Having free agency start on October 9th, a random Friday during what would normally be the first weeks of the NHL season, was a fitting time for all of the major albatross deals to get handed out in 2020.
The Colorado Avalanche signed a handful of free agent deals, but no one that moved the needle at the NHL level on the first day - probably a good thing, given what some GMs decided to do.
During a quiet day in Denver, the Avs re-signed Sheldon Dries while bringing in Michael Vicchione, Kiefer Sherwood and Miikka Salomäki on two-way contracts.
That said, it’s likely not a coincidence that the Avalanche were very quiet on a day when the two biggest UFAs went unsigned. Could Joe be working on something big?
The big news, though, was all the goaltender signings. Some of the league’s most well-known names in net were on the move, with what was less of a goaltending carousel and more of a goaltending roller coaster. Here’s the quick run down:
The King is out in New York, but staying in the Metro in an expected move. Henrik Lundqvist, who was bought out of the final year of his deal after fifteen years with the New York Rangers, has signed a one year deal to join the Washington Capitals and help provide veteran presence for youngster Ilya Samsonov.
It’s a unique situation, because he’ll be replacing another goaltending giant in Braden Holtby after Holtby’s own struggles this past season. The Capitals likely hope that Lundqvist can bounce back - but all the data-scraping numbers point to the Capitals struggling defensively nearly as much last season as the Rangers did. It’s a low-cost deal for Washington, but might not pan out for Lundqvist if he’s looking for an easier environment.
Speaking of Holtby: the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner inked a new deal of his own on Friday, heading to the Vancouver Canucks to replace the departed Jacob Markström. His deal, which will cost Vancouver $4.3 million per season over each of the next two years, should help provide some veteran presence for Thatcher Demko while costing less than Markström was hoping for. Holtby’s numbers last season weren’t all that eye-catching, but the chance to work with Ian Clark could be what helps him turn things around.
Markström may be gone for Vancouver, but he didn’t travel far. He hopped one province over to ink a monster free agent deal of his own, signing for six years at $6 million per season with the Calgary Flames. Calgary has been in desperate need of some goaltending stability for years now, so it’s understandable that they were willing to be one of the big players in the goaltending market. But the length of the Markström deal, coupled with some hesitation among members of the goaltending community regarding what Markström can do away from Ian Clark, make the deal a bit of a gamble nonetheless.
Staying in the Central Division, the Chicago Blackhawks shocked fans and pundits alike when they announced that goaltender Corey Crawford would not get re-signed by the team.
Instead, they stayed in house but younger, signing free agent Malcolm Subban to an inexpensive extension after failing to give him his qualifying offer.
He’ll presumably tandem with Collin Delia, while Corey Crawford heads out east - to New Jersey. Crawford inked a two year deal with the Devils worth $3.9 million per season, where he’ll be the veteran working alongside the up-and-coming MacKenzie Blackwood.
The player he’ll be replacing? That’s Cory Schneider - who was bought out by New Jersey just before free agency, and is one of the goaltenders still left on the market.
Another free agent who still doesn’t have a home? Mike Smith - who hasn’t inked anywhere yet, and whose team last year, the Edmonton Oilers, didn’t find a new backup to replace him yet either. Rumor has it he’d be willing to head back there on a cheap deal - so the west may have the world’s current most intimidating goaltender still hanging around for yet another season.
Along with the craziness of the goalie carousel, a number of big name defenders will have new teams going into next season. The Calgary Flames signed Chris Tanev to replace TJ Brodie who has moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brodie will be taking a place on the right side of Toronto’s top-4 that was previously occupied by Tyson Barrie - who hasn’t signed yet but is expected to ink a deal with the Edmonton Oilers before the end of the weekend.
Speaking of division rivals, the St. Louis Blues made some big news yesterday when they signed Tory Krug to a huge 7 year, $45,5m contract. With Krug taking the money in St. Louis and the Maple Leafs choosing Brodie to fill their hole on the right side - and eat up what cap space they had remaining - it seem as though Alex Pietrangelo is destined to sign with the Vegas Golden Knights. The star defender is taking his time but of the three main suitors, Vegas is the only one who didn’t make a big splash with a RD yesterday.
There’s another name floating around the market, who didn’t change hands but might just be up for grabs. Tyler Johnson, once considered one of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s biggest stars, was placed on waivers on Friday morning. It’s clear Tampa wants to wiggle their way into more cap space - but the way they’re trying to do it certainly raised some eyebrows.
Finally, speaking of raised eyebrows - it seemed like Taylor Hall was tied to just about every team with cap space ahead of free agency. But the former Edmonton star isn’t rushing his decision; when all the dust settled on Friday night, he still didn’t have a new team. There has been a lot of talk that he would be looking for the “right fit” and that Hall will be taking far more than money into consideration. As the weekend starts, Calgary, Columbus, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo and Colorado seem to be the teams most likely to sign then former Hart Trophy winner.
Another player who doesn’t have a new team, and might be mirroring some thoughts from others around the league? Michael Grabner, who was recently bought out by the Arizona Coyotes. The Austrian winger, who had been candid in his hesitation to head to the bubble for the playoffs due to the pandemic, made it clear on Friday that he wouldn’t be signing anywhere until the start of the upcoming season was a little clearer. He wants to wait and see what’s best for him, his family, and their safety and comfort - and it’s easy to imagine that he isn’t the only player thinking about that right now.