Poll: What were the best/worst free agent signings?

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There are still some noteworthy unrestricted free agents left on the market, but the vast majority of the money that will be spent on UFAs this summer has already been allocated. As is always the case, analysts have debated over what the best and worst signings were, so here’s your chance to have your say.

There are always plenty of contenders when it comes to the worst signings of the summer, but here are five to consider:

Brooks Orpik — Washington signed the defenseman to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. He logged big minutes with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the stay-at-home defenseman will turn 34 in September, so what is currently a questionable cap hit could look very bad in a couple years.

Dave Bolland — The Florida Panthers inked him to a five-year, $27.5 million deal. He’s never recorded more than 47 points and even that was back in 2008-09. On top of that, he has a lengthy injury history, which makes the term questionable. On the other hand, he’s won the Stanley Cup twice and played a meaningful role in both of those championships.

Benoit Pouliot — Seemingly desperate to get bigger, the Edmonton Oilers handed bottom-six forward Pouliot a five-year, $20 million contract. That’s an awful lot of money for a guy that’s probably going to average less than 14 minutes per game.

Nikolai Kulemin — The former 30-goal scorer has only found the back of the net 23 times over the past three seasons, but the New York Islanders still decided he was worthy of a four-year, $16.75 million deal.

Kyle Quincey — The Detroit Red Wings went into the free agent market with ambitions of improving their defense. The big-name defensemen on the market ended up turning them down though and instead they inked Quincey to a two-year, $8.5 million deal.

Have someone else in mind? All the biggest signings were included in the poll and are listed in order of their total contract value:

On a more positive note, here are some names to keep in mind when talking about the best signings of the summer:

Thomas Vanek — He came under fire for his performance in the 2014 playoffs, but Vanek has been a solid first-line winger for most of his career. His new deal with the Wild comes with a $6.5 million cap hit, which isn’t much of a bargain, but the fact that Minnesota got the 30-year-old to agree to just a three-year deal should help them.

Brad Richards — He was a point-per-game player in Dallas, but saw his stock fall considerably with the New York Rangers. Even still, the Chicago Blackhawks might have gotten the steal of the summer when Richards agreed to join them on a one-year, $2 million contract. The Blackhawks were up against the cap, but this move allowed them to address their second-line center vacancy without making significant sacrifices.

Marian Gaborik — He revitalized the Los Angeles Kings’ offense and was played a big role in them winning the Stanley Cup. Despite his lengthy injury history, Gaborik was in a position to cash in big this summer, but he choose to take a smaller annual salary for a longer deal and the luxury of playing with Los Angeles. His seven-year, $34.125 million contract is certainly lucrative and not without it’s risks, but he likely did leave money on the table to help the Kings’ cap situation.

Paul Stastny — The fact that he now has an annual cap hit of $7 million means that he’s obviously not a steal. At the same time, the Blues managed to limit him to a four-year deal that will cover the prime of the 28-year-old’s career. That’s a win for St. Louis considering he was one of the most highly sought after free agents on the market.

Christian Ehrhoff — Like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pittsburgh Penguins were in a difficult cap situation. In Ehrhoff though, they have a potential short-term replacement for Matt Niskanen at the cost of $4 million for the 2014-15 campaign.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.