NHL free agency: Recent bargains and busts

Ex-Toronto Maple Leafs exec Brian Burke once said GMs make more mistakes on July 1 than any other date. The NHL free agency period opens Wednesday, with GMs seeking a bargain while trying to avoid the next bust.

Dubnyk a steal at $800,000; Clarkson, Weiss overpaid

From left, goalie Devan Dubnyk and forwards Radim Vrbata and David Clarkson are memorable free-agent signings from recent summers for different reasons. Arizona paid Dubnyk $800,000 and then traded him in mid-January and watched him guide Minnesota to a 28-9-3 finish with a 1.78 GAA. Vrbata set career highs in assists and points with Vancouver this seasons while Clarkson was a bust for two years in Toronto, which traded him to Columbus.

Brian Burke has said plenty during his years working in the National Hockey League, whether it was about his players, coaches, referees, the draft or issues in the game.

But the ex-Toronto Maple Leafs general manager got the attention of many when he told reporters the following in July 2011: "I think our group [of GMs] make more mistakes July 1 than we do the rest of the year all together."

July 1, or Canada Day, is when the NHL free agency period begins.

Below, we look at the good and bad moves in recent years.

3 top pickups

DEVAN DUBNYK, G (2014-15 salary cap hit: $800,000)

A steal at $800,000 US this past season, Dubnyk likely would have commanded around $5 million on the free market, but he chose to stay in Minnesota for six years and a reported $26 million. After the former Edmonton Oiler was waived by Nashville last season, Dubnyk had a strong start to this season in Arizona before Minnesota acquired him in mid-January. Dubnyk guided the Wild to a 28-9-3 finish with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage, was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as top goalie and finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting as NHL MVP.

RADIM VRBATA, RW (2014-15 cap hit: $5 million)

Leaving Arizona last summer for a two-year, $10 million US deal in Vancouver proved to be the right move for the 34-year-old as Vrbata set career highs with the Canucks in assists (32), points (63) and shots (267) while playing the right side on the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Vrbata's presence was also a big reason Vancouver's power play improved from 23rd last season to ninth as 12 of his team-high 31 goals and 23 of 63 points came with the man advantage.

ANTON STRALMAN, D (2014-15 cap hit: $4.5 million)

While it was his defence partner, Victor Hedman, who garnered much of the attention in the 2015 playoffs, Stralman was no slouch. The 28-year-old Swede starred for Tampa Bay early in the season when Hedman was nursing a hand injury and topped Lightning defencemen at season's end with 39 points (a career high), 14 power-play points for the No. 14-ranked unit and 138 shots. Stralman was second on the Lightning in average ice time at 21 minutes 56 seconds, trailing only Hedman (22:41). He also made an outstanding save in the first week of the season, denying Montreal's Jiri Sekac of his first NHL goal.

Honourable mention

Daniel Winnik, C (2014-15 cap hit: $1.3 million)

Brad Richards, C (2014-15 cap hit: $2 million)

Brian Boyle, C (2014-15 cap hit: $2 million)

3 bad signings

DAVID CLARKSON (2014-15 cap hit: $5.25 million)

After signing a seven-year deal worth $36.8 million two years ago, many Toronto Maple Leafs fans expected the former New Jersey Devils superpest to regain his 30-goal form, or at least come close. Instead, Clarkson looked lost in a Leafs jersey, scoring a combined 15 goals and 26 points in 118 regular-season games over two seasons. Clarkson also didn't play with the edge he did in New Jersey, where he topped 100 penalty minutes in four of six seasons. The Leafs traded Clarkson on Feb. 26 to Columbus, where he went scoreless in three games before tearing an oblique (rib cage) muscle and missing the rest of the season.

STEPHEN WEISS (2014-15 cap hit: $4.9 million)

The Toronto native played at least 74 games in six of his first seven years with the Florida Panthers but has played just 78 regular-season contests since Detroit signed Weiss to a five-year, $24.5 million contract in the summer of 2013. He was hampered by a groin injury in his first season with the Red Wings, scoring two goals and four points in 26 games. This past season, Weiss had 25 points in 52 games but was scratched for all but two of Detroit's playoff games and isn't sure he'll have a role with the team next season.

DAVE BOLLAND (2014-15 cap hit: $5.5 million)

After last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs couldn't commit to the centre beyond $5 million per season, so Bolland signed on with the Florida Panthers for five years and $27.5 million, perhaps the worst deal handed out last summer. This, after Bolland spent much of the 2013-14 season sidelined following ankle tendon surgery. The 29-year-old suited up for 53 regular-season games this past season but was largely ineffective, recording six goals, 23 points and a 7.9 shooting percentage while averaging 16 minutes 21 seconds of ice time.

Honourable mention

Nathan Horton, RW (2014-15 cap hit: $5.3 million)

Benoit Pouliot, LW (2014-15 cap hit: $4 million)

Paul Stastny, C (2014-15 cap hit: $7 million)

Ales Hemsky, RW (2014-15 cap hit: $4 million)

Brian Gionta, RW (2014-15 cap hit: $4.25 million)


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