NHL free agency can be a difficult thing for general managers to navigate. They think they are adding the missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle but are often times overpaying a player who will one day have to bought out or traded. Sometimes, though, teams make it work. Here we take a look at the winners and losers of the 2019 NHL free agency period. This is ONLY focusing on free agents and not the draft or trades.
It has been a strong offseason for the Sabres, who re-signed Jeff Skinner and added Jimmy Vesey and Colin Miller via trade. They also dipped into the free agency pool by getting Marcus Johansson on a cheap deal from the Boston Bruins. They are still probably a long way from the playoffs, but they took a nice step closer this summer.
The Flames had one major flaw on their roster during the 2018-19 season in net: goalie. They attempted to address it but did so in a rather disappointing way by signing Cam Talbot, statistically one of the worst goalies in the NHL this past season, to a one-year contract. Maybe getting out of Edmonton and playing behind a better defensive team will help. If it doesn't, it is an inadequate offseason for the Flames.
The Hurricanes picked up Ryan Dzingel on a cheap, short-term deal and also managed to lock up Sebastian Aho on a long-term contract thanks to some help from the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens' weak offer sheet attempt was an easy match for the Hurricanes and helped them avoid a summer of negotiating with their franchise player.
Stan Bowman has been a busy man this offseason, trying to get the Blackhawks back to the playoffs, making multiple trades and adding one fairly significant free agent. That was goalie Robin Lehner, a Vezina Trophy finalist from this past season with the New York Islanders. Lehner will be a great complement to Corey Crawford and a fantastic insurance policy if Crawford is injured again.
The Avalanche are building a powerhouse in Denver. They made a blockbuster trade with Toronto to get Nazem Kadri while also adding Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to help round out their forward depth. This is a Stanley Cup contender right now and is only going to get better, plus Colorado still has more salary cap space than almost every other team in the league.
Gustav Nyquist was a nice addition at a decent value, but the free agency exodus that saw Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel walk out the door leaves several significant holes on the roster.
The Dallas Stars made their yearly splash in free agency by bringing in Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry to help add some depth to the most top-heavy team in the league. Pavelski should still be productive, but Perry is a bit of a gamble given how much he has declined in recent years. Still, it is a cheap gamble with almost no risk.
New general manager Ken Holland made some decent depth signings, but the main part of this team is still a disaster around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The defense is weak, and the team's solution in goal was to bring in Mike Smith, a rapidly declining goalie who was one of the worst in the league this past season while playing behind a great defensive team.
The Panthers are short-term winners and long-term losers. How do we figure that? Sergei Bobrovsky will help them for a couple of years and maybe get them back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs during that time. But the tail end of that seven-year contract has the potential to be a mess that will probably need a buyout or a salary dump trade.
Mats Zuccarello probably doesn't move the needle enough to get the Wild closer to being a contender, but he is a fine addition and should help. So they have that going for them.
Montreal had a ton of salary cap space entering the offseason and did not end up getting anything significant. The Canadiens' offer sheet attempt at Sebastian Aho was a shocking and unexpectedly strong level of boldness, but it was not bold enough as it was too easy for the Hurricanes to match. It just wasted everyone's time. Now they have almost the same roster that missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
Matt Duchene going to the Predators was as obvious a signing as there was in free agency. He gives them another impact forward and should help a power play that struggled throughout the 2018-19 season. Losing P.K. Subban in a trade to clear salary cap space hurts, but the Predators still have a great defense.
Ray Shero added P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes to his roster at draft weekend, and that alone was significant. He also dipped into the free agency pool by signing Wayne Simmonds to a one-year deal. Simmonds may not have a ton left, but the Devils got him for one year in a low-risk, high-reward deal, which is the exact way teams should be using free agency.
The Islanders managed to keep all of Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson, and that is good. But they also did not add anything of value to a group that was one of the worst offensive teams to make the playoffs, and they also failed to re-sign their Vezina Trophy Finalist goalie in Robin Lehner. He was replaced by an older, more injury-prone and inferior goalie in Semyon Varlamov on a four-year contract.
The Rangers signed the biggest free agent on the market in Artemi Panarin. That alone is a win. Panarin is a bona fide star still in the prime of his career and one of the best offensive players in the league. He really helps to accelerate the Rangers' rebuild.
Chuck Fletcher has been active in making changes to his roster, but I am not sure he made tit any better. It has a "deck chairs on the Titanic" kind of vibe to it all. The most significant free agent addition was Kevin Hayes, who was signed to a massive contract. Hayes is a nice player, but the Flyers are paying him like a first-line star. He is not. This contract will have buyout written all over it in a few years.
It is a third straight disappointing offseason for Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, and for the second year in a row he has tied down his team with a long-term contract for a depth player. After giving Jack Johnson a five-year contract a year ago, he gave fourth-line forward Brandon Tanev a six-year, $21 million contract this summer. Tanev is a decent enough fourth-liner, but he is still a fourth-liner who is now signed for six years.
Keeping Erik Karlsson was great, and the Sharks still might end up re-signing Joe Thornton and bringing back Patrick Marleau for another run at the Stanley Cup. But losing Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi will hurt the depth. They also did nothing to address their glaring weakness in goal.
The Maple Leafs are winners simply because no one has offer-sheeted Mitch Marnere. Getting Jason Spezza is a nice add to their depth, and they did bring in Alexander Kerfoot and Tyson Barrie in a blockbuster trade with the Colorado Avalanche. They have navigated a tough salary cap spot and might actually be better after all is completed.
It's hard to imagine what the plan is for this team. They have two great young players in Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, but that is about it. General manager Jim Benning keeps signing aging depth players to long-term contracts in what appears to be a desperate attempt to sneak in the playoffs and save his job. Vancouver probably will not make the playoffs. Five years for Tyler Myers? Crazy stuff.
The Caps were mostly quiet, but they did make a couple of nice depth signings in Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway. Neither one is going to send shockwaves through the NHL, but they are cheap depth moves for a team that needed only some tweaks.
All the Jets did was subtract from a roster that disappointed in the second half, was beaten in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and took a big step backward in its development. They still have two major restricted free agents to deal with in Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, and they will quickly run out of salary cap space.
The Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights all had quiet summers in the free agency department, either making no moves or making no moves of significance. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes the best way to be a free agency winner is to not do anything. Some of these teams (Arizona trading for Phil Kessel) did make big offseason news but we are only focusing on free agency here.