July 1, 2017 was a very important day in Canadian history. It marked the 150th birthday of Canada and it was a time of celebration for many. Another event that fell on this day was Free Agent Frenzy, which is usually just as important in the minds of Canadians. This year did not have the same quantity of big name players as years prior, but that did not hold the frenzy back from being entertaining.
The big names on the board going into the weekend were Kevin Shattenirk, Alex Radulov, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and a few other decent players. The NHL’s new rule that teams may speak to the free agents a week before they officially hit the open market ensures that most of the top players will be signed by the end of the weekend.
There were no surprises with Shattenkirk signing with the New York Rangers. He had made it quite clear that he wanted to play for his hometown team and will now get a chance to be a big time contributor for them. I think that this is a good signing for the Rangers since they needed help on defence and his contract is pretty reasonable at $6.6 million over the next four years.
The second most sought after free agent, after Shattenkirk, was Alex Radulov. He had a decent year with Montreal last season on a “show me” contract and is now expecting to break the bank. He has yet to sign at this current time, but it is expected that is has come down to the Montreal Canadiens and the Dallas Stars. He would fit in perfectly with either of these teams, but I do not think that he is worth the money and term that he is currently looking for.
Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton always seem to have their names go together in any rumors that come out. They have been linked together forever by their long careers spent in San Jose. At last they will be separated as Marleau signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the next three years and Thornton re-signed in San Jose for one year. Marleau has spent his entire career in San Jose, but he should be a good fit with the Leafs. He will bring a veteran presence to the young team and he can most certainly still play, despite being 37.
There were a few other notable unrestricted free agents that were signed, including Karl Alzner with the Montreal Canadiens and Martin Hanzal with the Minnesota Wild. Where things really got interesting was with a couple of 2018 free agents who signed long term contracts with their teams.
The most notable signing of the weekend was by far Carey Price getting an $86 million contract over the next eight years to stay in Montreal. The AAV of the contract is $10.5 million which means that he is currently tied with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews as the league’s highest paid players. I can understand why this deal was made by the Canadiens, but that does not mean that it is a good deal. They need Price in order to be a playoff team. We have been able to see that over the past few years that they cannot win if he is out injured. He is by far the best goalie in the NHL, but the problem is that the Stanley Cup champions do not win the cup due to a great goalie. It is important to have good goaltending, but it is really the skaters that are the most important in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup. Price is at a point in his career where he is not getting any better and he will soon be regressing. No team wants to have a 38-year-old goalie getting paid $10.5 million since he just will not be good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup. Montreal’s window to win a Stanley Cup is now down to two years in my opinion and even then, I do not believe they are close enough to call it a window.
The other big 2018 UFA signing was Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals. His new contract is worth $62.4 million over eight years and the Capitals are continuously burying themselves in cap trouble. It may be a bit of a longshot, but some people seem to think that this signing is indicating the end of Alex Ovechkin’s time in Washington. It makes sense since the current core is just not succeeding and they may want to hand over the reins to the next generation of Capitals. Regardless of how they clear up some of their cap issues, a key piece may very well be on the move in the not too distant future.
Despite the extra time to work out a contract before July 1, many players remain unsigned. As we wait for the last of the contracts to be worked out, we should take a break from hockey for a while and enjoy what this 150-year-old country has to offer.