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Free Agency Winners and Losers from Day 1

We’re one day into free agency and it was a wild ride, wasn’t it? John Tavares dominated the conversation, but a lot of names went off the board, from James van Riemsdyk returning to Philadelphia to Ryan McDonagh and Logan Couture inking long-term extensions with Tampa Bay and San Jose, respectively. While no team is constructed in just one day (and if they were, it would be at the draft), July 1 really did some table-setting for the 2018-19 season.

So who won and who lost? Let’s take a snap look at the action on Day 1 of free agency.

Winners

Toronto

Well, no kidding, right? The Maple Leafs won the Tavares sweepstakes, convincing one of the top centers in the NHL to come back to his hometown team for the next seven years. Tavares gives the Leafs two deadly scoring lines, with Auston Matthews centering the other and Nazem Kadri on shutdown duties.

Though nothing has been established yet (it’s incredibly early), Tavares could very well be the next captain of the Maple Leafs and his ability to handle pressure will do him well in the red-hot hockey market. By extension, he also takes pressure off Matthews, the first overall pick in 2016 who is making his own star in the NHL right now. Tavares makes Toronto a very real Stanley Cup contender and the team still has the cap space available to get a veteran defenseman if the fit is right.

Not only that, but Toronto also did some addition by subtraction by letting fading veterans Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and Roman Polak walk.

Vegas

On the heels of a shock appearance in the Stanley Cup final, the Golden Knights came into free agency with their heads screwed on right - just like GM George McPhee and his crew did at the expansion draft. With the lure of playing for a winner in a vibrant (and warm) market, Vegas landed center Paul Stastny, who was coveted by several other enticing teams. The Golden Knights didn’t break the bank on Stastny, who brings a great two-way game and a proven track record to the desert. Keeping the veteran pivot away from Winnipeg was a bonus for Vegas, who will likely tangle with the Jets in the playoffs again in the coming years.

The Golden Knights lost David Perron to St. Louis, but given that the veteran was a healthy scratch for the second-last game of the Cup final, they could afford it.

A low-key move made by Vegas today was the signing of Nick Holden, a late bloomer who found his game with the New York Rangers before going to Boston. He joins an already effective defense corps in Vegas and does so at a very reasonable price.

Calgary

The Flames made their major move at the draft (that’s become a specialty for GM Brad Treliving) with the Noah Hanifin/Dougie Hamilton trade, but they didn’t rest on July 1. In picking up veteran center Derek Ryan, Treliving fortified a forward corps that already features the dynamic duo of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau and the Three M line of Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk. In a vacuum, Ryan isn’t a game-breaker, but for a team in need of puzzle pieces, the Flames got a good one for a decent price.

Though Calgary missed the playoffs this year, the addition of Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, coach Bill Peters and Ryan should do the trick.

Losers

New York Islanders

There can be only small consolations for Isles fans right now. Their franchise player, John Tavares, is gone. He put up with a lot of nonsense in New York (not from the fans, mind you) and always kept his cool, but when given the chance to play for a contender in Toronto, he took it.

Sure, the Isles have the reigning Calder Trophy winner in Matt Barzal and the kid looks like a very fine center. But the loss of Tavares blows a massive hole in New York’s depth chart; one that can’t possibly be filled right away.

On top of that, the Isles compounded the bad vibes with an inexplicable four-year deal for agitator Leo Komarov, prompting a lot of snide “Tavares for Komarov” jokes on Twitter from Toronto fans who watched ‘Uncle Leo’ go from beloved gritmeister to near-dead weight this past season.

Oh, and they still don’t have a starting goaltender. The market’s only getting thinner on that front.

Edmonton

The Oilers have a very clear task: get faster, get some guys Connor McDavid can play with. Oh, and improve the defense corps. So far, no luck on either front. Sure, Tobias Rieder has wheels, but he's not a top line guy. Kyle Brodziak is good as a bottom-sixer too. But how does either help McDavid?

On defense, the only Edmonton signing has been former Kings rearguard Kevin Gravel, but he has always been an AHL tweener for Los Angeles. The competition won't get any easier in the West and the Oilers need to rebound from a bad season. Surely there are more moves to come (if Milan Lucic can be moved, for example), but Day 1 wasn't pretty.

Vancouver

What, pray tell, were the Canucks doing today? Yes, they won the Jay Beagle derby, but why were they chasing a player whose effectiveness is in the present, not the future? Vancouver is at least another few seasons away from being a serious player in the West and based on the prospects they’ve been amassing, that’s fine. But bringing in Beagle and agitator Antoine Roussel on multi-year deals doesn’t exactly fit the timeline. These are finishing moves, not pick-ups you grab when you want maximum roster flexibility.

Sure, Roussel can stick up for the kids if the baddies of the West start slamming them into lockers, but how necessary is that in the speed-kill game of today? And sure, Tim Schaller came cheap, but again: the Canucks now have a glut of middle-six or bottom-six veterans with which to contend with. Is it not preferable to see what Adam Gaudette could do right off the hop?

Having the kids battle veterans for roster spots is indeed sound logic, but not if the veterans are on multi-year contracts. Why do you think Scottie Upshall won his recent jobs on tryouts?

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