The NHL‘s free agency window opened on July 1, and teams quickly made their mark. Several teams understood the assignment, bringing in players to right the ship and turn things around. Conversely, some questionable deals were handed out, making us question what general managers were thinking.
After the first week of free agency, we’re breaking down some winners and losers.
Toronto Maple Leafs
It was quite the about-face for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The perennial underachievers came out of the gates with one of the worst opening days of the offseason. But they followed up one of the worst signings of the past few years with three of the best, setting the team up for another run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Let’s get this out of the way. The Maple Leafs don’t need three years of Ryan Reaves. Hell, they don’t even need one. However, Brad Treliving followed that up with three significant moves. First, the team inked John Klingberg to a one-year, $4.15 million deal. Just last year, Klingberg sought a maximum-term contract at $7 million per. Getting him at nearly half that is a big win for the Leafs.
Subsequently, Toronto signed forwards Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi to one-year contracts, solidifying their top six. Bertuzzi is projected to skate on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, while Domi, John Tavares, and William Nylander (for now) form the second unit.
Barring any trades, the Leafs will start next season with one of the best forwards corps in the NHL. This could be their final chance with their core four to make this work. They’ve got the supporting cast around them to make this their most successful campaign yet.
The Colorado Avalanche had a lot to do this offseason. The once-removed Stanley Cup Champions started the offseason with 18 free agents, most of whom were regular contributors. More importantly, their bottom six needed to be rebuilt to avoid losing ground in the competitive Western Conference. Colorado didn’t disappoint, making a bevy of prominent signings.
Inevitably, the Avs were going to lose a few players this off-season. J.T. Compher signed with the Detroit Red Wings, Lars Eller is off to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Erik Johnson inked a deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Still, Avalanche General Manager Christopher MacFarland ensured those holes were filled with adequate replacements.
In a retained transaction trade, Colorado acquired Ryan Johansen from the Nashville Predators. Subsequently, the team signed Jonathan Drouin and Miles Wood as unrestricted free agents before re-upping Bowen Byram and Jack Johnson. Factor in a few two-way contracts and veterans, and the Avalanche are building for another run.
The outlook at the start of the offseason was bleak, but the Avs took care of business and are re-loaded for next year.
New York Rangers
A handful of NHL veterans hope to prove they can make it anywhere. The New York Rangers made a run last year, coming up short in the postseason. Their core remains intact, and they’ve reinforced their roster with a competitive group of veterans with a history of winning.
Blake Wheeler and Nick Bonino were brought in as unrestricted free agents, while Jimmy Vesey re-signed with the Broadway Blueshirts early in free agency. All three forwards will be expected to deliver in the bottom six, serving as solid two-way players with above-average offensive abilities.
Moreover, New York bolstered their backend, adding Erik Gustafsson on the blue line and Jonathan Quick between the pipes. Quick showed he was a capable backup, joining the Vegas Golden Knights partway through last season. With Igor Shesterkin patrolling the blue paint in his prime years, the Rangers only need to get the bare minimum out of Quick. Similarly, Gustafsson should prove not to be a liability and make his signing worthwhile.
The Rangers are built to win now. Their discounted signings through the opening week of free agency ensure their competitive window stays open.
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