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Expert Analysis

UFA Frenzy: Eastern Conference

by Ryan Dadoun
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The free agent frenzy is dying down and while we're still going to see more signings and probably more trades as well, now seems like a good time to take stock of what's happened so far.  This article will focus on what the Eastern Conference teams have done starting from the conclusion of the draft through Sunday's moves.  Check back on Tuesday for the Western Conference evaluation.

 

Please note that the major additions/subtractions are just meant to give to an at-a-glance overview of the big impact signings/losses for each team rather than provide a thorough rundown of all the moves that have been made.  During the team analysis itself I'll be going into more detail about the smaller actions each organization has taken and the grade is meant to be a reflection of the smaller moves they've made as well as the one's specifically noted at the top.

 

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BOSTON BRUINS

 

Major Additions: David Backes

Major Subtractions: Lee Stempniak, Loui Eriksson

Grade: B-

 

David Backes couldn't get the St. Louis Blues to agree to a five-year contract, but the Boston Bruins were willing to hand him a $30 million contract over that length.  He's already 32 years old so it's not hard to see why the Blues ultimately balked and certainly Boston is taking a significant risk here.  Will he really be a major physical force even two or three years from now?  At the same time, his mix of grit and skill makes him a possibility to fill Milan Lucic's former role with the team before his departure in 2015.  Backes could also prove to be a core part of the Bruins' leadership group going forward.

 

Beyond that Boston was fairly quiet with some of their other contracts being handing Riley Nash a two-year, $1.8 million deal and Anton Khudobin a two-year, $2.4 million contract.  Khudobin is a fine backup and one the Bruins are already familiar with, so I'd view that as a nice, albeit relatively low-impact, signing.

 

BUFFALO SABRES

 

Major Additions: Kyle Okposo

Major Subtractions: Chad Johnson

Grade: B+

 

First off, you could argue that Johnson doesn't qualify as a major subtraction and while I will readily concede that he doesn't have a reputation as a top-end goaltender, he was a big part of the Sabres in 2015-16 with his 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage in 45 contests.

 

Moving past that, the big news is of course that Kyle Okposo joined the Sabres on a seven-year, $42 million deal.  Buffalo's offense is really starting to come together with Okposo, Ryan O'Reilly, and Evander Kane coming together with up-and-comers like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Zemgus Girgensons to form a group that could be very strong in the near future.  If Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis bounce back on top of that then the Sabres will be a very dangerous group in stark contrast to their anemic offense from just a couple seasons ago.

 

As for the actual terms of Okposo's contract, I think it's fair for him at the age of 28.  Any time you sign a seven-year contract you're taking a risk, but Okposo has three really good years under his belt now and for what he's capable of, a $6 million annual cap hit doesn't seem excessive.

 

CAROLINA HURRICANES

 

Major Additions: Lee Stempniak

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: B-

 

Carolina didn't do much in the first few days of the free agent frenzy, though it is of course worth noting that they acquired Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell back in June.  The first of which would have been included in the major additions list if not for the fact that I'm only counting moves that happened after the draft.

 

At any rate, handing a two-year, $5 million contract to Lee Stempniak seems very reasonable.  If he can score 19 goals and 51 points like he did last season, then that will be a great contract for Carolina, but of course Stempniak hasn't consistently performed at that level and that's likely why the Hurricanes were able to get him at that price.

 

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

 

Major Additions: None

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: B-

 

If Carolina was relatively quiet over the last week, then Columbus was practically dead.  Not that the Blue Jackets were expected to make major moves, but to some extent it's unfortunate to see their focus almost exclusively on the buy outs of Fedor Tyutin and Jared Boll.

 

That said, I'm not going to be overly critical of the Blue Jackets for staying quiet.  They already had 10 forwards inked to one-way contracts and six defensemen in the same boat.  Coupled with the probable desire to leave some spots open for younger players as part of their rebuilding effort and the timing wasn't great for Columbus to be major spenders.  That's why I decided against giving them a 'C' grade despite them not really giving me much to grade.

 

DETROIT RED WINGS

 

Major Additions: Thomas Vanek, Frans Nielsen

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: B-

 

Obviously there should be an asterisk next to Detroit's major subtractions because Pavel Datsyuk is gone, but he announced his intentions in June and his contract was traded during the draft, so technically he doesn't qualify as being a post-draft deadline loss.

 

Moving onto Detroit's signings, Vanek is coming off of a rough season with Minnesota and maybe that 41-point showing is the new normal for him, but on the other hand it's not unreasonable to think he can stage a comeback at the age of 32.  Armed with a one-year, $2.6 million contract, Detroit will get fair value out of him if he simply repeats his 2015-16 effort and he'll look like a steal if he bounces back, making this the ideal low-risk, high-reward signing.

 

By contrast, inking Frans Nielsen to a six-year, $31.5 million deal isn't something I'm particularly enthusiastic about.  Red Wings GM Ken Holland sees him a complete player that chips in offensively and defensively, but that being said he's already 32 years old and has recorded 58, 43, and 51 points over his past three seasons.  Even a mild regression from that 50-point range and his contract starts to look bad and given his age, he'll have likely suffered more than just a mild regression before this deal is done.

 

FLORIDA PANTHERS

 

Major Additions: Jason Demers, James Reimer

Major Subtractions: Teddy Purcell, Brian Campbell

Grade: B-

 

The Florida Panthers have had a busy offseason, though a good chunk of it happened before the free agent period started.  Rather than talk about the individual signings and trades they've had, it might be better to take a look at the two big areas of the team that have changed substantially: Their defense and goaltending.

 

The Panthers top four blueliners last season in terms of average minutes played were Brian Campbell, Aaron Ekblad, Dmitry Kulikov, and Erik Gudbranson in that order.  Of them, only Ekblad remains.  Instead the Panthers intend to go forward with a core of Keith Yandle (seven-years, $44.45 million), Jason Demers (five-years, $22.5 million), and Ekblad (starting in 2017-18: eight-years, $60 million).  That trio is going to make or break the Panthers for years to come by virtue of how much gap space is being allocated to them alone, but given Ekblad's potential as well as Yandle and Demers capabilities, it might work out well for them.

 

Florida will also probably enter the year with goaltenders James Reimer (five-years, $17 million) and Reto Berra (one-year, $1.45 million) as Roberto Luongo (hip) might not be ready for the start of the campaign.  For the most part in 2016-17 though, Luongo will be the starter while Reimer will serve as his understudy, but that relationship could change over the next few years.  After all, Luongo is 37 years old, so it's not unreasonable for the Panthers to ink a potential successor.

 

At the end of the day, I wouldn't categorize the Panthers as having a good or bad offseason so much as a risky one.  They've throw a lot of money around and issued a lot of long-term deals.  If these deals play out as intended, then the Panthers have a generous window to compete for the Stanley Cup, but this could also get them into a lot of trouble.

 

MONTREAL CANADIENS

 

Major Additions: Alexander Radulov, Shea Weber

Major Subtractions: P.K. Subban

Grade: C-

 

Part of me doesn't want to be too negative about the Weber-Subban trade.  I'd view Subban has the superior defenseman and honestly I'd say he is by a reasonable margin, but Weber is an elite defenseman in his own right and if Montreal feels Weber's style of play or leadership is a better fit for what they're going for, then I'd be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  But the part I can just not get past is their ages and contracts.  Subban is 27 years old with six years left on his deal at a $9 million cap hit, Weber will turn 31 in August and has 10 years left on his deal at a $ 7,857,142 cap hit.  It is blatantly obvious which one of those situations is more desirable.

 

Maybe he'll retire early (that would spare Montreal of his cap hit, though it would hurt Nashville significantly due to the way the NHL cap recapture rule works) or maybe the Canadiens will be able to trade his towards the end of his contract to a small market team that'd be interested in a player with a small salary, but high cap hit.  Even with that in mind though, he's a far bigger risk to not live up to his contract going forward than Subban.

 

Radulov is a significant risk too given his off-ice issue the last time he was in the NHL and the fact that it's hard to say how much his KHL success will translate to the NHL after four years away from North American hockey.  Given that he signed a one-year deal though, he seems like a good risk to take.

 

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

 

Major Additions: Taylor Hall

Major Subtractions: Adam Larsson

Grade: A

 

Maybe Adam Larsson will prove to be the top pairing defenseman the Oilers hope he is, but he's far from a guarantee.  Meanwhile the New Jersey Devils have secured one of the best left wingers in the league.  Granted, Hall isn't without his own set of risks as other than the 2015-16 he's only reached the 70-game mark once before (2013-14), but he'll just be turning 25 in November, so if he can repeat last season's good health, then he should have a lot of great years ahead of him.  The Devils struggled mightily when it came to generating goals in 2015-16 and while Hall can't fix that by himself, getting him is a big step towards addressing that issue.

 

The Devils also inked Ben Lovejoy to a three-year, $8 million contract to bolster their defense after parting with Larsson.  Lovejoy won't match the minutes Larsson was getting in 2015-16 nor does Lovejoy do much offensively, but he's a physical defender that's willing to sacrifice his body.

 

NEW YORK RANGERS

 

Major Additions: None

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: C

 

Keith Yandle is a major subtraction, but of course the Rangers traded the negotiating rights to Yandle away prior to the draft.  You could major argue that Eric Staal was a major subtraction too just given his resume, but obviously he didn't do a whole lot while he was with the Rangers.

 

While things were quiet for the Rangers on July 1, it's worth noting that they do have some work ahead of them as Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, and Dylan McIlrath are all restricted free agents.

 

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

 

Major Additions: Andrew Ladd

Major Subtractions: Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen

Grade: B

 

It's unfortunate that the Islanders couldn't come to an agreement with Kyle Okposo, but inking Andrew Ladd to a seven-year, $38.5 million deal is a good substitute...at least for now.

 

Ladd's 2015-16 campaign was a bit of a step down for him offensively as he was limited to 46 points, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him get 50-60 points next season.  He might even do a bit better than that range if he plays with John Tavares.  Plus Ladd's won the Stanley Cup twice and is a former team captain so there are reasons outside of his play on the ice why he would be desirable.  He's also 30 years old though and will turn 31 during the 2017-18 campaign, which makes seven years a bit tough to swallow.  His $5.5 million annual cap hit is manageable though and given the frontloaded nature of his deal (he'll get $8 million in 2016-17 compared to $4 million in each of his final three seasons), an argument could be made that the length of his deal is what kept that cap hit down. 

 

The Islanders also inked P.A. Parenteau to a one-year, $1.25 million contract.  That's a nice low-risk signing to bring back a player that was very effective with the organization in the past (Parenteau had 67 points with the Islanders in 2011-12).  He might not reach his old heights, but if he can even be a decent secondary scorer than he'll have been well worth that contract.

 

OTTAWA SENATORS

 

Major Additions: None

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: C+

 

The Senators really didn't do anything worthy of note last week, so the only question is: Should they have?  I'm inclined to give them a pass on sitting on their hands.  Sure they have cap space available, but they're also a small market team so it wasn't realistic to anticipate them spending to the ceiling.  It might have been nice to see them make a splash as they're a team that looks like they're on the bubble of making the playoffs and a good signing could have  pushed them past that, but their stepping into this season with a new coach so it'll be interesting to see what Guy Boucher does with the core already there.

 

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

 

Major Additions: None

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: B

 

The Flyers did make a couple depth signings with Dale Weise inking a four-year, $9.4 million deal and Boyd Gordon coming on for a season at a salary of $950K.  Ultimately it was probably for the best that the Flyers didn't land any of the big name UFAs in this year's market.  They do have around $8.6 million in cap space right now, but Brayden Schenn and Brandon Manning are among the Flyers' unsigned RFAs.  Then next season's crop of RFAs includes Shayne Gostisbehere and Scott Laughton.  So setting some money aside right now isn't the worst of ideas.

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

 

Major Additions: None

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: A

 

It might seem weird to give a team that did nothing of note an A-rating, especially after giving Philadelphia and Ottawa significantly lesser grades, but when it comes to the teams that did quiet I'm ultimately judging them on why they stayed quiet.  For the Penguins, a quiet summer would be ideal as it would mean that they will have kept their Stanley Cup-winning team largely intact.

 

Of course it won't be identical as some players like Beau Bennett and Ben Lovejoy are gone, but not every championship team enjoys as little modification as the Penguins.

 

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

 

Major Additions: None

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: A+

 

So as you might imagine, I'm looking at the Lightning favorably not for what they did on July 1, but for what happened just before that: They locked up Steven Stamkos.  Not only that, they inked him to a contract that actually looking pretty good compared to his top-end skill.  The 26-year-old forward agreed to a eight-year, $68 million contract, which translates to a $8.5 million cap hit.

 

That's less than it was thought he would get on the market and makes him more affordable from a cap perspective than forwards Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Corey Perry.  The fact that the Lightning have locked up their superstar for less than other teams gives them an edge going forward makes it just that little bit easier to keep the rest of the Lightning's core intact for years to come.

 

Tampa Bay also signed Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year, $10.5 million contract that starts with the 2017-18 campaign.  That's a pretty affordable deal for someone with the potential to be a strong starter, although admittedly he still has a lot to prove.  Still, even if he doesn't work out, that's not so high that the Lightning will be unable to find alternative solutions in goal in the years to come.

 

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

 

Major Additions: None

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: B-

 

The Maple Leafs are one of the teams that made their major moves before or during the draft as the span I'm looking at in this article leaves out their acquisition of goaltender Frederik Andersen and of course them drafting Auston Matthews with the first overall selection.  That said, the Maple Leafs weren't quiet on July 1 either.

They did sign Matt Martin to a four-year, $10 million contract and while that feels like a lot for a 27-year-old that's never even reached the 20-point mark, when it comes to delivering hits, there's no one more prolific.  It wouldn't be surprising to see Martin and Matthews start the season together on the third line, which offers the latter some extra protection while he's adjusting to the NHL, but obviously eventually Matthews is going to outgrow that third-line role while Martin will stay in the bottom-six.  Ultimately, it still feels like an overpayment for Martin because he just doesn't play all that much and he doesn't bring a ton to the table outside of his physicality, but it's a manageable overpayment.

 

Manageable overpayment feels like a good way to describe Roman Polak's one-year, $2.25 million contract too.  He doesn't do much offensively and while he does accumulate a lot of hits and blocked shots, he's been consistently dreadful throughout his career from an analytics perspective.  Every year his Corsi/Fenwick suggests that his team does better in terms of puck possession when he's sitting on the bench than on the ice.  That said, Toronto's probably not going to be competitive this season anyways and he'll be a potential trade chip at the deadline.  If the Leafs can convert that investment into Polak into a decent draft pick, then it will have arguably been money well spent.

 

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

 

Major Additions: None

Major Subtractions: None

Grade: B

 

The Washington Capitals had an amazing regular season in 2015-16, but were ousted by the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.  It seems that Washington wants to largely move forward with the same group as last season, with the most notable exception of Lars Eller, whose acquisition occurred too early for inclusion in this piece.

 

That seems reasonable of them though.  It does look like the Capitals have a special group right now and while the stars didn't align for them last season, it's not such a bad idea to give this group another shot.  There will likely be significant changes next summer though as T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Karl Alzner are all eligible to become unrestricted free agents while Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Philipp Grubauer will headline the RFA class. 

Ryan Dadoun

Ryan Dadoun is an Associate Editor for Hockey on NBC Sports Edge. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.