NHL·Analysis

Teams shouldn't use NHL free agency as a measuring stick for Stanley Cup success

Declaring NHL winners and losers based on what teams do on July 1 is a fun, but foolish exercise. You can predict but more often than not you don’t know the answers until the following spring.

Rangers poster child for signing players that don't deliver

The New York Rangers are counting on winger Artemi Panarin to turn their fortunes around next season. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)

Declaring NHL winners and losers based on what teams do on July 1 is a fun, but foolish exercise.

Last year, the St. Louis Blues made three moves on Canada Day. They signed centre Tyler Bozak, right wing Brian Flynn and acquired Ryan O'Reilly in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

Flynn never played for the Blues. He finished the season in Switzerland. Bozak and O'Reilly won a Stanley Cup with the latter also taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy. But how many of you felt the Blues became a Stanley Cup contender from the moves they made a year ago?

The other championship finalist, the Boston Bruins, made two moves on July 1, 2018. They signed up defenceman John Moore and fourth liner Joakim Nordstrom. These signings were notable but didn't garner much attention outside of Boston.

Instead, the loudest headlines were made in Toronto when the Maple Leafs landed the most prominent unrestricted free agent of them all, John Tavares. The Maple Leafs, however, were knocked out in the first round. Meanwhile, the team Tavares left in the dust, the New York Islanders, swept aside Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the second round. So go figure.

On Monday, the New York Rangers landed the big one in Artemi Panarin for seven years and an average salary of $11.64 million US.  But the Rangers have been down this road before, one that includes free-agent flop Brad Richards. 

WATCH: The Athletic's Sean Fitz-Gerald breaks down moves by Habs, Leafs:

Sean Fitz-Gerald, managing editor of The Athletic Toronto discusses the day one moves made in NHL free agency. 6:14

The Florida Panthers signed goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at seven years, $10-million a season, and as expected, Matt Duchene inked a seven-year deal worth $56 million with the Nashville Predators.

Hands up if you think the Rangers, Predators or Panthers are ready to take the Blues spot as the champs.

The Vancouver Canucks added much-needed defencemen Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn. The Edmonton Oilers lured goalie Mike Smith to town to play for his old coach, Dave Tippett. Former Oilers goalie Cam Talbot moved down the highway to take Smith's spot in Calgary.

The poor old Winnipeg Jets lost Myers to Vancouver and the determined Brandon Tanev to the Penguins.

Defenceman Tyson Barrie was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche on Monday. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

Canadiens, Leafs make waves

The Montreal Canadiens made waves by signing Carolina Hurricanes restricted free agent Sebastian Aho to a front-loaded five-year, $8.454 million a season offer sheet. The deal will see Aho earn $21 million in signing bonuses in the first 12 months.

Habs general manager Marc Bergevin played his cards well by stating Aho wants to play in Montreal. This remark likely has angered Hurricanes billionaire owner Tom Dundon, but won't scare his team from matching. Just look for the Hurricanes to wait the full seven days to handcuff the Habs from making significant moves during this period.

The Maple Leafs were once again busy on July 1, even though GM Kyle Dubas is in salary cap hell. First, he finalized the trade that sent Nikita Zaitsev and forwards Connor Brown and Michael Carcone to the Ottawa Senators for defencemen Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur, forward Aaron Luchuk and a third-round draft pick.

He then signed depth players Jason Spezza, Nick Shore and defender Kevin Gravel. Later in the early evening on Monday, Dubas traded away centre Nazem Kadri, defenceman Calle Rosen and a third-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for blue-liner Tyson Barrie, versatile Alex Kerfoot and a sixth-round choice.

The Flames also were in on acquiring Kadri, offering defenceman T.J. Brodie. But the Barrie deal with Colorado made more sense.

The Avalanche will retain half of Barrie's salary, which somewhat helps alleviate the Maple Leafs cap problems. But according to capfriendly.com, Toronto has slightly more than $11 million in cap space, but they still need to sign restricted free agents Ceci, Kerfoot and Mitch Marner.

Barrie drastically improves the Maple Leafs top four on the blue-line, which now consists of left shots Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin along with the right shots of Barrie and Ceci.

But have the Maple Leafs grit level improved enough? Like the Blues and Bruins discovered in the past 12 months, you can predict but more often than not you don't know the answers to these questions until the following spring.