Be they monster, headline-making signings, like the New York Rangers’ seven-year, $81.5-million pact with Artemi Panarin, or budget-conscious, minor-league contracts handed out by cap-strapped clubs, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s pact with veteran netminder Jeremy Smith, every single NHL team was active on the opening day of free agency.
Well, every single team, save one.
The Ducks made some waves ahead of signing season with the buyout of veteran winger Corey Perry, who was once a cornerstone of the franchise and could very well see his No. 10 hanging from the Honda Center rafters once his career is all said and done. Then Anaheim took care of some pre-free agency business by locking up backup netminder Ryan Miller and inking cheap deals with Derek Grant, Sam Carrick and Korbinian Holzer. GM Bob Murray even swung a deal, acquiring Nicolas Deslauriers from the Montreal Canadiens on the eve of July 1 in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
During Monday’s frenzy, however, the Ducks didn’t make one addition to the roster. Not a bottom-liner, not an AHL winger, not even a third-string keeper for the farm club. Nothing. But just because Anaheim wasn’t active on the opening day doesn’t mean GM Bob Murray is about to head for the beach and rest up and relax for the rest of the off-season.
In the coming weeks, Murray is going to have some work to do if he wants to start turning over his roster, which he seems sure to do given Perry’s buyout, the so-called LTIRetirement facing pivot Ryan Kesler and the fact his club, especially its impact players, are getting long in the tooth. In a young man’s league, the Ducks’ only surefire top-six forward younger than 26 is 23-year-old Ondrej Kase.
So, what comes next in Anaheim?
The place to start is on the blueline, where Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are the clearcut anchors but are surrounded, at least for the time being, by Holzer and youngster Brendan Guhle. Both are going to be in the NHL next season, but the Ducks would do well to consider some cheaper, depth options through the remaining days, weeks and months of free agency. Anaheim could, of course, thrust Jacob Larsson or Josh Mahura into an NHL role next season, but it would nonetheless be helpful to have some experienced support if it is the youth route they want to take on the back end.
Once the defense is addressed, consideration has to be given to shuffling the deck up front and potentially saying one or two painful goodbyes with an eye toward the future. Teams that missed out on high-end scoring options this summer could be in the market for forward help, and skilled veterans Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique could be prime trade candidates if Murray wants to start shedding aging players from his roster in favor of picks and prospects that can help a retooling squad. And before the summer is up, the Ducks will need to hammer out contracts with restricted free agents Justin Kloos and Chase De Leo, both of whom have arbitration rights.
But the Ducks weren’t the only club that was quiet on the first day of free agency. Here are four others and a look at where they could make noise in the coming weeks:
LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Kings are in the same boat as the rival Ducks and were similarly silent on Canada Day, though Los Angeles did make two minor moves, adding defenseman Joakim Ryan, who spent last season with the San Jose Sharks, and plucking free agent Martin Frk away from the Detroit Red Wings. Does either signing move the needle? Not one bit. But the real work is going to be done throughout the remainder of the off-season, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Kings were among the more active teams in the trade market.
In his first season in Los Angeles, Ilya Kovalchuk flopped and his name cropped up in the rumor mill. Jeff Carter’s name was floated around the trade deadline. Tyler Toffoli seems a constant in trade chatter. There was even mention of Jonathan Quick’s name at points ahead of last season’s trade freeze, and his name will surely come to the fore again with a few clubs potentially unhappy with their goaltending situation.
The next steps in Los Angeles this summer are much the same as they are in Anaheim: start the process of getting younger, stockpile some picks and prospects and turn over a roster that is in desperate need of a refresh.
There are few clubs with a cap situation as unfavorable as that of the Jets, so to see Winnipeg rather silent as signing season began is hardly surprising. What GM Kevin Cheveldayoff did do, however, was bring back Nathan Beaulieu on a one-year, $1-million pact and re-sign defenseman Cameron Schilling to a two-way contract. Unlike the Ducks and Kings, though, the Jets’ work begins with keeping their young players, not shedding greybeards.
Priorities No. 1A and No. 1B are Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, in whichever order you prefer. As they’re restricted free agents without arbitration rights, there is potential for both sides to dig in and allow the contract conversations drag into the late-summer and even training camp. Getting both under wraps sooner rather than later would be a nice way to kick off the off-season, though that’s going to be tricky. Laine seems likely to want to bet on himself after a down year in the third season of his entry-level pact, while Connor appears a safer bet for a long-term deal given back-to-back 30-goal seasons and his regular role alongside top-liners Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
If Cheveldayoff wanted to really hit a home run this summer, too, he could look into an extension for RFA-to-be Josh Morrissey and potentially add a defenseman, though that might not happen without moving a talented forward.
OK, so it’s not nothing, but the lone signing the Flames made that was for more than league minimum was the one-year, $2.75-million deal with goaltender Cam Talbot. That addressed one of Calgary’s clear needs. But given some of the splashes the Flames have made in the past, it was quiet by their standards.
Don’t expect that to last, though.
First, Calgary needs to get a deal done with standout RFA Matthew Tkachuk, who is coming off of a career-best 34-goal, 77-point season. They also have to consider a new contract for Sam Bennett, who has transformed into a useful role player, and then work out a pact with goaltender David Rittich, who is expected to battle Talbot for the starting job.
The problem here, though, is that money is tight. Calgary has roughly $9.5 million with which to work. Someone has to go, and there are a few candidates. The Flames would love to get rid of James Neal’s $5.75-million cap hit after his incredibly disappointing campaign, Michael Frolik and his $4.3-million salary have been said to be on the block and with three pending free agent defenders – T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone – eating anywhere from $4.65-million to $3.5-million in cap space, Calgary will likely consider moving one.
No contract handed out by Boston on the opening day of free agency had a cap hit that exceeded $1 million, and the only UFA who signed anything above six figures was Brett Ritchie. And, yes, while the Bruins did reach a nice, three-year pact with soon-to-be RFA defenseman Connor Clifton, it’s still safe to say it was a relatively quiet day in Boston.
Expect business to pick up soon, however, particularly given the RFAs without deals. Danton Heinen, for instance, is in need of a contract. So is Brandon Carlo, whose play on the blueline in the post-season likely saw his price tag climb. But the big-money deal is going to be the one the Bruins have to work out to Charlie McAvoy, who has become the top defender in Boston in two short seasons and is going to be due a hefty raise.
It’s not just the RFA contracts that could see the Bruins busy, though. Among those who will see their deals expire and become eligible to hit the open market next summer are Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Charlie Coyle, Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom. Count on the Bruins at least checking in with Krug about what it would cost to get him locked up beyond next season. In addition, pending RFAs include Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk. Both could sign extensions this summer. Add in the possibility of a cap-clearing trade – is it time to move on from David Krejci? Can Boston shed David Backes’ $6-million cap hit? – and the Bruins might end up being one of the summer’s busier teams following a sleepy start to signing season.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.