It seems a little strange to be writing the proverbial ‘Winners and Losers’ piece on a day when five of the top six free agents on THN’s top 30 list are still out there and only three of the top 10 were signed. But hey, it’s 2020. We’ve been conditioned to deal with disappointment, so why should one of the biggest off-ice days on the hockey calendar be any exception?
So we’re going to go in a little bit of a different direction here. Without further ado, we present the Winners and Losers of Day 1 of Free Agency. That covers us off nicely.
WINNER – Jacob Markstrom
Here’s a guy who will be 31 years old before this season is a month old and at a time when there’s a historical goalie glut in the market and the prospect of a flat salary cap, managed to snag himself a six-year, $36 million deal, essentially on the basis of one brilliant season. Nobody, no team or player, made out better on Day 1 of free agency than Jacob Markstrom did. All it takes is one team and that team is the Flames, who haven’t had any real stability in their crease since the days of Miikka Kiprusoff and are hoping and praying they’ve found it with Markstrom.
LOSER – Edmonton Oilers
Since Day 2 of the draft, seven goalies changed teams and none of them ended up with the Oilers. The Oilers swung and missed on Markstrom, which in the long-term might not be such a bad thing for them. But they couldn’t have offered more than the Ottawa Senators did for Matt Murray? They couldn’t have signed a veteran to give them some presence in the crease? The Oilers got a combined save percentage of .869 from Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith in their qualifying-round ouster and they badly need an upgrade in that position.
WINNER – Vancouver Canucks
So you know how hockey people often talk about the best deals being the ones that weren’t made? Well, that’s the case for the Canucks, both with Markstrom and Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Markstrom’s term and money were far too much for the Canucks, who have their heir apparent waiting in Thatcher Demko. And in Braden Holtby, they’ve got a guy for four few years and a cap hit of $1.7 million less than Markstrom commanded. As far as OEL is concerned, he’s not a fit with the Canucks and his cap hit is far too much of a burden.
LOSER – Players looking for long-term deals
Those will come, of course, when the alpha dog dominos start to drop, but of all the players who signed on Day 1, only Markstrom and Krug got contracts of more than three years. Two years seemed to be the going term rate for the day, which probably isn’t a coincidence as teams try to feather their nests to prepare for the expansion draft after next season.
WINNER – Edmonton Oilers
Yes, we make the rules and on Day 1 of free agency, you can be both a winner and a loser. In signing Kyle Turris to a two-year deal worth just $1.65 million per season, the Oilers get a player who will actually be suited to the role of third-line center. Turris was never a fit with the Nashville Predators at that pay rate and term, either to their style of play or the role in which he was placed. Going to the Oilers and playing behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl has the potential to bring out the best in a guy who still has something to give.
LOSER – Torey Krug
When Krug made the decision to go to unrestricted free agency, he made no secret of his desire to cash in on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There were visions of him getting full-term offers as high as $7 million or $8 million, but he came in at $6.5 million on a long-term deal. That's still incredible money, but it seems pretty clear that Krug is a casualty of the economic realities facing the NHL. In a league where revenues are precarious at best for the next couple of years, the money and cap space just weren't there for Krug.
WINNER – Winnipeg Jets
The Jets didn’t sign anyone, but they managed to solidify their top two lines by acquiring Paul Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights for a marginal prospect and a conditional draft pick. Assuming Patrik Laine stays, it would be very, very difficult to come up with a team that has a better group of top-six forwards than the Jets.
LOSER – Viewers in Canada
Not because there were so few deals of consequence. Not because the networks didn’t deliver on their analysis. But because of that god-foresaken egg commercial. It was unrelenting and was the equivalent of water boarding to anyone who watched. On the other hand, I know I’m having eggs for dinner tonight and you’re weird for thinking that’s weird. Now make it stop. Please. Just. Make. It. Stop.