NHL free agency: Few fireworks as teams steer clear of lavish long-term deals
Canadiens, Rangers, Predators only clubs to go beyond 3 years on UFAs on Ist day for signings
NHL general managers usually make their own fireworks on Canada Day with wild long-term contracts.
But not this time.
In fact, only three teams went longer than three years with an unrestricted free agent on Saturday with the Montreal Canadiens splurging on Karl Alzner, the New York Rangers reeling in Kevin Shattenkirk and the Nashville Predators spending big on Nick Bonino.
Every other deal was three years or less — save for extensions for a trio of big names in California.
"If you're building your team on July 1, you're probably not going to have the success you want," Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving said.
The Winnipeg Jets landed their hopeful No. 1 goaltender, Steve Mason, for two years. Martin Hanzal joined the Stars for three. Mike Cammalleri went back to Los Angeles, the team that drafted him, for one year.
Scott Hartnell and Justin Williams also returned to former NHL destinations on short-term pacts — Hartnell for one year with Nashville and Williams for two years with the Carolina Hurricanes, a team he won the Stanley Cup with in 2006.
Chris Kunitz got one year with the Tampa Bay Lightning as did Patrick Sharp with Chicago.
Ron Hainsey left the more recent Cup champs in Pittsburgh for a two-year deal in Toronto. The Vancouver Canucks signed Sam Gagner, coming off a career-best 50 points last year, for a modest three years and also added Michael Del Zotto (two years), Patrick Wiercioch (one year) and Alexander Burmistrov (one year) on short-term deals.
"We wanted to create depth," Canucks GM Jim Benning said.
What general managers didn't do was overspend like one year earlier when Loui Eriksson was inked for six years and $36 million US. The Swedish winger, who misfired with only 11 goals last year, was one of a number of lavish signings across the league that day, joined by Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, and Kyle Okposo — all on seven-year deals.
David Backes also got five years. Frans Nielsen got six. Troy Brouwer, David Schlemko and Mikkel Boedker all got four-year deals.
Early returns on most of those pacts aren't promising.
Less money to work with than hoped
Perhaps that realization, along with a definite lack of star power led to thriftier spending this summer. Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic added the salary cap — which crept up to $75 million for the 2017-18 campaign— is one more factor.
"It hasn't moved up as much as we originally thought," Sakic said.
Shattenkirk, a native of New Rochelle, N.Y., was among the few high-impact players available, a point-piling defenceman who should boost the offence and power play of his hometown team. Even he got only four years.
The longest deal, oddly enough, went to Alzner, who signed for five years and more than $23 million.
The six-foot-three 219-pounder is a risky bet for the Canadiens, who also traded for flashy young forward Jonathan Drouin and Schlemko this off-season. Alzner had only 13 points last season with concerning underlying numbers — both in five-on-five situations and on the penalty kill — and he turns 29 in September.
Depth defenders were awarded some of the longer deals of the day with Dmitry Kulikov (Winnipeg), Trevor Daley (Detroit) and Matt Hunwick (Pittsburgh) all landing three-year deals. Dan Girardi, who had his six-year deal with the Rangers recently bought out, got two years from Tampa.
Fresh off their first Stanley Cup final appearance in franchise history, the Predators opted to give four years and $16.4 million to Bonino, a 29-year-old who has yet to top 50 points in the regular season.
Turnover in Pittsburgh
In addition to Bonino, the two-time reigning champion Penguins also lost Hainsey, Kunitz, Daley, and Marc-Andre Fleury, who joined the Vegas Golden Knights in expansion. Pittsburgh picked up Antti Niemi to replace Fleury as Matt Murray's backup.
Few teams made pricey long-term commitment like the Predators, Habs or Rangers, perhaps wary of getting burned down the line.
The Oilers, facing cap concerns with looming new deals to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, had to buy out Benoit Pouliot earlier this week — less than three years after signing him to a five-year contract worth $20 million. He landed in Buffalo for one year and $1.15 million.
The three largest deals of the day were extensions to players who weren't due to become free agents for another year. Cam Fowler re-upped for eight years with the Ducks while the Sharks hung onto Marc-Edouard Vlasic with an eight-year extension and No. 1 goaltender Martin Jones for six years.
Goalies shuffled around with the Jets, notably, taking a chance on Mason. The 29-year-old is coming off a poor season with the Flyers (.908 save percentage), but had two solid seasons before that and won a Calder Trophy back in 2009.
Brian Elliott was his replacement with the Flyers. Ryan Miller, meanwhile, went to the Ducks and Jonathan Bernier went to the Avalanche. Chad Johnson returned to Buffalo and former Jets No. 1 Ondrej Pavelec signed with the Rangers.
The Leafs replaced Brian Boyle — who signed for two years in New Jersey — with Dominic Moore while also re-signing Curtis McElhinney to back up goalie Frederik Andersen.