Winners and losers of the first day of NHL free agency

ByEmily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The first day of NHL free agencysaw a flurry of moves, as the Columbus Blue Jackets' big three of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all found new homes. What's more, wefinally saw another offer sheet tendered and signed, as the Carolina Hurricanes now have seven days to decide whether to match the Montreal Canadiens' offer on budding superstar Sebastian Aho.

But these were not the only moves of the opening hours of free agency. Let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers from Monday:


New York Rangers

The Rangers were irrelevant for ... all of 17 months. General manager Jeff Gorton officially pulled the plug on the Rangers' rebuild, which was both quick and highly effective. New York landed the top free agent available in Artemi Panarin -- and stole him away from the rival New York Islanders to boot. Add in their recent additions of Kaapo Kakko, Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox, and the Rangers are suddenly fun again. -- Kaplan

Dallas Stars

GM Jim Nill made a big bet on Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, and two smaller side wagers on veteran right wing Corey Perry and defenseman Andrej Sekera. It's possible he wins them all. In the case of Pavelski, who is turning 35 and signed a three-year deal worth $7 million annually, it's a center around whom they can build a secondary scoring line, a net-front presence on a team that needed one and a playoff performer/leader by example for a team with designs to win the West. As for the 34-year-old Perry, his $1.5 million, one-year, bonus-laden deal could be a steal if he finds any semblance of his old game. -- Wyshynski

Tyler Myers

A Kelowna native returns to British Columbia. It's a nice story, but the bigger one is this: a decent defenseman gets paid big time. TheVancouver Canuckshoned in on Myers as their No. 1 target knowing cap-strapped Winnipeg would be priced out. But Vancouver perhaps bid against itself with the five-year, $30 million contract for a guy who is a borderline top-four defenseman. -- Kaplan

Colorado Avalanche

It's hard not to look at the Avs these days and wonder if they're poised to be the NHL's next superpower. The Avs -- who now have made the playoffs in back-to-back years -- surrounded their talented young roster with a good draft and solid complementary pieces in free agency, such as fourth-liner and penalty-killing specialist Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and the versatile Joonas Donskoi. The bottom six was one of Colorado's biggest deficiencies, and that's another box they checked. -- Kaplan

Carolina Hurricanes

GM Don Waddell's summer gets a lot easier because he won't spend it negotiating with Sebastian Aho's camp on a long-term contract. Sure, the Montreal Canadiens made the sneaky move to offer-sheet Aho, and front-load it in bonuses, requiring Carolina to put up cash. But the price (under $8.5 million in AAV) was very reasonable, about $1 million less than Aho was asking for. Theoretically, it's an easy decision here. Just match it. Be happy it wasn't for more. Move on. -- Kaplan

Sergei Bobrovsky

Only Canadiens goalie Carey Price ($10.5 million) has a higher average annual salary among netminders than Bobrovsky, 30, who will earn $10 million against the cap annually with the Florida Panthers through 2026, with full no-move protection in the first five years of the deal. Kudos to Bobrovsky and agent Paul Theofanous on this contract, for two reasons. First, in getting big value instead of the presumed lower-salary contract after signing with a team in a no-state-income-tax state; and second, getting this kind of overpayment for a goaltender, a position with a finite number of possible landing spots as a big-ticket unrestricted free agent. In the short term, it gives the Panthers one of the league's top netminders. In the long term, he's going to be a 36-year-old making $10 million against the cap. -- Wyshynski

Nashville Predators

Matt Duchene to the Predators was as inevitable as unpunished tampering during free agency. He wanted to go there. The Predators traded P.K. Subban in an effort to clear space for him. All it took was GM David Poile breaking one of his rules and offering him a modicum of trade protection in the final three years of the deal. The $8 million AAV (average annual value) is higher than Evolving Wild's projection ($6,836,804), but the Predators simply had to land him. Duchene gives Nashville a solid secondary scoring option behind Ryan Johansen. The only way the Predators win the West is being something more than a one-line team. Duchene gives them their best shot at it. -- Wyshynski

Kyle Dubas

The Toronto Maple Leafs GM found a taker for Nikita Zaitsev's toxic contract that runs through 2024 -- getting a third-round pick for it, no less -- and then made the biggest blockbuster of July 1. The Leafs traded center Nazem Kadri, defenseman Calle Rosen and their third-round selection in 2020 for Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie, center Alex Kerfoot and Colorado's sixth-round pick in 2020. The Avs retained 50 percent of Barrie's contract, meaning the Leafs acquired a high-level puck-moving defenseman for $2.75 million against the cap this season, with UFA status looming next summer. Kerfoot isn't Kadri, but he also might not get suspended for a third straight playoff series against the Boston Bruins like the Leafs' now-former center was on track to do. Barrie immediately elevates the Leafs' blue line, which was without question the weakest part of their team. -- Wyshynski


Pittsburgh Penguins

The Phil Kessel trade netted them cap flexibility now and later, as the forward they acquired, Alex Galchenyuk, goes unrestricted next summer. Hopefully the Penguins hit a home run with the "later," because they used some of that "now" flexibility to sign Jets winger Brandon Tanev to a truly baffling six-year contract with a $3.5 million AAV. He's a checking forward who has been called "an offensive black hole." Weird flex. Meanwhile, the team just bid farewell to an admitted headache who nonetheless was a point-per-game talent. -- Wyshynski

Wild GM Paul Fenton

It's been a rough go for the first-time general manager since he took the job in May 2018. His first trade was a disaster (Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask), then flopped in two failed trades for Jason Zucker, plus saw Phil Kessel reject the team's overtures via a trade veto. In free agency, the Wild whiffed on some of their biggest targets, including Joe Pavelski and Anders Lee, then overpaid for Mats Zuccarello. Was anyone else willing to give the 31-year-old a term of five years? -- Kaplan

Columbus Blue Jackets

We knew this day would look ugly for the Blue Jackets since their marquee free agents weren't going to return. The 11th-hour, last-ditch attempt to offer Artemi Panarin on Sunday night felt a little pathetic, but it was clearly a PR move to show the Blue Jackets did everything they could to retain him. Columbus did sign Gustav Nyquist as a top-six-forward consolation prize -- but it was just that, a consolation. -- Kaplan

New York Islanders

Yes, Anders Lee returned on a seven-year contract worth $7 million against the cap, ensuring that the team won't watch their captains waltz away from Long Island in consecutive summers. But the reason he signed a seven-year deal rather than an eight-year deal is because Lou Lamoriello had him on the back burner while pushing to get Panarin. The Islanders offered the Russian dynamo more money (reportedly around $12.5 million AAV) than the contract he eventually signed. But they lost out on him -- to the New York Rangers. And that hurts. Also hurtful:

NYR president John Davidson turns the knife on Islanders about Artemi Panarin: "We know he wants to be here in New York, specifically with the Rangers."

- Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) July 1, 2019

Another thing the Islanders didn't have that the Rangers did when it comes to Panarin? John Davidson, his team president with the Blue Jackets. -- Wyshynski

Carolina Hurricanes

Everything was status quo for the Hurricanes ... until 2:40 pm ET when GM Don Waddell got an email in his inbox. An offer sheet? In this economy? Of all teams to be the recipient of an offer sheet, the small-market Hurricanes are the most vulnerable. The Canadiens specifically messed with the Hurricanes in two areas. One, the offer was stacked with bonuses in the first year, forcing owner Tom Dundon to fork over cash (which he doesn't want to do). Two is the term: only five years, which walks Sebastian Aho right to unrestricted free agency. Carolina would have much preferred a seven- or eight-year deal. -- Kaplan

Alberta goaltending

The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers entered the free-agent frenzy needing help between the pipes. Their solutions in goal could be best described as "incestuous." Mike Smith, 37, had a .898 save percentage as the co-starter with the Flames, and on Monday signed a one-year, $2-million deal with ... the Oilers. That left the Flames needing another goalie, so they handed a one-year, $2.75-million contract to Cam Talbot, who had a .893 save percentage in 31 games last season with ... the Edmonton Oilers. (Whispers: "Hey, there are better goalies who played outside of Alberta last season ...") -- Wyshynski

Pierre Dorion

Look, we don't want to pile on the beleaguered general manager of the Ottawa Senators. We even made Pierre Dorion one of the big winners at the trade deadline! But his acquisition of defenseman Nikita Zaitsev from the Toronto Maple Leafs goes down as one of the most stupefying in recent memory. Zaitsev is an underwhelming player with a contract that's valued at $4.5 million against the cap through 2024. For the honor of taking on this toxic contract, the Senators gave the Maple Leafs a third-round pick. That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works. -- Wyshynski

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