The NHL free agency period isn’t a week old yet and the winners and losers are all but decided. There are a few decent mid-level players available on the market, but the trophies have been brought into the fold already, so let's take a look at a few players from each group and discuss the fantasy impact of these moves.
Winner: Dallas Stars
Dallas has addressed a few areas that the team sorely needed to fill. Even before free agency, the Stars traded for and then signed netminder Ben Bishop, and he fills the glaring holes in net from its previous residents. At the beginning of free agency, the Stars went out and added former Senators defenseman Marc Methot, whose stock rose greatly this past postseason partially due to his shut-down play and partially to him riding the coattails of all world teammate Erik Karlsson. Either way, both player and team benefit from the move, as Dallas was putrid in their own end last season, and dropped from 109 points to 69 points in the process.
Along with adding Methot, Dallas added 30-year-old bulldozer Martin Hanzel (3-year, $14.25 million) from the Minnesota Wild, and his presence will certainly add to an offense that was dying for some secondary scoring. If that was not enough, the Stars signed former Montreal Canadian Alexander Radulov for five years at $5.75 million per season. Dallas now boasts five high-end forwards with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Martin Hanzel and Radulov.
All this new-found firepower and a shutdown defender was certainly the all chips in move Dallas fans were waiting on, and in a weaker Western Conference, Dallas is one of the first names back on our tongues again as potential Campbell Conference winners.
Winner: Calgary Flames
With everyone glaring at the trophies piling up in Connor McDavid’s locker, Calgary was quietly going about their business on July 1, and along with adding Arizona goaltender Mike Smith to take over the reins and right the ship, Calgary re-signed defenseman Michael Stone. The icing on the Calgary cake was the swap for Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, albeit at a steep price, a first rounder and two second rounders. Calgary now boasts one of the deepest and most talented corps of rearguards in the NHL with Hamonic, Stone, Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie. Combine this excellent defense with the up and coming high flying forwards, and Calgary is right in the mix for the playoffs again for seasons to come.
Loser: Pittsburgh Penguins
Sorry Pens fans, it cannot all be puppy dogs and unicorns after going back-to-back. The losses that have been dealt to the Pens lineup over the past two weeks will make it very tough sledding for a three-peat in the City of Champions. Losing longtime and three-time Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury to Vegas in the Expansion Draft was just the opening salvo. Then on July 1, the Penguins lost Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey all to free agency. Then replacing Flower as Matt Murray's primary back-up with the walking goal giver Antti Niemi only means to me that Murray will play 70 games this upcoming season. Pittsburgh wasn’t the only loser out of the East giants though.
Loser: Washington Capitals
You just cannot lose three of your top six playoff defensemen and not feel that punch in the stomach. Sure, the Caps inked T.J. Oshie and have his fine scoring touch back in the mix, but they let aging veteran Justin Williams return to Carolina, which I really like for the Canes. But back to the losses on the back end. Kevin Shattenkirk, who was considered the crowned jewel of the free-agent class, is now a New York Ranger, and like most, I figured as much. Then letting Karl Alzer, the best shut-down defender in the free agent class, leave for Montreal hurts plenty, and losing young Nate Schmidt to Vegas in the expansion draft made zero sense to me. It’s time to nip these No Movement Clauses in the bud and deal the players you’d rather get rid of.
Washington wasn’t getting past the second round with the group they had, so maybe Caps management is taking a new approach in hurdling the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.
There are still some mid-management players available for the right price in free-agency. But most have seen too many winters or their production has dwindled to the point where it’s more cost efficient for teams to play their entry level contract kids instead so that they can gain the experience needed to succeed at the pro level.
You can always reach me @PolkaPat to talk hockey, and read more of my thoughts at Fighting Chance Sports.