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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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Hurricanes advance, Eberle shines and Maple Leafs get even

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  • Thanks to another big game from Sebastian Aho the Carolina Hurricanes are advancing.
  • The Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vancouver Canucks all get even in their series.
  • The Calgary Flames and New York Islanders get one step closer to advancing.

New York Islanders 4, Florida Panthers 2 (Islanders lead series 2-0)

Jordan Eberle scored a pair of goals for the Islanders in 4-2 win as they take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Florida Panthers. The Islanders were able to feast on a sloppy Panthers effort in the second period to take complete control of the series. This has to be disappointing for the Panthers after spending so much money this offseason to try and build this team into a contender. Now they are in a position where they need to win three in a row to move on.

Nashville Predators 4, Arizona Coyotes 2 (Series tied 1-1)

The Predators stuck with Juuse Saros in net and it turned out to be a bit of a role reversal from what we saw in the first game. This time it was Nashville jumping out to the big early lead and holding off a (very) late push to get the win. The Predators received goals from four different players (Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen, Calle Jarnkrok, and Viktor Arvidsson) while Saros stopped 24 out of 26 shots for the win. He shut the Coyotes out for 59 minutes before allowing two goals in the final minute of regulation.

Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 0 (Series tied 1-1)

After a Game 1 clunker the Maple Leafs desperately needed this win. It was not just the fact they were able to bounce back and win, but the way they were able to win. Simply put, they dominated this game from start to finish and had it not been a valiant effort from Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo this could have quickly turned into a blowout. Auston Matthews and John Tavares both scored for the Maple Leafs in the win. The bad news from this game was the scary injury suffered by defenseman Jake Muzzin as he had to be stretchered off the ice late in the third period.

Calgary Flames 6, Winnipeg Jets 2 (Flames lead series 2-1)

The injuries are catching up to the Jets. Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine both missed another game, while Tucker Poolman and Mathieu Perreault were injured in the Jets’ 6-2 loss. It was a huge bounce back game for the Flames as six different players scored goals and Cam Talbot played a great game in net to get them one game closer to advancing.

Carolina Hurricanes 4, New York Rangers 1 (Hurricanes win series 3-0)

The Hurricanes wrapped up a very emphatic and decisive three-game sweep of the New York Rangers on Tuesday night with a 4-1 win to become the first team to advance through the qualifying round. Sebastian Aho scored two more goals including a highlight reel play in the third period (see it below) to finish the series with eight points in the three games. The trio of Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen is going to be a problem for any opponent this postseason.

Vancouver Canucks 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (Series tied 1-1)

The Canucks needed their top-six to come through after a quiet start to the postseason, and they did exactly that on Tuesday night in a 4-3 win. Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, Quinn Hughes, and Alex Edler all had big games to help Vancouver even the series.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. All Eberle has done for the Islanders in his two years with the team is score a bunch of big goals in the playoffs. His two-goal effort on Tuesday helped the Islanders take a commanding 2-0 series lead against the Florida Panthers, while giving him six goals in his first 10 playoff games with the Islanders (dating back to last year’s postseason).

2. James Reimer, Carolina Hurricanes. The last time Reimer started a playoff game he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and on the losing end of an epic Game 7 collapse that saw his team blow a 4-1 third period lead. On Tuesday, he had a much better result on Tuesday. Reimer stopped 37 out of 38 shots — some of them in spectacular fashion — in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 win over the Rangers. It is fitting that this performance took place in, of all places, Toronto.

3. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames. Monahan was the big offensive star for the Flames on Tuesday with a goal and two assists in their win over the Jets. Two of those points (his goal and his first assist) came on the power play as he helped that unit score three goals to drive the offense in the win.

Highlights of the Night

Sebastian Aho had a massive series for the Hurricanes and capped it off with a two-goal effort on Tuesday. This goal is especially beautiful.

This J.T. Miller shot is about as perfect of a shot as you can get off the rush.

This was one of the most incredible sequences for Reimer in his Game 3 performance for the Hurricanes.

Factoids

Wednesday’s Schedule

Game 3: New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Islanders lead 2-0)
Game 3: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 1-1)
Round-Robin: Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Round-Robin: Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)
Game 3: Edmonton Oilers vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)

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.

Canucks top players shine in Game 2 win over Wild

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After getting shut out in Game 1 of their qualifying round series the Vancouver Canucks needed their top players to bounce back with a big game on Tuesday.

They got exactly that type of performance in a 4-3 win to even their series with the Minnesota Wild.

Tanner Pearson opened the scoring for the Canucks just 24 seconds into the first period to get their offense rolling and set the tone for a big night for the team’s top-six group of forwards.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

J.T. Miller‘s goal at the three-minute of the second period — an absolute laser of a snap shot off the rush that picked the corner on Alex Stalock — gave Vancouver 2-1 lead, while Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat all added insurance goals late in the game. Boeser’s goal was the first postseason goal of his career, while standout rookie Quinn Hughes picked up an assist on Horvat’s third period power play goal that would end up going in the books as the game-winner.

Depth is the biggest question mark for this Canucks team and if they are going to have any chance of making any noise this postseason it is going to have to be through their top-six. If that group does not score and carry the offense there really is not much else throughout the lineup that can make up for that.

On Tuesday, Boeser, Miller, Horvat, Pearson, and Elias Pettersson all found the scoresheet, while defenders Hughes and Alex Edler combined for three assists.

Just about the only negative for the Canucks on Tuesday is the fact veteran forwards Micheal Ferland and Antoine Roussel were both injured. Roussel logged just four minutes of ice-time while Ferland played only two minutes.

While the final score looks close, the Canucks were in control of this game for most of the night and held a 4-1 lead until there were two minutes remaining on the clock. It was at that point that Kevin Fiala continued his torrid goal-scoring pace by adding two more goals, giving him 16 goals in his past 15 games dating back to the regular season. He already has three goals in the first two games of the series. His second goal came with just 8.8 seconds to play in regulation.

Game 3 of the series will take place on Thursday afternoon.

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.

Hurricanes complete sweep, eliminate Rangers

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Thanks to their 4-1 win on Tuesday night the Carolina Hurricanes are the first team to advance through the qualifying round.

They eliminated the New York Rangers in a clean three-game sweep in a series that turned out to be a fairly obvious mismatch.

Simply put, the Rangers were no match for Carolina and had no answer for anything they were doing.

The Rangers scored just four goals in the three games and played with the lead for only three minutes in the entire series. Those three minutes came early in the second period of Tuesday’s game when Chris Kreider scored just 12 seconds into the second period to give them a 1-0 lead.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just three minutes later Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen completely an absolutely dominant shift by his line by beating Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin with a backhander from the slot.

It was Shesterkin’s first start of the series after missing the first two games. He played well, but did not get anywhere near enough support from the team in front of him. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort. It was just the simple fact that Carolina is a faster, more talented, and better team and it was on display throughout the entire series.

Given the way they played in this series the Hurricanes are looking like a team that nobody in the Eastern Conference is going to want to play this postseason. They are already coming off of a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final a year ago and have one of the league’s most exciting young cores in place. Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Sebastian Aho all shined in this series and played at a dominant level, while the Hurricanes’ defense was smothering even though it received zero minutes from one of its top players in Dougie Hamilton.

Aho was especially dominant during the season, scoring two more goals on Tuesday to finish with seven points.

His first goal of the game was a highlight reel goal that helped put the game out of reach.

He added an empty net goal later in the game.

James Reimer got his first start of the postseason for the Hurricanes and played brilliantly, stopping 37 shots in the win.

As for the Rangers, they now return home and will have a 12.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall draft pick in the second phase of the NHL’s draft lottery.

This was always going to be a rebuilding year for them, and there were some very promising developments along the way, but it was clear in this series they are not quite ready to be a contender and have some significant holes that need addressed. With Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Adam Fox, and Shesterkin there is a strong core in place, but the depth and the defense need a lot of help.

It also seems entirely possible — if not likely — that their Game 2 loss on Monday could have been the final game Henrik Lundqvist plays for the Rangers.

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (Hurricanes win series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1

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.

Flames bounce back with Game 3 rout, push Jets to brink

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This time the Calgary Flames were able to take advantage of a shorthanded Winnipeg Jets team.

After dropping Game 2 on Monday, the Flames bounced back on Tuesday evening with a 6-2 rout in Game 3 of their qualifying round series to take a 2-1 series lead, pushing the Jets to the brink of elimination.

They will have a chance to close out the series in Game 4 from Edmonton on Thursday.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Jets were once again without the services of star forwards Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, and the lack of firepower caught up with them in a big way on Tuesday. Nikolaj Ehlers did strike with an early goal (his second in as many games) to give them an early lead, but it would prove to be a short-lived advantage as Calgary’s Elias Lindholm scored the equalizer just 14 seconds later.

The Jets would never regain the lead.

The Flames ended up getting goals from six different players, and it was an especially big day for some of their top stars.

Sean Monahan finished with three points (a goal and two assists), while Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane, and Lindholm all had two points, while Matthew Tkachuk and Milan Lucic also added goals.

Starting goalie Cam Talbot stopped 33 out of 35 shots in the win.

This was always going to be a tough series for the Jets to get through even before the injuries started to pile up in Game 1. They have a limited defense and were going to need Conor Hellebuyck to carry them in net. When you take two players as good as Scheifele and Laine out of the equation, it eliminates pretty much any room they may have had for error. Without them recipe is going to have to look exactly like Monday’s Game 2 win with great goaltending and just enough offense to scratch out a win. They did not get either of those elements on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen if Scheifele or Laine will be ready for Thursday’s game.

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.