By Dana Grey
The summer has fallen upon us and with it has come one of the most exciting days of the year for hockey fans. When the clock struck midnight as the month turned from June to July, NHL free agency officially began. Over the next few days, we are going to break down the biggest and best moves that came out of the hectic event and the days that followed. Lets start off with some signings from the Atlantic Division.
It didn’t take long for Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney to make moves on July 1st, which came as no surprise to fans around the league. Boston fell just short of the playoffs for the 2nd year in a row and it was clear that at least some changes needed to be made. Just shortly after the news that winger Loui Eriksson was departing Beantown for good to Vancouver, a huge acquisition was announced for the club. St. Louis Blue’s captain David Backes had signed a five-year contract for $30 million to add some grit and physicality to the B’s lineup. Last year in St. Louis, Backes scored 21 goals and tallied 24 assists on top of his 83 penalty minutes. The center will add increase the depth that Boston has at the position, joining Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and should help to bring back the ‘Big Bad Bruins’ mentality.
Signing rating: B
The Sabres have been a team stuck at the bottom of the Atlantic for years now but appear to be on the rise. With promising rising stars in Jack Eichel and possibly Jimmy Vesey, Buffalo GM Tim Murray looked to add experience at the forward position. After spending all nine years of his NHL career with the New York Islanders, Kyle Okposo is moving upstate. Okposo inked a seven-year $42 million deal with the Sabres. During the 2015-2016 campaign, Okposo notched 22 goals as part of his 64 points. Next year, the right winger could fit nicely on the top line for Buffalo alongside Eichel at center and either Sam Reinhart or Matt Moulson on the left. They might not be a cup contender yet but the Sabres could definitely fight for a lower seed come playoff time.
Signing rating: A-
Detroit Red Wings
Hockeytown lost one of its most historic citizens this offseason with the departure of Pavel Datysuk who will join the KHL next year after 14 seasons in Detroit. The ‘Magic Man’ is no easy hall of fame center to replace, but Red Wings’ General Manager Ken Holland went for quanity over quality during Free Agency. The former Islander, Frans Nielsen signed a six-year contract worth $31.5 million with the wings, a 20-goal scorer with NYI last season. Next, Holland went after character and physicality when locking up St. Louis center Steve Ott to a one-year deal shy of a million. The wings weren’t done yet though, as they nabbed Thomas Vanek from Minnesota for a short-term contract. Detroit will have a new look and a lot of new faces in the lineup come October but expect the Red Wings to vie for a postseason spot.
Signings Rating: B
Sunrise, Florida saw arguably its best year of hockey from the hometown Panthers. After winning the Atlantic Division and earning the 2nd seed in the playoffs, Florida had an unfortunate early exit thanks to the Islanders in six games. GM Tom Rowe had stayed relatively quiet throughout the offseason but did make one interesting big move by acquiring a goaltender. After spending just one year with the Western Conference champion Sharks, James Reimer got paid to the tune of $17 million over five years thanks to the Panthers. Florida has been led in net by goalie Roberto Luongo for the past three years who has had a save percentage of around .923 and a goals against average at 2.35. With already having an elite starting tender, it is a confusing move to sign a back up for five years. It will be interesting to see if Luongo and Remier will fight for the starting job throughout training camp or if head coach Gerard Gallant has already made up his mind.
Signing Rating: C
Arguably the most shocking move on July 1st was the swapping of two Norris trophy finalists and two of the best all around defensemen in the NHL. Nashville’s Shea Weber is headed north of the border to join Montreal in a ‘one for one’ trade that sent P.K. Subban to Nashville. It seemed that the beloved and fan favorite Subban was destined to be a franchise player and a Hab for life. But Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin decided it was best for his playoff missing squad last year to part ways with the 27 year-old superstar. There are rumors that Montreal management had their differences with Subban and although Weber plays a different style of hockey than P.K., he is a consistent top 10 defenseman in the league. With the signing of former KHL right winger Alexander Radulov and a new look on the back end, the Habs should move out of the lower half of the division.
Signings Ratings: B-