Hello, everyone. It’s Dan Mount again with another edition of the Three Periods blog. This week I’ll talk about the recent free agency period that kicked off last weekend. The opening of free agency looked promising at the start of last week, but the biggest fish, Steven Stamkos, re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
There may not have been the earth-shattering news of Kevin Durant going to the Golden State Warriors, but there were some important moves made. I’ll take a look at the winners and losers in the first two periods and we say goodbye to PavelDatsyuk in the third period.
Let’s get started.
The first winner I can think of is the Tampa Bay Lightning holding onto their superstar player. NHL free agents don’t usually get out into the open market like the NBA ones do. The feeding frenzy surrounding Stamkos was already starting.
The Toronto Maple Leafs wanted to lure him with a lot of money and the chance to play for his hometown club. The Detroit Red Wings cleared out a ton of cap space and wanted him to take the place of the recently departed for Russia PavelDatsyuk. The Buffalo Sabres also backed up the money truck and wanted to lure him to come to play for a team with a lot of young potential.
However, General Manager Steve Yzerman won out again and got his man to sign for eight years. Stevie Y also managed to lock up defensemen Victor Hedman to a seven-year extension. The bond between the two was part of the reason why “Stammer” stayed in the Sunshine State. (It also helps that there is no state income tax.)
I’ll give the Sabres a gold star for locking up Kyle Okposo as a top-scoring winger. General Manager Tim Murray has missed out on some prime targets, but he got his man in the former Islander. Okposo will fit in nicely with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. He also could help his friend Matt Moulson break out of the funk he was in last season.
My other winner was the Florida Panthers, who shored up their defense with the locking up former top pick Aaron Ekblad to a multi-year deal. The Cats also got their hands on former Dallas Stars blueliner Jason Demers and may have found their backup of the future in former Leafs and San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer. The Panthers took a lot of people by surprise, but needed some playoff experience, which Demers and Reimer provide.
The management may have changed, but the puzzling moves are still the same by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Toronto missed out on Stamkos despite offering nearly $4 million more than Tampa. The Leafs followed it up by signing bottom-six forward Matt Martin to a four-year deal.
Lou Lamoriello followed it up by signing Roman Polak, who struggled in the playoffs. The Leafs looked like things were going better after getting Auston Matthews, but some of these moves are puzzling. Toronto could earn back some of that goodwill if they managed to snag Hobey Baker Award winner and soon-to-be free agent Jimmy Vesey.
The New York Islanders went through some turnover on July 1 as it lost Frans Nielsen and Okposo to Eastern Conference rivals. GM Garth Snow was active, but the replacements he mustered may not be able to fill the scoring void.
Andrew Ladd is a good player with Stanley Cup-winning experience, but he got a seven-year deal at age 31. P-A Parenteau and Jason Chimera are the other replacements, but both have been up-and-down scorers unlike Okposo.
City rivals the New York Rangers didn’t fare much better at the start of free agency. The Blueshirts are up against the salary cap and need to clear some space. However, GM Jeff Gorton pretty much had everyone not named HenrikLundqvist on the trade block, but he didn’t get offers or a desirable return.
Michael Grabner could be a decent signing, but players like Nathan Gerbe and Adam Clendenning won’t get it done. New York is in the unenviable position of being trapped between a contender and a rebuild. Maybe something will shake out for Gorton, but he has a big mess that previous GM Glenn Sather left hi,
PavelDatsyuk’s move back home is official, as he signed a two-year deal to ply for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. The “Magic Man” had told the Detroit Red Wings that he wasn’t coming back to the club because he wanted to come home to his family in his home country.
His moves were known to even casual hockey fans, but he was much more than a flashy Russian scorer. He was one of the best defensive centers in the league and won the Selke Award three years in a row (2008-10). Datsyuk was also one of the cleanest players in the game as won the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play from 06-09.
The stereotype of Russian hockey players is that they’re all flash, but Datsyuk has done more to shatter that than anyone else. He continually won player polls for being the hardest-working player, and that was part of the reason that he will be one of the best players of the last decade.
He may end his career technically as an Arizona Coyote (the Wings dumped his contract in order to make a run at Stamkos), but he will always be one of the best players in Detroit Red Wings history. Hopefully we get to see Datsyuk is some international tournaments because he’s still one of the most skilled players in the world.
I know some may complain that he’s going home, but he has every right to go. He’s been away from his family for years and he didn’t do what IlyaKovalchuk did. Datsyuk didn’t throw a tantrum and just leave his team. He kept GM Ken Holland in the loop and he was up front of with his feelings. He did this like he did everything else…. the right way.
Tweet of the week: This week’s bit of internet goodness comes from Sportsnet’s John Shannon, who tweeted this information about Stanley Cup champion Phil Kessel.
The American forward injured his hand in the first period of the first game of the playoffs against the New York Rangers. He played through the pain and was a Conn Smythe candidate for playoff MVP.
It makes Maple Leafs’ fans think that he was the problem. (#Sarcasm)
That’s it for this week. We’ll delve into the three New York teams offseason so far if we don’t get any other big news by then. Take care and stay cool.
Dan Mount is a producer for Spadora on Sports. He’s also a writer for NHL on the Ice, the Nashville Predators beat reporter for The Hockey Writers and a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times in Watertown, NY. He can be found on Twitter @DanMountSports.