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NHL Free Agency: 10 things we learned on a crazy July 1

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As far as free agency signing days go this July 1 turned out to be one of the wilder ones we have seen in years.

The New York Rangers landed a star, the Montreal Canadiens utilized the offer sheet option, there was a blockbuster trade that significantly altered two potential Stanley Cup contenders, and one general manager uttered one of the weirdest quotes you will ever read regarding a signing.

We take a look at all of those storylines and more with 10 things we learned on a crazy free agent signing day.

1. Montreal’s offer sheet did not go far enough

Credit to Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens for exploring every possible option when it comes to trying to make their team better. It has been far too long since a team signed a restricted free agent offer sheet, and when word first surfaced that the Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho there was an immediate sense of excitement that free agency was about to get interesting … right up until the terms of the deal were released.

The five-year offer comes with a salary cap hit of $8.45 million per season and would require the Canadiens to give up a first, second, and third-round pick if the Hurricanes do not match.

It is an offer the Hurricanes seem almost certain to match, especially given the reaction of general manager Don Waddell at his press conference discussing the offer. Waddell said he was surprised the offer was not higher, and that he may take all seven days to decide on whether or not to match it because it may prevent Montreal from signing other players and he may not want to help them out. He also joked that it saved him a lot of time because now he will not have to spend the summer negotiating a new contract. Those are the words of a general manager who is confident and comfortable in what he is doing. He is matching.

The Canadiens capped their offer at $8.45 million per season because going any higher would have increased the compensation to two first-round picks as long as it remained under $10.568 million (anything higher than that would require four first-round draft picks).

The first question here is if you are going to go this direction, why make an offer that can so easily be matched? Given how good Aho is, it’s not like he wouldn’t be worth a $9-10 million contract for the next five or six years, especially since he will be in the prime of his career at his peak level of production. He is a star with the best days of his career directly in front of him.

The second question is why not target a player on a team in a more dire salary cap situation? It was reported on Monday by Pierre LeBrun that the Canadiens had also considered making an offer to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point before focussing on Aho.

Had the Canadiens made a similar offer to Point (who also would have been worth it) the Lightning would have almost certainly had to clear salary cap space in another move just to create enough room to match it.

It was a great idea in theory and a bold move. It was simply not bold enough.

2. The New York Rangers are back in business

At least one team that calls Madison Square Garden home was able to finish the deal and lure in a top free agent this summer.

The Rangers paid a significant price for Artemi Panarin, but it continued what has been a potentially franchise-shifting offseason for the team.

One year ago they were telling their fans to prepare for a lengthy and painful rebuild.

This summer they added a bonafide star (Panarin), a potential star (Kaapo Kakko), and a top-four defender in Jacob Trouba.

Is that enough to get back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2019-20? Maybe not, especially in a Metropolitan Division that is setting itself up to be a complete free-for-all, but all of it definitely puts the rebuild on an accelerated path.

Free agency is always a risk and more often than not the long-term contracts signed on July 1 are going to end up as buyouts or trade fodder a couple of years down the line, but Panarin is the rare exception that it is worth it to go all in on. He still has several more years as an elite player, and in his first four years in the league has proven to be one of the best and most productive forwards in the league.

If you are going to hand out a big contract, you better make sure it is a star and an impact player.

The Rangers did that.

3. The Maple Leafs and Avalanche both got what they needed

Congratulations to Tyson Barrie for finally getting his hame removed from the “always on the trading block but never actually traded” list.

He is on the move to Toronto, along with Alexander Kerfoot, in the blockbuster deal that sends Nazem Kadri to the Avalanche.

It continued what was an extremely active day for the Maple Leafs that saw them overturn a significant chunk of their roster for two very big reasons: Clearing salary cap space to secure restricted free agent Mitch Marner, and also improving a defense that was the obvious Achilles heel of the team the past couple of years.

With the departures of Jake Gardiner (well, he is likely to depart) and Ron Hainsey in free agency, as well as the trade of Nikita Zaitsev to Ottawa, there were an awful lot of holes on that Toronto defense.

There had to be another shoe to drop.

The other shoe was Barrie.

He is a massive addition to the Maple Leafs’ defense and gives them a very formidable top-three along with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin. The fact Colorado is picking up half of Barrie’s contract also helps given Toronto’s salary cap situation.

As for Colorado, Kadri gives the Avalanche a great second-line center to play behind Nathan MacKinnon, and along with the free addition of Joonas Donskoi greatly improves their forward depth.

Kadri is an outstanding player due to his shutdown defensive play and 30-goal potential, but his inability to control himself proved costly for the Maple Leafs in consecutive postseasons.

If he can stick to playing hockey without crossing the line and getting himself suspended at the worst possible time he is going to help.

Losing Barrie hurts, but the Avalanche have an exciting crop of young defenders coming through the pipeline that are ready to make an impact in the NHL with Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram all ready to take over.

They also have an absurd amount of salary cap space and could still complete another move to replace Barrie. They are still in business and still building something that could be special.

[Related: Maple Leafs, Avalanche make blockbuster trade involving Kadri, Barrie]

4. The Penguins did not learn their lesson

For the second year in a row the Penguins gave a bottom-of-the-lineup role player a long-term contract that defies pretty much any and all logic given their roster and salary cap situation.

Signing Brandon Tanev for $3.5 million per season is, on its own, probably a defensible signing. The cap hit is not terrible, and probably not far from what someone of his skillset should get on the open market. He will do nothing for your offense, but he is a good defensive player, he can kill penalties, he plays hard, he can help you form a good fourth line. There is nothing wrong with him as a player. But as I argued on Sunday following the Phil Kessel trade, the key for the Penguins was always going to be what they did with their newly acquired salary cap space and how efficiently they could use it.

They failed.

There is no reason to give a fourth-liner a six-year contract, just as there is no reason to give a third-pairing defender a five-year contract, just as there is no reason to acquire another third-pairing defender that makes $4 million per season.

On their own, each of them is a little mistake and a small mis-use of limited salary cap space.

On their own, none of them alters the franchise in a positive or negative direction.

But when you add all of them together all of those little mistakes turn into one big mistake and suddenly a team that is constantly talking about how tight the salary cap is and how little wiggle room they have under has more than $10 million committed to bottom-line, replacement level players.

Despite the general managers insistence they still have holes on defense, especially when it comes to moving the puck, and they are still going too far in their quest to be “tough to play against” and finding “pushback.”

Tom Wilson broke them three years ago and he is still in their heads today.

5. The Canucks are still a rudderless ship

The Canucks have an emerging superstar in Elias Pettersson and another top-line player in Brock Boeser.

That is great.

But then what?

General manager Jim Benning seems to be stuck between trying to orchestrate a rebuild while also still trying to put a winning team on the ice, but hasn’t picked a direction or done a good enough job with either approach to send them toward a set path.

They paid a steep price to get J.T. Miller in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning at the draft, and while he’s a fine player he doesn’t do anything to move the needle in a meaningful direction.

On Monday, he gave Tyler Myers a huge contract that you might want to say is a buyout waiting to happen, except it is a contract that is loaded with signing bonuses which pretty much makes it buyout proof.

In the end, the Canucks seem destined toward another season where they finish 24th or 25th in the league standings and miss the playoffs by a mile, but are not quite bad enough to get the best lottery odds.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

6. Florida had money to spend and got one of its targets

The Panarin-Sergei Bobrovsky package deal didn’t work out, but the Panthers at least got one of them.

But did they get the right one?

Bobrovsky definitely fills a much bigger need in the short-term as the team’s new No. 1 goalie, but he carries significantly more risk given his age and the position he plays.

He is definitely the more boom-or-bust signing.

As long as Bobrovsky is at his peak and playing at the level he has shown over the past seven years he could be the missing piece to get the Panthers back in the playoffs as soon as this season.

But how long do you trust a soon-to-be 31-year-old goalie to play at such a level?

If he doesn’t, they are on the hook for a massive salary cap hit at one of the most impactful and important positions on the ice.

The other intriguing layer to this is the Panthers just used their first-round pick on … a goalie.

Obviously you are not going to draft for need in the NHL draft because most players are so far away from making an impact and you just want the best player that you think has the best chance to become a star. But goalie is a little different because you only get one of them on the ice at a time, and the Panthers just their first-round pick on a player that, in an ideal world, they will not need to count on and rely on for another five or six years.

Not saying it is wrong. Not saying it is bad. It is just … interesting.

7. Jim Nill makes his yearly big splash

Another year, another offseason championship for Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars.

Every year he finds a way to bring in big-name players, and he pulled it off again with Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.

Perry is a total wild card but there is almost no commitment to him or risk with that signing. If he turns out to be done, the Stars don’t really lose anything. Maybe they catch lightning in a bottle and can squeeze some value out of him.

Pavelski seems destined to follow the path Patrick Marleau took when he left San Jose by being really good for one more year, just okay for the second year, and then be a potential buyout before year three.

He could still make a major impact this season.

8. Minnesota is still a total mystery

The Wild have made some strange moves over the past year, gutting their roster of veterans in an effort to get younger and cheaper, and then turning around this offseason and trying to acquire more veteran, big-money players.

They tried and failed to get Phil Kessel.

They succeeded in getting Mats Zuccarello on a five-year, $30 million contract, resulting in one of the weirdest comments you will ever read from an NHL general manager.

That is your general manager, Minnesota.

You are in … some kind of hands?

9. The Islanders are stuck in neutral

By re-signing captain Anders Lee they managed to bring back three of their top unrestricted free agent forwards (Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson being the other two), and that is obviously a big deal even if Lee’s contract looks like a potential long-term trap given his age.

Other than that, there isn’t much happening here for this team.

They missed out on Panarin, the circumstances around the departure of Robin Lehner creates more questions than answers, while they replaced him with an older, more injury-prone, and probably lesser goalie in Semyon Varlamov and then committed four years and $20 million to him.

As it stands right now, they are bringing back mostly the same team — one that struggled to score goals — with a different goalie.

This will be a big test on whether the Islanders success in 2018-19 was goalie driven, or if it really was the work of Barry Trotz and his defensive system behind the bench.

10. The Blackhawks are not comfortable with Corey Crawford‘s health

What other conclusion can you jump to after the signing of Robin Lehner?

When healthy Crawford is a top goalie in the league and one of the most impactful players on the Blackhawks roster. He has been the difference between the team winning and losing for the better part of the past two years … when he plays.

The problem is he has not always been available due to injury and they have not had anyone capable of even coming close to replacing him.

Given their other offseason additions (Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan, re-acquiring Andrew Shaw) it is pretty clear the Blackhawks are trying to win now and re-open their window for contention with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith. Given that, you don’t sign a potential starting goalie if you are completely comfortable with the status of your current goalie.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Kreider, Panarin push Rangers past Blackhawks

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The New York Rangers don’t want to see key pieces sold off at the NHL Trade Deadline in the coming days.

The Blueshirts have seen impact players such as Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash and others shown the door this time of year the past two seasons and hope their 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday can change Jeff Gorton’s mind.

Chris Kreider had three points and Artemi Panarin recorded his 30th goal of the season in the Rangers’ fourth victory in the previous five games.

“We got to make the GM’s job tough and wins like this will do that,” Ryan Strome told Bryan Boucher on NBCSN following the game.

Dominik Kubalik scored twice and Drake Caggiula added another, but the Blackhawks fell for the second consecutive game and for the seventh time in the last eight games.

Value of Rangers assets keeps increasing

Kreider is the top rental available and the Rangers’ front office hopes a bidding war develops over the next few days. The speedy power forward converted a slick breakaway midway through the third period which turned into the eventual game-winner.

NHL insider Bob McKenzie reported on the pregame show that five teams were interested in Kreider’s services. The Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have expressed interest, according to McKenzie.

In addition to Kreider, the Rangers have several other commodities that could intrigue playoff contenders. Ryan Strome netted his career high 51st point, Pavel Buchnevich scored, and Tony DeAngelo returned to the lineup.

“Honestly, we have been doing a pretty good job,” Strome said when asked about the potential movement. “We have got some guys that have been around and some young guys that are probably a little bit oblivious. That probably helps a little bit.”

The playoffs are a longshot for New York this season, but the question they need to answer internally is, how far away from the postseason are they?

Keith’s milestone assist

The alternate captain has been the foundation of the Chicago Blackhawks defense since arriving in the NHL for the 2005-06 season.

In the second period against the Rangers, Keith delivered a beautiful no-look, cross-ice pass to set up Kubalik’s game-tying goal. It was Keith’s 500th career assist.

Keith became the seventh player in franchise history to reach that accomplishment and joined Doug Wilson as the only defensemen in that group.

The 36-year-old was rightfully included in the 100 Greatest Players in NHL History announced during the League’s centennial celebration and continues to ensure that his No. 2 will float in the rafters with his three Stanley Cup championship banners at the United Center.

 


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Benn ejected for boarding Ekman-Larsson (Video)

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Jamie Benn was ejected midway through the second period for boarding Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes captain stayed down on the ice for an extended period of time before heading directly to the locker room.

Ekman-Larsson did return for the third period.

Due to a rule change this season, the referees had a chance to review the major penalty but confirmed the call and sent Benn off for the remainder of the game.

Ekman-Larsson and Benn had a slight history dating back to December when the Coyotes blueliner caught the Stars captain with a blindside hit.

The NHL Department of Player Safety will certainly take a look and Benn could miss more time in the near future.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers vs. Blackhawks: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With just over six weeks to go in the regular season, the Rangers and Blackhawks find themselves on the wrong side of the playoff dividing line with several teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race. New York currently has three teams to jump ahead of to get into a playoff spot, while Chicago has four

New York’s season-high four-game win streak was snapped on Sunday at MSG against Boston, 3-1, as the Rangers now hit the road for away games in five of their next six contests. Overall, Chicago has lost six of its last seven games (1-4-2) with its sole win coming two games ago at Calgary, an 8-4 affair on Saturday – the Blackhawks most goals scored this season.

New York’s high-priced offseason acquisition, Artemi Panarin (7-year/$81.5M), leads the team in goals (29), assists (49), points (78 – fifth in NHL)– to name a few. The Russian playmaker, who set a career high in pts (87) last season with the Blue Jackets, is on pace to set new highs in goals, assists and points. The 28-year-old began his career with the Blackhawks (undrafted), winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2015-16 before being traded to Columbus after two seasons

Chris Kreider has come on of late with 29 pts in the last 29 games after just 13 points in his first 28 games. Kreider, who is on pace for his first career 30-goal season, is set to become a free agent after this season. There were reports last week that Kreider’s agent and the Rangers have been discussing a possible contract extension, while he has also been linked with a possible trade to his hometown Bruins (from Boxford, Mass.). Kreider was drafted 19th overall by New York in 2009 and has spent his entire career with the Blueshirts.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: New York Rangers at Chicago Blackhawks
WHERE: United Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Rangers-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Artemi Panarin – Ryan StromeJesper Fast
Phil Di GiuseppeFilip ChytilKaapo Kakko
Brendan LemieuxBrett Howden – Julien Gauthier

Brady SkjeiJacob Trouba
Tony DeAngeloMarc Staal
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox

Starting goalie: Igor Shesterkin

BLACKHAWKS
Dominik KubalikJonathan ToewsDrake Caggiula
Brandon SaadRyan CarpenterPatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatKirby DachDylan Strome
Matthew HighmoreDavid KampfAlex Nylander

Duncan KeithAdam Boqvist
Erik GustafssonConnor Murphy
Slater KoekkoekOlli Maatta

Starting goalie: Robin Lehner

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call the action from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Ahmed Fareed will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

The Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary, featuring Al Michaels, who called the momentous matchup in 1980, and Mike Tirico, will premiere on Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 40 years to the month, this 30-minute special will feature Tirico’s wide-ranging conversation with Michaels about the buildup to the game, his iconic call, as well as the legacy of the moment that became bigger than sports and still resonates today.

NHL Trade Deadline primer: Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

Tomas Tatar Trade
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With the NHL trade deadline getting close (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar.

Player: Tomas Tatar
Current Team: Montreal Canadiens
Position: Forward
Contract: One year remaining after this season with a $5.3 million salary cap number.

Why the Canadiens might trade him. If you squint really hard and give it your best effort you can maybe find a decent argument for why it makes sense for the Canadiens to keep Tatar.

He is an excellent player, and a very underrated one. He is signed through the end of next season and is not in danger of leaving as a free agent after this season. He has also been a great fit in Montreal since joining the team at the start of the 2018-19 season after coming over from Vegas in the Max Pacioretty trade. There is also the fact that the Canadiens might still believe they could be a playoff team next season, so it would make sense to keep your good players.

But all of that kind of goes out the window when you look at the current situation and the harsh reality that this team just is not very good.

The Canadiens are on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. They are completely going down the tube this season with five consecutive losses, including a dreadful 4-3 loss to Detroit on Tuesday where they blew a 3-1 lead to go 0-4 for the season against a team that currently has just 15 wins for the season and might be single the worst NHL team of the modern era. On top of that, the Canadiens are going to have a ton of contractual decisions to make over the next two seasons regarding Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher, Philip Danualt, and Jeff Petry.

With Carey Price and Shea Weber signed to monster contracts, they can’t keep everyone.

And given the current situation, why would they keep everyone?

There is also the fact that the price for players with term remaining on their contracts is sky high right now. Pounce while you can.

Teams that could/should be interested. Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders

What he provides. Whether it is traditional box score numbers or a more analytical look, Tatar stacks up extremely well with other top-line two-way wingers around the league. He is on track for a career year offensively this season (close to 30 goals, more than 70 points) and in a normal year is still going to give you 25 goals and 50 points.

His possession numbers have always been strong no matter what team he has played for, and this year they have reached an elite level.

Maybe you have a sour memory of him as a trade deadline acquisition after what happened with him Vegas two years ago, but small sample size decisions lead to mistakes. He is a good player and could be a great addition for a contender.

The Colorado Avalanche would be an intriguing option because they have the salary cap space to take him on and could be in the market for a winger with Mikko Rantanen sidelined (and just to give themselves a better chance to win).

Worth noting that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is in Denver on Wednesday night to watch the Avalanche-Islanders game in person.

Predicted Destination. A team like the Avalanche has a lot to offer and the flexibility to do it, but I have a suspicion that Bergevin is going to set an extremely high price, not get the offer he wants, and stand pat with the belief this team is closer to contending than it actually is.

More NHL Trade Deadline:

• Trade Deadline primer: Chris Kreider
Trade Deadline Primer: Ilya Kovalchuk
• Trade Deadline Primer: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
• Trade Deadline Primer: Joe Thornton
• Trade Deadline Primer: Robin Lehner
• Teams that need to be active at trade deadline

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.