Rangers, Panthers, Predators winners early in free agency
If Artemi Panarin , Sergei Bobrovsky or Matt Duchene can help their new team win the Stanley Cup, it will go against a trend.
Teams that have made the biggest splash by signing stars from other teams in recent summers haven’t had those major moves lead to winning the Stanley Cup.
“The reality is, you want to get those guys on July 1, you’ve got to give them terms and you’ve got to give them a lot of money,” Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said. “I don’t know if it’s the right way to go or the wrong way. We’ve all done it.
“You can look back on the history of July 1 signings and I guess judge for yourself whether you think they’re good or bad.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs were hailed a year ago for signing superstar John Tavares and they ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year. Edmonton and Buffalo, respectively, signed Milan Lucic and Kyle Okposo to seven-year contracts in 2016 and both franchises are still floundering.
“You have to try to sign free agents when the time is right in terms of the cap and cycle of the team,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said. “If you think you’re one or two pieces away, you have to take a chance.”
The Minnesota Wild took a big chance in 2012, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year contracts. The duo has not been able to help the franchise get past the second round.
It is possible, though, for a team to invest a lot in a player from another team in free agency and have it pay off with a title. The Washington Capitals gave Matt Niskanen a seven-year, $40.25 million contract in 2014 and the defenseman helped them hoist the Cup four years later.
A look at the teams that spent the most so far in 2019 to sign unrestricted free agents — three from Columbus — away from other teams:
NEW YORK RANGERS
Desperate for a shot of talent and energy, New York gave the 27-year-old Panarin a contract that trails only Edmonton’s Connor McDavid in money per season. The dynamic forward signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with a franchise that has missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in the salary cap era. The Russian had a career-high 87 points last season in Columbus. He has scored at least 27 goals in each of his four NHL seasons, including his first two years with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The franchise has missed the playoffs three straight years and 16 times in 18 seasons, creating a sense of urgency to win that can lead to lavish spending in free agency. Bobrovsky took advantage, signing a seven-year, $70 million contract. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner replaces retired goaltender Roberto Luongo and makes Florida tough to beat each game he starts. He led the league with nine shutouts and his 37 victories with the Blue Jackets ranked second in the NHL. The Russian has given up fewer than 2 ½ goals per game over nine seasons.
Nashville reached the 2017 Stanley Cup Final and has taken a step back since, losing in the first round this year after a second-round exit. The Predators needed to give their power play a boost even though it cost them $56 million over seven years to sign Matt Duchene away from the Blue Jackets. They were able to sign the 28-year-old Canadian center after freeing up cap space by trading All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban to New Jersey. Duchene had 31 goals and 39 assists last season with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus.
Minnesota signed right wing Mats Zuccarello to a five-year, $30 million contract in the hopes of getting back to the playoffs after a six-year streak ended. Even though Zuccarello had just 12 goals and 40 points last season with the Rangers and Dallas, the Wild need all the help they can get offensively after ranking among the NHL’s worst in scoring last season. Zuccarello, who is from Norway, has 114 goals and 241 assists over nine seasons.
Vancouver has failed to make the playoffs the previous four seasons, matching the franchise’s longest drought when it joined the NHL in the early 1970s and from 1997-2000. Its chances of turning things around may have improved by signing Tyler Myers, one of the top defenseman on the market. Myers, who played in Winnipeg for four-plus seasons, came at a high price: $30 million over five years. The American had 31 points for the Jets last season. He has 265 career points over 10 seasons, split between Buffalo and Winnipeg.
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