Welcome to the second week of July. Or, as hockey fans call it, a black hole of summer boredom from which no interesting news can escape.
Well, that’s not quite true — there are still lots of free agents out there, and we’re still waiting on that Patrick Sharp trade, so something has to happen over the coming days and weeks. But for the most part, the NHL offseason starts off full of sound and fury during the week of the draft and continues right through the first few days of July, and then slams on the brakes for the next two months or so. It’s a situation you Americans might relate to; by July 5, the fireworks are over.
So while the free-agency market isn’t done, it’s cooled off enough that we can start handing out some report cards. According to long-standing hockey bylaws, all free-agency summaries must be presented in a winner/loser format.1 So let’s take a look back at the first few days since the market opened to see who came out ahead and who’s having a rough start to the summer.
Winners: Andrej Sekera and Michael Frolik. That Sekera and Frolik signed two of the biggest UFA deals in terms of overall money pretty much says all you need to know about this year’s market — i.e., it wasn’t very good. Both are solid players; neither would be considered a star.2 But when there’s not much available, teams pay for what they can get, and that’s what the Oilers and Flames did here. Edmonton has needed a top-pairing defenseman forever, and while Sekera may or may not actually be that, he’s as close as it was going to get this year, and that’s why he’ll make $33 million over the next six years. And a good young Flames team that was looking for some veteran help up front figured Frolik was worth $21.5 million over five years.
Those are big deals, although that doesn’t necessarily make them bad deals. Both Alberta teams had a need to address and cap room to spare, and, like most wintery Canadian markets, both probably have to pay a premium to get players to sign. Nobody is looking at either deal as any kind of a bargain, but they’re unlikely to turn out to be disasters — which, as we’ll get to in a bit, turned out to be a bit of a theme.
Loser: Cody Franson. Franson hasn’t signed yet, so we’ll write this one in pencil instead of ink. But history tells us that his odds of cashing in big aren’t good — after the first day or two, the free-agent landscape tends to shift rapidly from a seller’s market to a buyer’s one. Franson went into July 1 as one of the top defensemen available, and he was rumored to be in high demand and looking at a monster payday. But while fellow defensemen like Sekera and Mike Green having already signed big contracts, Franson is still waiting to get a deal done.
He should still get a decent deal somewhere — he’s probably the best player left on the market, and a few teams still have money available. But after spending the last few seasons in Toronto3 getting nickeled-and-dimed (by a franchise that threw crazy money at just about everyone else), he was probably counting down the days until he could hit a home run as a UFA. There’s still a chance it could happen, but it’s fading quickly.
Winner: Washington Capitals. Remember, we’re going by free agency only here, so the Caps don’t even get credit for acquiring T.J. Oshie via trade. Oshie is somewhat overrated — yes, sure, the shootout against Russia was super-cool, but he’s only scored 20 goals once in his career — but still came cheap enough that it was a great deal for Washington.
But again, that was a trade, so we won’t factor it in here. What moves the Capitals into the win column is signing Justin Williams to a two-year, $6.5 million deal. That’s a perfectly reasonable cap hit, and the short term means there’s not much risk involved. And the synergy is almost impossibly perfect, with the guy nicknamed “Mr. Game 7” joining the team with a history of collapsing in Game 7. This would be like the Oilers signing a guy nicknamed “Mr. Still in the Playoff Hunt in November,” or the Canadiens signing a guy nicknamed “Mr. Pregame Ceremony of an Appropriate Length.”
It wasn’t a perfect week for the Caps — let’s remember that they lost Green to the Red Wings and Joel Ward to the Sharks. But getting Williams on a deal like this makes so much sense that it’s more than enough to move them into positive territory.