All the festivities of July 1st will be happening in October this year, at least for the sports world. Now that the signings have all slowed down, it is time to figure out who won and who lost free agency this year. Just to preface this article, I will be doing my rankings based on positional upgrades and downgrades and contract values.
Edmonton Oilers: Winner
Ken Holland made some great depth signings and definitely improved the team from last year. I loved the signing of Dominik Kahun. Kahun split time between Buffalo and Pittsburgh last year playing 56 games tallying 12 goals and 19 assists, on a one-year deal worth $975,000 the Oilers got a steal. In addition to an over half-point per game player, Kahun has some history with Leon Drasaitl, whether he gets some playing time with him is yet to be seen but that is for sure a bonus.
The Oilers’ also shored up their defense a bit with the addition of Tyson Barrie. Now, Barrie has been a liability on defense but he brings a much-needed offensive surge to the hurting d-corpse since Chris Pronger over a decade ago. He didn’t come cheap like Kahun but at $3.75 million for one year, you can’t complain. Comparing him to the Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Schultz signings, Barrie is a steal for the Oilers.
Vancouver Canucks: Loser
Jim Benning did not do anything spectacular at all. He lost Jakob Markstrom, arguably the best goalie in the league, for nothing. Now, to be fair he was in a difficult spot with the expansion draft coming after the following season and he has two great young goalie prospects, but is Thatcher Demko really ready to take on full-time starting minutes? I don’t think so, and neither does Jim Benning since he brought in Braden Holtby. The Holtby contract isn’t the greatest but he needed to bring somebody in. After playing 48 games for the Capitals while posting a .897 sv% and a 3.11 GAA, a $4.3 million is a big contract on those stats.
Now the defense is a big problem for the Canucks. They did bring in Nate Schmidt from the Golden Knights via a trade, but they lost far more than they gained. The Canucks lost Oscar Fantenberg, Troy Stetcher, and Chris Tanev. Two of their top four defensemen are now out of the picture. In comparison to the start of last season, the Canucks are not in as good of a spot.
Buffalo Sabres: Winner
Kevyn Adams is a new GM for the Sabres, who took the position in June of this year. That being said, he made some good moves in his first free-agent frenzy. His biggest move was bringing former Hart trophy winner Taylor Hall in on a one year deal worth $8 million. This brought a much-needed resurgence to the forward group in Buffalo where Jack Eichel has been desperate for an elite winger to be able to play with. With the flat cap, we saw a lot of NHL players take a one year deal on a value deal to wait for a bigger payday next year. Hall played with the Devils at the start of the year but got dealt to the Coyotes at the deadline. Between the two teams, he put up 52 points in 65 games. Now he will have a fresh start in Buffalo with an elite centre he hasn’t had since his time in Edmonton.
The Sabres re-signed a lot of solid players but my favourite signing from them was Victor Olofsson in his first full season in the league he played 54 games and found the back of the net 20 times and finished the season with 42 points. The Sabres locked Olofsson up for two years totalling $6.1 million. The Sabres managed to improve their team without losing many players, all the while keeping almost three and a half million dollars in cap space.
Washington Capitals: Loser
Brian MacLellan had a rough free agency. He brought in Justin Schultz from Pittsburgh. Schultz is an offensive defenseman who is a liability on defence, on a two year deal with a four million dollar AAV. Looking at other defensemen who signed around or lower than this pay grade the Capitals definitely could have done better. Schultz played 49 games this year and only managed to put up 12 points. In the 2020 playoffs, he put up a measly one point in four games. This was a bad overpayment on the Capitals end.
Goaltending slipped as a result of Braden Holtby leaving to Vancouver. In an attempt to take the pressure off of their young goalie Ilya Samsonov they brought in an ageing, underperforming Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist’s contract isn’t awful at $1.5 million but is not the greatest. Last year he posted a 10-12 losing record with a 3.16 GAA in 30 games. If the Capital’s want to win next year they need either of their goalies to step-up and fill in the gap that got wider when Holtby left. I do not foresee the Capitals making the playoffs year when prior to free agency they were still a Stanley Cup contender.