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NHL free agency grades 2016: Handing out grades for every big free agent deal

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The first day of free agency was very costly. Did teams spend wisely?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The first day of the NHL’s silly season flew by. If you survived the first 30 minutes, congratulations.

No fewer than 15 deals dropped in the first half hour of free agency. Well over 50 new contracts were handed out after the first five hours.

Some of the biggest moves are ripe for reaction. You can keep track of every signing and re-signing right here with our live tracker. But you should also check back here throughout the summer as we dole out grades to every important deal at the end of each free agency day. I welcome your expressions of agreement in the comments.

Happy offseasoning.


July 3

Panthers re-sign C Vincent Trocheck

6 years, $28.5 million ($4.750 million per season)

Grade: A

Talk about taking care of business. Florida now has Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad locked up long-term and for reasonable rates. Trocheck's numbers indicate he's capable of first-line talent. He'll be asked to give that production in a smaller role, which is a boon for the Panthers.

Combine this with the Ekblad, Yandle and Reimer signings and the Panthers now have all of their cornerstones on the books for awhile. Have to imagine they're done this summer, but if they can find a way to shed that Dave Bolland contract then consider it a perfect offseason.

July 2

Maple Leafs sign D Roman Polak

Terms not available

Grade: B-

Well. They needed a right-handed defenseman, and one who could fill out some of the depth with a veteran presence sorely lacking on the blueline. Polak checks all those boxes.

But he's just ... uninspiring. Everything about him screams depth defenseman. But as long as they don't turn around and back up the truck for Kris Russell, I guess this is fine.


Panthers sign D Jason Demers

5 years, $22.5 million ($4.5 million per season)

Grade: A-

Florida is having itself an offseason, huh? After trading for and signing Keith Yandle before free agency even began, the Panthers waited patiently after the market opened and landed one of the better defensive targets available on the second day.

Demers is a solid two-way defenseman who will help fill the right-handed gap left behind after the Erik Gudbranson trade. He doesn't play nearly as physically as Gudbranson, but he's a capable penalty killer and can contribute on the power play if need be. The Stars relied on Demers as a second-pairing guy, and he admittedly got torched in the playoffs. But that was with Kris Russell, and he'll look much better alongside either Yandle or Mark Pysyk. The term is about what you'd expect, but the $4.5 million cap hit is good value. And well earned for a Panthers club that patiently waited for Demers to lower his asking price.

July 1

Oilers sign F Milan Lucic

7 years, $42 million ($6 million per season)

Grade: B+

Alright, hear me out.

Milan Lucic is not a bad player at all. He’s an excellent two-way player, as capable of scoring goals as he is keeping players off the puck. He’s the kind of "tough to play against" cliche that also means beating you with the puck and not just against the boards.

But this signing wasn’t in a vacuum. Lucic is essentially the Taylor Hall replacement, and the difference to the Oilers’ top six is considerable. They sacrificed elite speed and playmaking for a presence who can protect the skill guys (McDavid and Co.) without slowing them down to a snail’s pace.

So, maybe it’ll work out. Just don’t try telling that to Oilers fans right now. Milan Lucic is not Taylor Hall, and they’ve got seven years to sit with that.

Blackhawks sign D Brian Campbell

1 year, $2 million per season

Grade: A-

The Blackhawks could use a good puck-mover on defense. There was no better one on the market than Campbell, who is a possession darling with a 52.7 Corsi For percentage over the last five years. The division-rival Dallas Stars were keen on signing him, and the Florida Panthers offered him a whopping $5 million to come back for one year. Surely the cap-troubled Blackhawks couldn’t afford that.

They didn’t have to. Apparently his heart was set on returning to Chicago:

So, the Blackhawks get the market’s best defender for pennies. The spoils of a dynasty.

Islanders sign F Andrew Ladd

7 years, $38.5 million ($5.5 million AAV)

Grade: B+

This is essentially like trading Kyle Okposo for Ladd:

So, similar players for similar roles, though Ladd is two years older.

New York is giving up some scoring and size in this trade-off, but not too much to leave a sour taste in fans’ mouths. If you were looking to replace Okposo, Ladd is the guy.

Panthers sign G James Reimer

5 years, $17 million ($3.4 million AAV)

Grade: A

Reimer was the best goalie on the market. Florida needed someone to look forward to when 37-year-old Roberto Luongo retires.

They got Reimer for a paltry sum for the next half-decade. Not much else to say here. Just a terrific signing.

Sabres sign F Kyle Okposo

7 years, $42 million ($6 million AAV)

Grade: A-

"Hey, aren’t those the exact same terms that Lucic signed with the Oilers? Why didn’t you give them the same grade?"

Because the Sabres didn’t just trade Taylor Hall.

Okposo balances out a Sabres’ top six that’s already pretty balanced. Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane bring the skill. Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Moulson (I guess) bring the two-way game. Okposo brings both. If anything, this (and the Kulikov trade) is a signal that the Sabres are going for the playoffs. It’s hard to argue they won’t make a good run at it now. Good term for a good player and a good fit.

Canucks sign F Loui Eriksson

6 years, $36 million ($6 million AAV)

Grade: B+

I’m a card-carrying member of the Loui Eriksson Fan Club, so excuse a little bias here. (Or express your rage in the comments.)

Eriksson is fantastic for what he is: a two-way Swiss Army Knife on the left wing. He scored more than 60 points four straight years in Dallas, and returned to form with a 30-goal, 63-point year last season in Boston. He’s always been a possession darling, but his three years in Boston featured a remarkable 54 Corsi For percentage. He’s good. And worth the big contract at the twilight of his career.

But that the Canucks were the team to dole it out is confusing. I thought they were rebuilding. Do they think they’re contenders? Do they even know what they are?

Red Wings sign F Frans Nielsen

6 years, $31.5 million ($5.25 million AAV)

Grade: B

The short story is that the Red Wings went out and replaced Pavel Datsyuk with the best center on the free agent market. Nielsen is a consistent 45-60 point player with a sterling 51.5 Corsi For percentage over the last three seasons. He can help Detroit’s power play, bolster their penalty kill and keep their second line chugging along at a productive pace.

But he’s 32 years old, which means the Red Wings are hitching themselves to a wagon already picking up steam on the wrong side of the age cliff. His stats haven’t shown a decline yet, but that’s certainly a risk Ken Holland is taking. A shorter contract would make this one of the best signings of the day.

Bruins sign F David Backes

5 years, $30 million ($6 million AAV)

Grade: C+

Everything I just said about Nielsen can sort of apply here. Backes is also 32 years old and has never shown a penchant for offense anyway. As that declines further, the Bruins are paying $6 million for a glorified bottom-six center who can ... check hard, I guess? He's more than that, of course. He can kill penalties. He has good possession numbers (career 52.5 CF%), but that could be part of playing in St. Louis.

But he plays hard. He plays the game "the right way." He’s a leader. Here’s $30 million.

Bruins re-sign D John-Michael Liles

1 year, $2 million

Grade: B

Sure. He’s fine. It feels like he’s been around for decades, but okay. He’s still decent.

You know, for $1.75 million more they could’ve gotten Dan Hamhuis. But sure. This is fine.

All fine.

Canadiens sign F Alexander Radulov

1 year, $5.75 million per season

Grade: B

If the Canadiens hadn’t just traded P.K. Subban, this gets a higher grade. There’s no denying Radulov’s talent. The 30-year-old has been a point-per-game player in the KHL for the last seven seasons, finishing in the top three in points twice. He’ll play either wing, he'll drive possession and he'll score lots of goals. This is an upgrade on the ice.

But in the context of his history off the ice and the drama swirling around the P.K. Subban trade, this raises a lot of questions for the Canadiens’ management. If you believe insiders, the Canadiens didn’t like how Subban’s gregarious, large personality overshadowed the club. Even if he was a genuinely good dude.

Radulov’s short stint in the NHL with the Nashville Predators earned him a poor reputation after disciplinary problems. He says he’s changed, and maybe he has! Humans do that. For now, though, it’s still a week of bad optics for the Habs.

Sharks sign LW Mikkel Boedker

4 years, $16 million ($4 million AAV)

Grade: B

If the Avalanche thought they were getting a game-changer on offense in Boedker at the trade deadline, they were mistaken. He’s speedy and a threat on the power play, but was underwhelming in an Avalanche offense that seemed to cater to those skills.

But his best season of hockey came under Peter DeBoer, so perhaps San Jose is the perfect fit for him. And the cost was about right, value-wise, so this is a deal that could benefit both sides.

Red Wings sign F Thomas Vanek

1 year, $2.6 million

Grade: C+

I don’t think Vanek is worth $2.6 million per year, even for one season. It seems like the Wings are paying a cost based on his career as a whole and not what he is now. And right now, Vanek is a streaky scorer and a power play specialist who won’t crack more than 15 minutes per night. If it pays off, he’ll be a good addition in a limited role. If it doesn’t, it’s kind of expensive. And there’s a good chance it won’t.

Panthers re-sign D Aaron Ekblad

8 years, $60 million ($7.5 million AAV)

Grade: A

Ekblad is 20 years old and already has one of the biggest contracts for a defenseman in the NHL. And the amazing thing is he’s already worth every penny.

He’ll be 28 when it expires, entering the prime of his career with a couple of Norris Trophies on his shelf. Just imagine what he’ll cost then.

Maple Leafs sign F Matt Martin

4 years, $10 million ($2.5 million AAV)

Grade: C

This is ironic:

Lamoriello just signed Matt Martin to too much money. He’s a fourth-liner who hits hard and punches people. His HERO chart (basically an indication of a player’s usefulness and role based on possession stats) shows he’s either a depth forward or a fourth-liner at best.

And the Leafs are paying him $10 million for four years. I thought they were past this.

Stars sign D Dan Hamhuis

2 years, $7.5 million ($3.75 million AAV)

Grade: A

This is an excellent signing by Jim Nill. Letting Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell and Jason Demers walk in free agency to let the kids (Patrik Nemeth, Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak) play is a bold decision. But it needed a backbone of stability. Hamhuis is that.

The Stars are getting a workhorse defender who doesn’t leak possession in his own end (coughRussellcough) and can drive production the other way. Hamhuis is arguably more reliable than any of the three defensemen the Stars let walk, and John Klingberg should benefit from him in so many ways on the top pairing. And considering the money thrown around on Friday, signing him for $3.75 million per year for two years is a steal.

Lightning re-sign D Victor Hedman

8 years, $63 million ($7.85 million AAV)

Grade: A

What, you thought Steve Yzerman wanted to go through another year of free agent drama after the Steven Stamkos ordeal?

The Lightning GM avoided that mess entirely on Friday, signing his elite defenseman to a massive (but deserved) contract. Tampa Bay’s cornerstone skaters are now locked up for the next eight years. But what about their cornerstone goalies? Tampa also extended Andrei Vasilevskiy on Friday, meaning Ben Bishop and his $11.9 million contract might not survive the weekend.

Flyers sign F Dale Weise

4 years, $9.4 million ($2.35 million AAV)

Grade: B-

The Flyers let Ryan White walk to Arizona, so Weise is his replacement. As far as fourth-liners go, you can’t do much better than Weise. He’s scored nearly 30 points in back-to-back years and isn’t a total drain on possession when he’s on the ice. But $2.35 million is a lot for any fourth-liner, so a B- it is.

Wild sign F Eric Staal

3 years, $10.5 million ($3.5 million AAV)

Grade: B+

Staal’s contract is one of the best signings of the day. Potentially. Minnesota needed a center with size and skill, and Staal fits that mold perfectly. He was a non-factor for the Rangers after a deadline trade this season, but we’re only two years removed from him scoring 61 points. Maybe there’s enough left in that tank to make this worth it.

Flames sign F Troy Brouwer

4 years, $18 million ($4.5 million AAV)

Grade: B-

He’s big, he’s the right wing they desperately needed and he was a big playoff factor in St. Louis. But the terms scare me for a player on the wrong side of 30, who doesn’t score all that much and is there to be "hard to play against."