The 2016 NHL free agent frenzy answered the question “would I do a better job of managing an NHL team than some of the people actually employed as NHL General Managers?” Because the answer is yes. You would. Everyone would do a better job than those guys. I could do a better job than them. My little brother who has never watched a hockey game in his life could do a better job than them. A potato could do a better job than them. They are not good at their jobs.
We go through this every year. On July first (Canada day, naturally), NHL players without new contracts officially hit the open market, teams bid on them, trades go down, chaos ensues, and everyone wakes up the next morning with a horrible headache saying “what on earth have I done?” Mediocre players want money. NHL GMs convince themselves that $6 million a year is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for a third line centre, because hey, at least you’re not giving up actual assets for him. Right?
But this year’s insanity came with a twist: most of the, you know, insanity actually occurred two days before the start of free agency, on June 29th, in what may go down as the craziest half hour in NHL history. The madness began with Edmonton’s mind-blowing decision to trade Taylor Hall, their most prolific goal scorer and undoubtedly one of the best left wingers in the NHL, to the New Jersey Devils. The guy they got back? Adam Larsson, a second-pairing defenseman from Sweden, who’s a great fit in Edmonton, but in no way worth Taylor Hall. Though you could argue that Edmonton needed defense and had too much offense, the trade was so hilariously lopsided that it’s almost impossible to envision a scenario in which this works out for Edmonton. Hockey media everywhere was calling this one of the worst trades in NHL history.
It held that title for all of about thirty minutes.
You probably already know about the trade that followed, because it’s the reason that one Habs fan you’re friends with on facebook now identifies as a “former Habs fan.” For some incomprehensible reason, the Montreal Canadiens decided that it would be a good idea to trade P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Shea Weber. Yes, that P.K. Subban, the fan-favourite, elite, norris trophy winning perpetual ball of joy and happiness who recently donated $10 million to a Montreal Children’s Hospital, and the player you really hate yourself for secretly liking. Montreal cited “character issues” as their reason for trading him, which we all know is code for “he was too black.” The Habs aren’t fooling anyone: Subban was traded because he was a black player who dared to show some personality, and the NHL has always hated that. I personally have a hard time believing that a guy who has a doctor’s parking pass at a children’s hospital, and who learned a second language just so that he could talk to fans and media, is somehow a bigger problem in the room than, say, the guy Montreal signed two days after trading Subban, who once got suspended for hitting his coach with a hockey stick. But I guess playing music too loud in the dressing room or being too happy after games is just too much for Marc Bergevin.
Look, Weber’s a fantastic player. He killed it in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. But he has never been P.K. Subban, and he certainly isn’t now that he’s reaching the end of his career. The Canadiens will argue that this trade was about those bullshit character issues, but P.K. Subban is a superstar of such calibre that it’s almost impossible to justify choosing anyone (coach or teammate) over him. The bottom line is that Montreal traded a franchise player for someone who plays the exact same position, yet is significantly worse than him in almost every aspect of the game, on top of being older and more expensive. This is like trading Carey Price for Jonathan Quick or Sidney Crosby for Ryan Getzlaf. I mean, sure you’re getting a pretty good player in return but WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?
To top it all off, the unexpectedness of these two trades ended up overshadowing the conclusion the most talked about story in the NHL this summer: Steven Stamkos signing a contract. In case you were unaware, Stamkos, arguably the best goal scorer in the world not named Alex Ovechkin, has reached the end of his current contract, and for the past year hockey fans all over the world have been speculating about his next destination. Toronto fans were so convinced he would want to come back to his hometown that they had him penned in on most of their roster projections. Every team in the Atlantic division were rumoured to be in the hunt. And on June 29, Stamkos made the shocking decision to… stay in Tampa Bay. That’s it. No Stamkos sweepstakes this year. Toronto fans can go cry in a corner, along with the Montreal and Edmonton fans.
Needless to say it was a very bad day for Canada.
Thankfully, the actual Free Agent Frenzy on July 1st went over just as planned. There was a lot of craziness, a lot of money being thrown around, and a lot of deals that are going to look very, very bad one day. Here are a few of the noteworthy ones:
- Milan Lucic of Boston Bruins fame signed a 7 year deal worth $42 million with the Edmonton Oilers. This was probably the least surprising signing of the day, and it does make the Taylor Hall trade look a little bit better, since it probably freed up the cap space neccessary to sign him. Still… Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson and an overpaid Milan Lucic. Yeeeesh. Too bad we’ll never get to see Lucic in the playoffs again.
- Former Jets captain Andrew Ladd is headed to the New York Islanders on a 7 year, $38.5 million deal. He’s probably meant to fill the hole in the top six left by Kyle Okposo.
- Speaking of Okposo, he signed a 7 year, $42M deal with the Sabres, a pretty big overpayment if you ask me, but the Sabres could use a veteran presence up front, and he should be a perfectly serviceable second or third liner. But given his age, that contract is going to look very bad one day.
- Leafs fans will unfortunately not be seeing James Reimer return to Toronto, as he signed a 5 year, $17 million deal with the Florida Panthers, where he will join fellow adorable human Roberto Luongo.
- Loui Eriksson is headed to Vancouver on a 6 year, $36 million contract. You might know him as the guy who was traded for Tyler Seguin, or you might not, because that’s just about the only noteworthy thing he’s done in his career. To be fair, this doesn’t look like a bad deal for Vancouver, which is more than can be said of their other recent transactions.
- The Boston Bruins landed coveted American forward David Backes, paying him $30 million over 5 years. It looks like a massive overpayment, but we weren’t really expecting anything else.
- Troy Brouwer signed a 4 year, $18 million contract with the Calgary Flames.
- The Minnesota Wild signed perhaps the most reasonable deal of the day by locking up Eric Staal for $10.5 million over 3 years.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning retained yet another one of their superstars by re-signing Victor Hedman to a perfectly reasonable 8 year, $63 million contract. They should be Stanley Cup contenders for years to come. If I were a Lightning fan, I would be very pleased with their transactions these last few days.
- The Dallas Stars got some much needed help on defense by signing Dan Hamhuis to a 2 year, $7.5 million contract. Hamhuis’s age makes him a bit of a risky signing, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to keep up with the speed of the Stars. However, he’s still a solid, reliable defenseman and a wonderful human who will surely bring a lot to the Dallas community. He will be missed in Vancouver.
- As I mentioned above, the Montreal Canadiens gave a 1 year, $5.75 million contract to Alexander Radulov, who once hit his coach with a hockey stick. But I guess he plays the game the white way, huh?
- The Detroit Red Wings gave what looks like a low-risk, low-reward contract to forward Thomas Vanek, at $2.6 million for one year. Vanek has fallen off the map in recent years but should be a serviceable bottom 6 forward.
- The Colorado Avalanche added some depth on defense with a 1 year, $800 thousand contract for former Senators defenseman Patrick Wiercioch. This is only relevant because he was one of my favourite players and I’m very sad to see him go.
- Also, former Senator Shane Prince re-signed with the New York Islanders for $850K a year and I am very sad.
- Honouring my favourite tradition, the Toronto Maple Leafs did something stupid, this time signing defenseman Matt Martin for 4 years at a total of $10 million. It wasn’t the dumbest thing they could have done, but Martin is not a good hockey player.
All contract information obtained from The Score and various hockey insiders on Twitter.
Featured Image from nhl.com