Let’s get one thing clear. The words “So Far” in the title are very important. As you’re reading this, a big ticket free agent may sign and you’ll be left spamming my Twitter account. Let’s just use this opportunity here to avoid that.
Free agency is a time where teams often overpay in order to bolster their roster. Ludicrious contracts are given out (Hello 2013 David Clarkson) in order to ensure that the team at hand could scoop up the free agent off the market. Sometimes, just sometimes, fair contracts are given out and teams are able to obtain their guy at a decent price.
We’ll be taking a closer look at five of those signings today.
Kevin Shattenkirk – D – New York Rangers
Formerly: Washington Capitals
TERM: Four Years – $26.6 million
Shattenkirk was at the top of most GM’s lists in terms of not only blueliners they wanted to acquire but also overall. Shattenkirk, 28, is one of the NHL’s most steady offensive defensemen. Since 2013, Shattenkirk’s lowest point total has been 42. Even in 2014-15 when the New York native saw just 56 games, he tallied 44 points. A right-handed shot, Shattenkirk will immediately take away some of the pressure that Ryan McDonagh faced in his last campaign with the blue shirts. Speaking of McDonagh, Shattenkirk had high praise for the blueliner and said, “Ryan McDonagh was a big part of my decision. He’s someone who I think is an elite defenseman and that complements my game well.” The Rangers were already a top 10 powerplay team (20.3%) and will get even stronger with the acquisition of Shattenkirk.
Shattenkirk was the big fish that all the teams tried to land. With an annual average value of $6.65 million, the Rangers didn’t overpay and got exactly what they needed.
Final Grade: A
TERM: Five Years – $23.125 million
If there was one thing that the Montreal Canadiens needed at the start of the free agency period, it was simply defense. Sure, la Belle Province has Shea Weber on their blueline but after that… it’s really not that inspiring. In comes Karl Alzner. Karl Alzner will not score you a ton of points. He also won’t move the puck as fast as you want him to. So what does he do? Takes a bit of weight of Carey Price’s shoulders. There’s no denying that Carey Price is the heart and soul (and backbone) of the Montreal Canadiens. Without Price, the Canadiens would bumble and stumble in the Eastern Conference. Having invested a boat load of money (Think $84 million over eight years) into their all-star goalie, it’s about time they brought in a defensive stud.
Alzner will never be a flashy player. He’ll hit people, block shots and probably won’t miss a game (don’t quote me if he gets injured). He’s a workhorse in today’s NHL and exactly what the Canadiens needed.
Final Grade: B-
Radim Vrbata – RW – Florida Panthers
Formerly: Arizona Coyotes
TERM: One Year – $2.5 million
I can already hear it now. “But, Radim Vrbata is old! Isn’t he like 40?!” Well, no. He’s 36. (By the way, other notable36-year-oldss include Chris Evans, Jessica Alba, Chris Pine, Jessica Simpson, and Alicia Keys.) Just because he’s not the youngest buck out there doesn’t mean he can’t perform. Aside from his outlier and injury filled 2015-2016 season, Vrbata has put up at least 20 goals and 50 points in his last four seasons. He’s shown when injury free, that he still has the speed to keep up with the quicker forwards in today’s NHL. Vrbata is more than just a consistent offensive producer, he’s also a known shootout threat. Having a 50 point scorer in your lineup that can also contribute in the skills competition for under $3 million is an asset many teams missed out on.
Final Grade: B
Steve Mason – G – Winnipeg Jets
Formerly: Philadelphia Flyers
TERM: Two Years – $8.2 million
Steve Mason had a bad 2016-2017. Perhaps bad isn’t the nicest word. Maybe the correct word is ‘unusual’. Posting a .908 save percentage, it was his lowest mark since he played in just 13 games for the Blue Jackets in 2012-2013. From 2012-2016, Mason’s worst save percentage was 0.917 while he kept his goals against average to 2.29 over those four seasons. When the Jets decided to roll with the Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson tandem last year, pundits around the NHL immediately smelled trouble. Hellebuyck went through some growing pains and clearly needed a veteran beside him to teach him the ups and downs of the NHL. Mason is already excited to be with Hellebuyck and said,”I believe that when you find a way to come out of a tough situation, it makes you better, makes you a better hockey player, makes you a better person, and I’ve gone through some similar things as Connor may have experienced and I believe that I’m somebody that can continue to help guide him through the early onset of his NHL career and, hopefully, he’ll find working with me beneficial.” Steve Mason fits the mentor role perfectly and more importantly, the Jets finally have a bonafide starter.
Final Grade: B+
Scott Hartnell – LW – Nashville Predators
Formerly: Columbus Blue Jackets
TERM: One Year – $1 million
If this doesn’t scream bargain, I don’t know what will. Hartnell was by no means the best offensive player on the market. He also isn’t the youngest soul out there either. So what makes the Hartnell signing intriguing? How about the fact that over the last four seasons he’s averaged 21 goals as well as 78 games played? Still not sold? Maybe it’s the fact that he certainly knows his role as an aging NHL player and will gladly accept third line duties with the capabilities of being a top-six forward. Hartnell is also a strong five on five scorer. In 2014 he was the 31st best player in the NHL during even strength opportunities with 44 points, which equated to 73% of his 60 points that year. In 2015 he had 36 even strength points which again was exactly 73% of his 49 points that year. In 2016 he scored 34 even strength points which turned out to be 91% of his 37 points. Yes, the 2016-17 sample size is small due to the lack of powerplay time. If Hartnell sees an abundance of powerplay time with Nashville, it’ll be a bonus. At just $1 million, Smashville picked up a five on five specialist.
Final Grade: B