Winners and losers of NHL free agency Day 1 (2024)

Day 1 of NHL free agency got off to a chaotic start, with deals rushing in when the clock struck noon ET. Just after 5 p.m. ET, there were 121 signings carrying 290 contract years and $1 billion in salary, per CapFriendly.

With all of that offseason work done over the last few hours, who are the early winners and losers around the NHL? Let’s take a look.

Winners

Florida Panthers

There is a cost of winning in the NHL. Championship experience tends to pump up a player’s value to their current team around the league. Just look at some contracts signed by Stanley Cup winners in recent years. Blake Coleman was signed to a six-year, $29.4 million deal by the Flames after winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak earned inflated eight-year deals from the Lightning.

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Those contracts lead to tough choices, whether the decision is to keep a supporting player at a high cost (usually at the expense of someone else) or to just move on from the player altogether.

The Panthers, just a week after winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, are facing some of those choices. And they’re navigating the situation incredibly well.

Sam Reinhart signed a super cost-effective long-term contract with an $8.6 million cap hit that will age well even if he doesn’t reach this year’s scoring heights. Management also retained depth defenseman Dmitry Kulikov at a measured, sub-$1.2 million cap hit for the next four seasons.

But Florida didn’t over-commit to players that helped them win this year. Management let Oliver Ekman-Larsson walk to sign a four-year, $14 million deal in Toronto. They didn’t take the risk of gambling on whether Brandon Montour is a true $7 million defenseman, either. Instead, management has a bit of salary room for value signings, a cheaper Montour replacement, and Anton Lundell’s next contract.

GO DEEPERNHL contract grades: Panthers get a steal on Sam Reinhart deal

Nashville Predators

The Predators’ direction over the last year was a little bit perplexing. The team seemed keen on playing the long game last summer but also signed veterans to multi-year deals. It pretty much destined Nashville to finish in the dreaded middle.

That’s ultimately where the Predators landed after a Round 1 exit to the Canucks. But the team showed just how far the talent on their roster could go before putting in real work, and that’s exactly what Barry Trotz has done so far in free agency.

The Juuse Saros extension signaled that the Predators aren’t just trying to retool but be a playoff team with their No. 1 goalie, Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg all playing at an elite level. And now their offseason moves reflect that.

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Nashville spent big on Steven Stamkos, without overcommitting to him on a lengthy deal. Jonathan Marchessault signed for less than projected on a reasonable five-year term which should help this top-heavy team have more second-line support. And Brady Skjei was signed as a Ryan McDonagh replacement.

Each contract carries risk, with these player’s ages in mind. The Skjei deal may be the riskiest because there are some questions about how he will shoulder matchup minutes outside of Carolina’s system. But Nashville didn’t have to give up anything but cap space to make these signings happen. The Predators can still restock their prospect pipeline over the next few years without wasting the next few years of the Forsberg-Josi-Saros era.

Washington Capitals

Speaking of teams stuck in the dreaded middle, there’s the Capitals.

We questioned where the team could go when Washington’s season ended, considering their limited options. But management has moved on better than expected.

Matt Roy is an excellent fit for the Capitals at a very reasonable cost. The shutdown defenseman should help carry the burden of matchup minutes for less than market value for the next few years. Jakob Chychrun in exchange for Nick Jensen was another positive bit of business for Washington, especially if the team can shelter him to maximize his offensive game.

Today’s deals plus some of their earlier offseason work, like bringing in Logan Thompson and reclamation project Andrew Mangiapane, help complete this roster. It’s far from perfect, and there’s still a big question mark over PL Dubois and whether he can live up to his massive contract. But these additions should help Spencer Carbery push the Capitals a bit further from last year.

Oh, and they get to benefit from the work of CapFriendly for years to come while we all start scrambling for a resource as valuable as that.

GO DEEPERNHL trade grades: Capitals continue makeover in Jakob Chychrun trade with Senators

Secondary scoring wingers

Between Sam Reinhart and Jake Guentzel, some of the biggest names on the free agent market made out quite well. But there are some wingers a tier below who make for some really strong value signings.

Jake DeBrusk headlines that list. He should be a fantastic addition to the Canucks’ top six that needed some offensive pop to help support Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller. He is a huge upgrade from Ilya Mikheyev who was out of his depths in that role, and is signed to a really reasonable contract for his skill.

Model is a big DeBrusk fan. Should be a fantastic fit with either of Pettersson or Miller. Really like this deal — even if it is a long one. pic.twitter.com/LHz1U0SpKB

— dom 📈 (@domluszczyszyn) July 1, 2024

Viktor Arvidsson is another standout signing so far. The thrives at bringing the puck into the offensive zone with control, is a solid passer, and is a volume shooter with a knack for driving right up to the net-front. He doesn’t need much power play time to shine, which he won’t get in Edmonton. Instead, he can be a reliable source of two-way impact at five-on-five to help boost the team’s even-strength attack.

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Anthony Duclair can add speed in transition and shot volume to the Islanders, which is exactly what their top-six could use more of. He doesn’t have to be the driver there, but can ride shotgun with Mathew Barzal, Bo Horvat or even Brock Nelson to thrive. Even Teuvo Teravainen and Tyler Bertuzzi add some intrigue in Chicago, while the return of Jonathan Drouin agrees with Colorado. Plus, there’s the Marchessault signing in Nashville.

Honorable mentions: Brandon Montour and Chandler Stephenson for scoring seven-year deals with the Kraken.

Losers

Detroit Red Wings

The offseason is far from over for the Red Wings, but it’s gotten off to an underwhelming start.

The Jake Walman contract dump was an early misstep, but one that could be forgotten with the right corresponding moves that explain why management needed to open up cap space. Those moves just haven’t happened quite yet.

Detroit missed out on free agents, like Roy, who could have elevated its blue line after subtracting Walman. Erik Gustafsson in place of Shayne Gostisbehere is a pretty lateral move. Extending Patrick Kane should give them a boost, especially after he has a full, healthy offseason to train. But management has yet to identify a David Perron replacement. Back in goal, the Cam Talbot signing crowds the crease unless the plan is to move out one of their existing contracts.

The Red Wings showed so much promise last season, but management just has yet to punch up this roster to build on it. There is still a lot of time to make it happen, but maybe it’s time to start questioning the Yzerplan.

Dallas Stars

Just a few weeks ago, Jim Nill won the Jim Gregory Award for the second consecutive season. His work since? Pretty underwhelming!

Aside from extending Matt duch*ene, the Stars’ free agency work has been a bit suspect. Casey DeSmith is a downgrade from Scott Wedgewood. Ilya Lyubushkin tends to drag down his team’s offensive creation and doesn’t help enough defensively to make up for it. The price may not be back-breaking but it’s above his market value. The two-year term isn’t exactly favorable, either. The same is true with Matt Dumba’s contract. Committing $7 million to these two defenders isn’t the best cap management when the team will have to face some big rising costs next year, like Wyatt Johnston and Jake Oettinger’s next contracts.

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Los Angeles Kings

The Warren Foegele contract was one bright spot for the Kings today and works as an Arvidsson replacement. But the Joel Edmundson deal may be one of the worst-value contracts of the day.

Sure the 31-year-old is gritty and brings veteran experience. But Edmundson tends to be a negative on his team’s shot and expected goal suppression. That was the case in Washington last year and Toronto post-deadline. It was true during his three years in Montreal before that. Is that worth a four-year commitment?

With Roy’s departure, Edmundson could be a replacement for his matchup minutes, and that’s a real downgrade for Los Angeles. It is in terms of caliber play and handedness. Unless both Kyle Burroughs and Jordan Spence make the regular rotation, the Kings may only have two righties out of their six regular defensem*n.

Defense is the Kings’ biggest strength, so they really can’t afford it to suffer — especially with questions in net and few improvements to the forward group so far.

The NHL’s tampering rules

When the market officially opened at noon ET, contract signings started flooding in. Hours and days before that, smoke and information about free agents started trickling in. How is that possible when the NHL has tampering rules in place to avoid that?

Is it a big deal that no one follows the tampering rules in the NHL? Not when pretty much every team is complicit in it. It makes for an exciting boom of signings at noon, but is that what the NHL should want? Or would it be better to have news popping up throughout Day 1 of free agency, and trickling out over the next couple of days to drag out everyone’s attention to the NHL offseason? That would allow teams, players, and fans to actually digest each signing as they happen instead of a quick explosion of noise before a mostly quiet offseason.

Honorable mention: There is still room for the Buffalo Sabres to make a trade to shake up their group, but as it stands there are too many holes up front and too few upgrades made in free agency.

(Top photos of Cam Talbot and Sam Reinhart: Kirby Lee and Sam Navarro / USA Today)

Winners and losers of NHL free agency Day 1 (3)Winners and losers of NHL free agency Day 1 (4)

Shayna Goldman is a staff writer for The Athletic who focuses on blending data-driven analysis and video to dive deeper into hockey. She covers fantasy hockey and national stories that affect the entire NHL. She is the co-creator of BehindtheBenches.com and 1/3 of the Too Many Men podcast. Her work has also appeared at Sportsnet, HockeyGraphs and McKeen’s Hockey. She has a Master of Science in sports business from New York University. Follow Shayna on Twitter @hayyyshayyy

Winners and losers of NHL free agency Day 1 (2024)

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