if he played a full season: he was on pace for 69 points, which would have been his best total since 2009-10. He’s got a lot left at the tank at 33 and makes Vegas’ top six extremely dangerous.
David Perron, RW (St. Louis Blues, $4 million/4 years)
You want to talk about loyalty? Perron has played for St. Louis on three separate occasions and was finally rewarded with a Stanley Cup this week after signing last summer after a one-year stint in Vegas. It would have been even better if he wasn’t on injured reserve with an upper-body injury midway through the year, but Perron was a great secondary scoring option, posting 46 points in 57 games. At his 0.81 points per game average, Perron would have scored 66 points if he had played all 82 games, the same total he finished with last year. Perron has played some of his best hockey over the past two years and should return to his 60-point form next year.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.