Monday, July 4, 2016

Weekend report: Free agency winners and losers

The NHL's annual free agent frenzy opened on Friday at noon. Within hours, most of the big names were gone. By the end of the first day, only a handful of major names were left. And by the end of days two and three... well, actually, pretty much nothing happened on days two and three. Seriously, the weekend was weird. I think everyone already went on vacation. Am I the only one left? Because I don't know how to work the coffee machine.

Anyway, the slow weekend was bad news for a handful of decent players who are still available, most notably Kris Russell, Shane Doan, Matt Cullen and James Wisniewski (a latecomer to the part after being bought out the day before bidding opened). History tells us that those guys better hope they find a home soon, because as the summer wears on and cap dollars become scarce, the market dries up quickly. Maybe it already has.

Let's skip the preamble and get right to what you came for: Instantaneous declarations of winners and losers, most of which will be proven wrong by midway through training camp. Here are the five best and five worst from a busy start to the NHL's new year, along with one signing that fits both categories.

Top Five

The biggest winners of the market's early days.

5. Montreal signs Alexander RadulovWhat does the art of comedy have in common with infuriating the Montreal Canadiens fan base? As GM Marc Bergevin could tell you after this week, the secret is in the timing.

At any other time, signing recent KHL star and former NHL castoff Alexander Radulov to a one-year, $5.75 million deal would seem like a reasonable move, albeit a risky one. Radulov has tons of talent; he also has a history of immaturity, most famously when he was benched for a playoff game after missing curfew with the Predators in 2012. He hasn't been seen in the NHL since, heading to the KHL where he put up four solid seasons. Now he's back, and the Habs hope he's smartened up.

And maybe he has. But again, there's that issue of timing. The signing came just two days after the Canadiens shocked everyone by trading P.K. Subban, taking back an inferior, older player with a worse contract in the process. The reason, the whispers went, was character. And then the team goes out and signs the poster boy for lack of it? It's all very confusing, and Bergevin didn't do much to explain himself on Friday. You could forgive Habs fans for throwing their hands in the air and concluding that this franchise doesn't have the first clue what it actually wants.

When you search your own name on Twitter after trading PK Subban. Photo by Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

But all of that overshadows an important point: This is a great deal for Montreal. Radulov is a wild card, and even if he has his head on straight, we really have no idea what he'll be in the NHL after four years away. He might not work out. But he could also be a star, the sort of first-line talent that's virtually impossible to add during an NHL offseason. And Montreal got him on a very reasonable one-year deal.

Best case, he's a monster and the Canadiens have a massive bargain to help lead them back to the playoffs. Worst case, he's a bust and you can write him off as a failed experiment that you cut your losses with without any future exposure. That looks a lot like the sort of medium-risk, high-reward deal that any team should jump on. Bergevin deserves credit, even if his timing was awful.

4. The David Backes fake out—The Bruins signed David Backes to a five-year, $30 million deal that wasn't especially remarkable. It was a little too much money and way too much term for a 32-year-old coming off his worst season in years, but it addressed a need and looked like a good fit between player and team. For a July 1 signing, it was fine.

But for a moment, it seemed like it was much more than that. When the signing first broke, it was widely but incorrectly reported as a one-year deal. Both Canadian networks covering the day's news—why yes, just like trade deadline day, NHL free agency gets covered by two full networks up here, thanks for asking—ran with the bad info, with both panels praising the Bruins for their restraint and common sense in not overcommitting to an aging player. Finally, they all agreed, some sanity. Don Sweeney is figuring this stuff out. Hey, at least it wasn't five years, right?

And then, minutes later, we found out that it was five years, and everyone just kind of looked at each other sheepishly and then changed the subject. And I laughed for about eight solid minutes.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports


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